Impossible dreamer

Fearless reformer or legal terrorist? Bobby Wightman-Cervantes makes a run for the Senate. The Texas Bar says he should have his head examined.

Wightman-Cervantes attempted to explain his actions in a 1995 letter he sent to the mediator: "Mr. Berman, I am driven in my efforts to bring integrity back to the legal process. If the price for my efforts is the loss of my law license -- So what?"

If the State Bar has its way, Wightman-Cervantes may be risking just that. Berman has joined Godbey, along with Domingo Garcia's client, William Velasco, in the disciplinary petition filed against him on February 7, 1997. Rather than being humbled by the procedure, Wightman-Cervantes sued his accusers, naming one district judge, the Commission for Lawyer Discipline of the State Bar, and the entire Texas Supreme Court as parties. Anticipating how pugnacious he would be, the Bar retained its own pit bull, Dallas family-law attorney Mike McCurley, to prosecute its case. On September 10, 1998, McCurley filed a "motion for a mental examination of Robert Wightman."

"All appropriate measures must be employed to assess Wightman's established pattern of aberrant behavior," McCurley wrote. "Perhaps the most chilling evidence that Wightman has placed his mental condition into controversy are Wightman's own writings and utterances..."

Mark Graham
Former state Rep. Charles Gandy from Mesquite is clearly the candidate of choice of Democratic Party activists for the U.S. Senate. He says his opponent Wightman-Cervantes is "his own worst enemy."
John Anderson
Former state Rep. Charles Gandy from Mesquite is clearly the candidate of choice of Democratic Party activists for the U.S. Senate. He says his opponent Wightman-Cervantes is "his own worst enemy."

No judge has yet to compel Wightman-Cervantes to submit to a psychological evaluation, perhaps because he has filed seven recusal motions since the case began. Wightman-Cervantes believes that "McCurley is the Bar's thug" who is attempting to build a case against him by obtaining his Army medical records. If the Army thinks he has a paranoid personality, how much easier for the Bar to prove it. "But the Bar knows that the VA cleared me," Wightman-Cervantes says. "So this is all about harassment."

Not true, says McCurley. "My motivation was to try and help him," he says. "It was my job to balance protecting the public and helping the lawyer. Getting a psychiatrist involved seemed the best way to do that."

Not surprisingly for Wightman-Cervantes, there's an overarching ideal that must be vindicated. "In this country we have the right to say things about people," he argues. "If we make truthful statements that offend judges, we don't send them to a psychiatrist." He says he will never submit to a mental exam. "I will give them my license back first on principle."

No matter the result of the grievance petition, Wightman-Cervantes believes he can no longer be an effective advocate for his clients. "Every lawyer knows when you stand up against a judge, your career is over," he says. "I accept that I am worthless to myself and my clients -- on that point, the judges win. If I could wave a magic wand and give someone else my practice, I would."

But he wasn't giving up just because he lost the battle of judicial reform in the courtroom. "I know now the war has to be won on the legislative level," he says. So on January 3, Wightman-Cervantes formally announced that he would be a candidate in the Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate.

Kay Bailey Hutchison, beware.

Two things sounded oddly hypocritical about the Democratic candidacy of the high-minded Bobby Wightman-Cervantes. In 1998, he ran for Dallas County district judge on the Republican ticket. And until he filed for the Senate, he had always referred to himself as Robert Wightman. As with everything in his life, there was an explanation.

Running for judge as a Republican was all part of his long-term strategy to run for the Senate as a Democrat. "I wanted to go into the lion's den," he says. "I knew I could be short with people if they irritated me. I needed the experience of seeing if I was mature enough to handle the gay issue in public."

And handle it he did.

"Here was this guy who would go to these Republican women's clubs and tell them he was gay," recalls Judge Harold Entz, who at the time was running for re-election, though not against Wightman-Cervantes. "He said he was a Republican and proud of it. You could just feel the brains of the audience shut down."

His message of inclusion certainly played better with the Log Cabin Republicans, the gay political organization that has historically been denied credentials at Republican Party conventions. "He came to our meetings and was passionate about the issues," says James Campbell, state vice president of the group. "A few of our members did give him nominal financial support."

Wightman-Cervantes says he believed he had no choice but to run as a Republican. By 1998, there were no Democrats left on the Dallas bench, and he wasn't the first Democrat to turn Republican in order to become a judge. Not that it made much difference: He came in fourth in a field of four, garnering just over 7 percent of the vote.

Having "tested the waters" as a judicial candidate, Wightman-Cervantes decided that if no one with a "statewide name" ran as a Democrat against Hutchison, he would enter the race. When former Mesquite state Rep. Charles Gandy and three political unknowns decided to run, Wightman-Cervantes joined them. That he held himself out as a Republican as late as July 1999 made no difference to him, but it certainly gave his opponents reason to question his loyalty.

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