Longform

Courthouse bully

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The 60-year-old legal assistant keeps insisting that, as far as he knew, the purpose of this interview was for him to answer questions about the nearly seven dozen cases he's filed against his customers in Al Cercone's JP court. He wasn't expecting, nor is he willing, to answer many questions about his personal life.

Once again, James Vincent Carrao acts as if he's been betrayed. "How long is this gonna go on? I don't wanna sit here and talk to you, a stranger, about every aspect of my life," he says, his voice rising with his anger.

Unfortunately for Carrao, the laws that give him the right to sue people are the same laws that give everyone the right to examine, and even publicly discuss, the information contained in public records--no matter how personal that information might be. The public records that pertain to Carrao and date to the 1960s reflect a younger man who was just beginning to raise a family. He was also just beginning his never-ending tango with the law.

In 1966, when Carrao was 27, the Texas Department of Insurance licensed him to sell insurance. At the time, Carrao was married to his first wife, Georgie, and the couple's first of three sons was about a year old. But whatever stability Carrao had found was soon lost.

After five years of marriage, Georgie filed for divorce. In her petition to the court, Georgie said she was forced to leave Carrao because he had "commenced a course of unkind, harsh and cruel conduct" toward her. Carrao did not react well to his wife's decision to leave. According to a counselor's report contained in the divorce file, Georgie received "harassing" letters and phone calls from Carrao and, 10 days after she filed for divorce, he attempted suicide.

"Mr. Carrao appears to be having severe guilt feelings at this time and is extremely angry at his wife," the counselor reported. "...His primary motivation appeared to be his desire to reconcile with his wife."

In describing Carrao's "opportunistic type of personality," the counselor wrote that he was "manipulative and demanding and readily transferred his anger from his wife to the counselor...Both counselors felt that throughout our study Mr. Carrao's behavior was characterized by overaction and reflected considerable feelings of insecurity and distrust."

Georgie, who has since moved out of the state, did not respond to a request for an interview. Carrao ultimately abandoned his financial obligations to his three sons and continued to exhibit vindictiveness toward Georgie 14 years after their divorce.

Shortly before a court ordered Carrao to pay Georgie $10,000 for overdue child support in 1984, Carrao sued Georgie in Dallas County for $15 million. As part of his claim, Carrao said Georgie had "used her social position, business connections, and wealth to influence the said children, and has induced them to have no contact or relationship with their father."

"As a result of [Georgie's] conduct," he continued, his "relationship with his children has been ruined and his entire life has been disrupted and destroyed."

Carrao later dropped the suit, and Georgie successfully obtained the money she was owed, says her attorney Ralph Jones. He calls the lawsuit his "Highland Park pro bono case."

"It was so much fun going after that son of a bitch," Jones says. "He knows his way around the courthouse. He knows how to duck a judgment. There was a certain thrill to the case to get him."

Jones remembers the case fondly because it was the only time a witness, in this case Carrao, jumped off the stand and tried to attack him. "I'll never forget the bailiffs. They were up and between us and holding him back probably before I could react."

Although Carrao claimed that Georgie had turned his sons against him, they evidently placed the blame on him. In 1991, his three sons and ex-wife petitioned the court to change their names. As part of their pleadings, the sons, then adults, told the court that because Carrao had not met his "financial or other obligations," they no longer desired to "use or be known by his name of Carrao."

In 1971 Carrao opened an insurance company, Guardian General Insurance Agency, on McKinney Avenue. The business lasted until May 1977, when Carrao was the subject of a disciplinary action by the state's insurance commissioner. That same year, Carrao married his second wife, Susan.

In his 1977 order, Commissioner Joseph Hawkins found that Carrao had wrongfully pocketed more than $9,000 in unearned premiums and ordered him to repay the money or risk having his state licenses revoked. As part of his findings, Hawkins wrote that Carrao had "misappropriated" the money and in doing so had "demonstrated [a] lack of trustworthiness or competence to act as a licensed insurance agent."

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Rose Farley
Contact: Rose Farley