By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Katy was furious. "I love my parents," she says. Then Katy discovered anonymous posts on a blog blasting the Webbs: "[Joanne's] skirts are way too short and she prances around as if it is okay to be flaunting herself in front of our husbands and OUR KIDS!" "These sex toys were not a job for them but a way for them to have sex with others!"
The teen fired back: "Shame on you acting like sixth-grade girls. I can already say I'm more mature than you are. And I'm not even ashamed to sign my name." But the furor bothered Katy; her grades dropped dramatically, and she stopped going to work.
Joanne tried to bolster the family's morale, but Chris sank into depression. He asked his stepfather to take the guns out of the house so he couldn't commit suicide. After Joanne dragged him to the emergency room, he was diagnosed as clinically depressed.
During his usual visit to the Webbs around Thanksgiving, Castro was shocked to see Chris. "He was in pretty bad shape," he says. He made Chris get out of bed and walk around the block. Over the next few weeks, Chris, now taking Zoloft, began to pull out of his despair.
The Webbs and Sisemore decided it was time to fight back. They had to focus public attention on the unfairness of the law. A few stories about Joanne's arrest had appeared in local newspapers and on TV. By the end of January, reports about the arrest had appeared in media outlets around the world, including The New York Times, CNN, NPR and the BBC. The tenor was always the same: What are those morons in Burleson thinking?
If the story of Joanne's arrest was a joke in the media, it wasn't to dozens of Passion Party consultants who inundated Sisemore with calls asking if they could be charged with a crime. She had to tell them yes.
When the fax from County Attorney Moore arrived on January 28, Sisemore was first puzzled, then irate. Citing pretrial publicity, Moore had filed a motion for a gag order for the "protection" of Joanne's right to a fair trial.
"Thank you very much," Sisemore told Moore on the phone, "but I don't need you to protect my client." He declined to withdraw the motion.
The next day, Sisemore appeared before Judge Robert Mayfield in his chambers. (According to their official Web sites, the judge and county attorney attend the same Burleson Baptist church.) Mayfield blamed the defense for creating a "circus" out of the case.
"The judge was so mad at me he was shaking," Sisemore says. "He said, 'This case is disrupting the courthouse, and it's causing all kinds of problems. I'm getting phone calls every day.'"
Sisemore's reply: "Maybe they don't like the law."
She told Mayfield her client didn't want the gag order. The assistant county attorney handling the case argued that the state was entitled to a fair trial as well.
"Can you show me where the Constitution protects the state?" Sisemore retorted. "If you're trying to protect my client, that's my responsibility, and if you're filing it on behalf of the county attorney, you need to put that in there."
Mayfield said he was going to grant the gag order. "You are not going to speak about this case," Mayfield told her.
"Yes, I am," Sisemore said. "You can arrest me now."
She asked Mayfield to go into the courtroom and put his statements on record. The judge refused, granting Sisemore's request for a continuance so she could research the law and file an answer, but he imposed the gag order until a hearing on February 12.
By now, Joanne's case had become Sisemore's crusade. Growing up, Sisemore had wanted to be Perry Mason. But a teenage pregnancy derailed Sisemore's dream. When her husband died in a 1973 car accident, Sisemore wrangled a job as a paralegal with Fort Worth attorney Jerry Lofton. "He included me in everything," Sisemore says. "It was an education every day." Soon she was all but practicing law.
By her 30s, Sisemore was driving a Mercedes. "I didn't see the need for law school," Sisemore says. Then she met the love of her life, a rich man who wanted her to travel with him. "I'd never felt that heat of passion until I met this guy," Sisemore says. But it ended when she balked at leaving her job. Devastated, Sisemore stopped eating. "I wanted to die," she says. "I had finally found love and it was gone."
Dragged out of bed by her son and Lofton, who told her she was going to law school, Sisemore protested--she was 40 and didn't have a college degree. "You can go in your bathrobe," Lofton told her, "but you're going."
In 1998, after only four years, Sisemore had earned a bachelor's degree and graduated from law school. What kept her going was the belief that once she was a lawyer, she'd feel confident enough to commit to her lover. Meanwhile, he married someone else.
Attending several of Joanne's parties and hearing women share their intimate secrets was eye-opening. "Suddenly they can talk about sex and nobody's frowning at them," Sisemore says. "Now I've got all this education and no boyfriend!"