Dissed robes

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As Mansfield views his world, the legal and political establishment continue to hound him and keep him from rising from his own ashes. He was turned away from a 1990 Republican Party luncheon for statewide elected officials and has yet to garner a speaking invitation to seminars hosted by the State Bar or defense attorney groups.

"I have shown I am a good judge, I am a good worker, and I write good opinions. I'm still shunned, and I don't know what I can do about that," he says.

The court has seen eccentrics before. Retired Judge Sam Houston Clinton used to drive an old, beat-up Ford Mustang and wore jeans that had holes in the knees to work.

Clinton, who is retired in Austin and laments that he has trouble remembering things these days, says that he may have been an eccentric, but that "my eccentricities didn't carry on to the kinds of things that Mansfield's done.

"He just doesn't belong there on that court," he continues. "What he does when he is not a judge is despicable enough, going out and hustlin' tickets that he wasn't going to use."

Clinton lets out a belly laugh. "Oh, that's funny," he says.

It wasn't so humorous to UT police, who arrested Mansfield for attempting to scalp two tickets before last fall's Texas-Texas A&M football game. The cops took his picture and cited him for criminal trespass, a misdemeanor. UT had given Mansfield the tickets as a gift.

Just as he falls short of dropping to his knees about his lies during the campaign, he makes disingenuous excuses related to the ticket-scalping affair. He emphasizes that the crime is, in his eyes, victimless. He says there are no signs banning ticket selling, and the tickets themselves don't mention scalping.

"So I reasonably felt this was perfectly OK to do. Little did I know there was this unknown rule about it."

But he did know, which makes his justification for his conduct that much more insidious. The reprimand by the Commission on Judicial Conduct states a UT police officer told Mansfield that selling UT football tickets on campus property was prohibited and issued him a written criminal trespass warning. The judge was arrested only after a second officer discovered Mansfield doing exactly what he had been warned not to do a few minutes earlier.

"Looking back at it," Mansfield says, "even though from all appearances it was OK, as a judge I suppose I still shouldn't have done it. I can see how it kind of looks tacky."

Is it also tacky that the tickets he sold at more than triple the $38 face value were given to him compliments of UT?

"I don't think that has anything to do with it," he says.

Even something as simple as Mansfield announcing whether he would run for re-election has been full of quirks.

On July 19 he told Texas Lawyer he was running for re-election in part to answer threats in an anonymous letter sent to his Houston home. The letter, dated June 30, warned Mansfield to "go away quietly and start a solo practice as an ambulance chaser" rather than further embarrass the Republican Party and the legal community, according to a copy Mansfield provided the Dallas Observer.

The letter also posed this question: "Do you really believe your marrying a black woman will provide a positive thing?" Mansfield, who is white, married a Houston pharmacist, who is African-American, on November 6. They had planned to be married in May 2000 but decided in late October not to wait, Mansfield says.

One day after telling Texas Lawyer he was running, Mansfield announced he wasn't because he didn't want his past failings rehashed in a negative campaign. He cited the same anonymous letter as a factor in the decision.

Two months later Mansfield changed his mind yet again. "My [wife] feels I should go for it," he says. "Besides, what more mud could they really drag me through?"

He also worries that giving up his seat could shift the prosecutor-friendly majority that, in his own weird way, he helped forge.

"Well," Presiding Judge Michael McCormick says about the whining of criminal defense attorneys, "sounds to me like it's a matter of whose ox is getting gored."

It must be quite satisfying these days for McCormick to be the one applying the wounds. The longest-serving member of the current court by a dozen years, McCormick plans to end a 20-year tenure by retiring next year. Although he has presided over the court since 1989, it had long been McCormick's ox getting gored. He played dissenter for years. Although McCormick would never characterize it this way, he is now exacting his revenge.

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Stuart Eskenazi