By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Yes, just two years ago, he ran for Dallas County district judge as the first openly gay Republican to seek that office. And yes, he is now running for the U.S. Senate seat held by Kay Bailey Hutchison as the first openly gay Democrat to seek that office.
Yes, he has developed a reputation as an utterly contemptuous courtroom lawyer under the name Robert Wightman. And yes, he is running for the Senate under the name Bobby Wightman-Cervantes, adding his Nicaraguan mother's maiden name to take advantage of the burgeoning Hispanic vote.
Yes, he is a constitutional scholar with a generous heart who fights for the civil rights of gays and Hispanics. And yes, he is an abrasive personal-injury lawyer who has been repeatedly sanctioned by the courts with fines and contempt charges -- and found himself the subject of a bitter three-year disciplinary proceeding filed by the State Bar of Texas.
"There is only one difference between me and a bulldog," says Wightman-Cervantes. "A bulldog eventually lets go."
Ask the elfin 41-year-old what motivates him, what compels him to stand his ground and damn all consequence, and he pulls out a thick green book titled The Wightman Ancestry and sifts through its pages for the answer. He points to a copy of the death warrant for Edward Wightman, his "grandfather, 13 generations ago," he says.
Because of some incredibly bad timing, Edward was the last person ordered burned at the stake for heresy by King James I of England. Just as Edward felt the heat of the fire burning his skin, he recanted his blasphemy, and the sheriff removed him from the stake. Apparently, Edward couldn't help himself, because once back in jail, he again began to spout his doubts about the divinity of Jesus Christ. So on April 11, 1612, the high sheriff returned him to the stake, where he was consumed in flames.
The story is one of the "things" that guide his life, says Wightman-Cervantes. "If you really believe in something strong enough, you should be willing to sacrifice your life for it."
If his paternal pedigree isn't enough of a metaphor to justify his own fiery existence, Wightman-Cervantes need only look to his mother's maiden name. Like the character Don Quixote by the Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes (who may also be a relative, he says), Wightman-Cervantes has always been tilting at windmills, championing lost causes, and playing the legal heretic by blaspheming the bench and bar as morally bankrupt institutions.
Too often, at least for the State Bar, he cries foul by indicting the entire legal system, claiming that corrupt judges, perjuring attorneys, and courtroom cabals are plotting to undo him and his clients. Rather than just appeal the unfavorable rulings of judges, he often sues them, making them part of the lawsuits they presided over. While other lawyers rarely file recusal motions -- a litigation tactic employed to remove a judge from a case because of alleged bias -- he seems to use them as a matter of practice: Since 1994, he has filed at least 28 recusal motions, sometimes half a dozen in the same case. And what judge wouldn't find it difficult to be unbiased against a lawyer who sues him for $50 million, particularly after the lawyer has threatened to ruin that judge's career? Wightman-Cervantes also has a penchant for suing opposing counsel, claiming they have destroyed evidence, lied about the facts, or engaged in illicit conspiracies with disreputable judges.
It's all part of his self-appointed, one-man reform movement to hold the judiciary accountable. That he may have committed professional suicide by pissing off many of the judges in Dallas County is irrelevant to his crusade. He considers himself a kamikaze for the Constitution, a frontline soldier for civil rights. In his battle with the State Bar, he has been cast as a legal terrorist, a paranoid lawyer who has abused the system and the legal gifts he obviously possesses. To the State Bar, he is an enigma, and its attorneys have even gone so far as to file a motion in state court to have his head examined.
The Democratic Party isn't all that thrilled with him either. In his quest to unseat a powerful incumbent senator, he attempted to place his name on the Democratic primary ballot as Bobby Wightman-Cervantes. But after a complaint was lodged with the state Democratic Party claiming his true last name is simply Wightman, the party chair dropped the Hispanic portion of his surname from the ballot. Wightman-Cervantes then sued the party. He believes Tejano Democrats, the official Hispanic caucus of the Texas Democratic Party, are undermining his candidacy. In trial, he has battled against the interests of several influential Tejano members including attorney Adelfa Callejo and state Rep. Domingo Garcia, and he perceives that the complaint about his name is payback for his support of their rival caucus, the Mexican-American Democrats.
As with so many of his cases, he gave that support for free. "I haven't made more than $30,000 a year since I began my practice," he says. "Money has always been meaningless to me."