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On the 336th District Court bench for only 10 months, Judge Lauri Blake of Sherman, Texas, has rubbed some lawyers the wrong way with what the lawyers allege are her heavy-handed methods and unorthodox decisions. “She appears to be unrestrained by the common law, by statute or by the Constitution,” David Stagner, a partner in Sherman’s Stagner & Corley, says of Blake. But Blake’s supporters contend she’s just trying to improve the decorum in her court, which covers Grayson and Fannin counties in North Texas. “I think she’s a by-the-book judge,” says Fannin County District Attorney Richard Glaser. Glaser says Blake is trying to bring some decorum back to the courtroom, which, he says, was operated in a casual fashion before Blake took the bench. People wandered in and out of the courtroom, he says. “It was more of a good-old-boy system,” Glaser says. “She expects lawyers to be seated and to not be milling around. It’s a more formal structure than the local lawyers are used to.” But seven attorneys say they aren’t just concerned about a judge who’s enforcing strict courtroom rules. They allege that Blake steps on the rights of lawyers and defendants and cite the following incidents: � In July, Blake ordered a bailiff to take Stagner into custody and place him in a holding cell at the Fannin County Courthouse until he improved his manners, according to a transcript of the hearing. At the time Stagner was appearing before Blake for a routine hearing in a divorce case. � In September, Blake ordered a grandmother who was charged with driving while intoxicated to meet twice a month with a probation officer as a condition of bond. According to the order, Blake also required the woman to either go to work, continue providing child care to a grandchild or enroll in a full-time education program if she wants to stay out of jail before her trial. � Also in September, Blake made headlines around the world, based on her June 27 order that, as a condition for probation, required a 17-year-old girl who pleaded guilty to possession of drugs to abstain from sex as long as she lives with her parents and remains in school. A woman in Blake’s office who refuses to identify herself says Blake declines interviews. But Grayson County District Attorney Joe Brown, Blake’s former boss, says he’s been pleased with her work as a judge. “She holds criminals accountable, runs a tight ship and handles the courtroom the way a judge should handle it,” Brown says. Clyde Siebman, the Grayson County Republican Party chairman and a partner in Sherman’s Siebman, Reynolds, Burg & Phillips, contends that politics are behind the complaints about Blake. “The people who are most vocal in their complaints did not support her in her election,” Siebman says. Blake is a Republican who is a former police officer, former Texas assistant attorney general and former state and federal prosecutor. She won the district court bench in November 2004 and took office in January. CUFFED AND HELD Attorneys opposed to Blake’s methods say she has acted without authority. Stagner contends that Blake stepped over the line when she had him handcuffed and placed in a holding cell. The exchange between Blake and Stagner that ended with Stagner’s brief detainment occurred on July 29 during a hearing to set a trial date for a divorce case, In the Matter of the Marriage of Lawton Keith Wilkerson and Cynthia Dawn Wilkerson. According to the transcript of the hearing, Stagner did not show up for a 9 a.m. hearing on July 29, and Blake ordered him to appear by 1 p.m. on the same day. As noted in the transcript, when Stagner appeared for the hearing, Blake questioned whether he had paid the jury fee and ordered him to go to the district clerk’s office to pay it. Stagner told Blake that he had an exhibit that “indicates that I have complied with the court’s request.” Blake repeatedly ordered Stagner to give her the exhibit, but Stagner said he would have it marked for identification purposes. According to the transcript, when Stagner did not give her the exhibit, Blake ordered, “Bailiff, take him into custody and remove him to the holdover. I am not playing games, Mr. Stagner. Now, when you decide you have good manners, Mr. Stagner, you may come back.” Joey Fritts, a Sherman solo, says he was in the 336th District Court on July 29 and witnessed the exchange between Blake and Stagner. “I didn’t hear Mr. Stagner raise his voice. He didn’t curse. The next thing I know, she orders the bailiff to take him into custody,” Fritts says. The transcript further indicates that, after Stagner returned to the courtroom, he questioned whether Blake had held him in contempt, and the judge said she “made no finding of contempt.” According to the transcript, Stagner stated his objections to his detainment as follows: “I was taken out of the courtroom, put in handcuffs, put into a jail cell with the instructions that I … could continue my role as advocate if I — my attitude changed, or words to that effect. I think that’s unlawful. I think it’s illegal. I think it’s unconstitutional, and I think it’s a violation of the court’s obligations under the [judicial] canons.” Brown, the Grayson County DA, supports Blake’s detainment of Stagner. “He was four hours late for the hearing,” Brown says. Blake ordered Stagner to give her the document, and Stagner refused to obey her order, Brown adds. Seana Willing, executive director of the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, declines to discuss specifically Blake’s detainment of Stagner. Speaking in general terms, Willing says, “I’m not aware of any legal authority to handcuff an officer of the court and place him in a holding cell, unless he’s found in contempt.” James Alfini, president and dean of South Texas College of Law and a judicial ethics expert, says, “It’s a basic tenet of living in our democracy that someone can’t be deprived of his personal freedom without due process of law.” Alfini, a member of the American Bar Association’s joint committee to evaluate the model Code of Judicial Conduct, says the only way a judge can have a lawyer placed in a holding cell is to hold the lawyer in contempt and to go through the procedures required to do that. He believes Blake had no authority to detain Stagner the way she did. “That’s akin to playing God,” Alfini says. Stagner requested in an Aug. 23 letter to the Fannin County DA that a grand jury consider whether to indict Blake for official oppression under Penal Code 39.03. However, Stagner says he wants an independent grand jury to investigate the incident, not one appointed by Blake. Glaser says he has not received a sworn complaint from Stagner. He also says it’s not necessary to submit Stagner’s complaint to a grand jury that Blake has not appointed. “I think a grand jury acts independently of a court that appoints it,” he says. BOND CONDITIONS The bond conditions that Blake imposes on some defendants released from jail while awaiting trial concern Sherman criminal-defense attorney Robert E.L. “Ed” Richardson, a partner in the Richardson Law Firm. “If they want to stay free, they’ve got to jump through a bunch more hoops,” Richardson says. Richardson represents Jean Romero, a grandmother charged with drunk driving with a child younger than 15 in the car. According to Judge Blake’s Sept. 9 order, two of the conditions Blake imposed on Romero are to report twice a month to the probation department, and to go to school, get a job or continue to provide child care for her granddaughter. In a petition for writ of habeas corpus filed in State v. Romero on Sept. 20 in the 336th District Court, Romero argued that Blake unilaterally and arbitrarily increased the bond conditions on an individual still presumed innocent without stating findings of fact or conclusions of law. “It should be noted that said conditions have little, if anything, to do with securing [Romero's] appearance at scheduled court dates,” the petition stated. Blake denied the habeas petition on Sept. 21. Richardson filed a notice of appeal on Romero’s behalf on Sept. 27 at the 5th Court of Appeals in Dallas. NO SEX Blake’s June 27 order requiring a 17-year-old girl who pleaded guilty to possession of drugs to abstain from sex and stay in school also has raised some eyebrows. “I think it’s almost unenforceable,” Glaser, the Fannin County DA, says of the no-sex condition that Blake set in State v. Christina Marie Brazier. But Glaser isn’t critical of setting such a condition for teenage drug offenders. “It lets them know there are certain expectations for their behavior and consequences,” he says. Jana Turner, Brazier’s attorney and a partner in Turner & Turner in Bonham, Texas, says Brazier agreed to the no-sex condition because the girl didn’t think the condition would affect her much, and she didn’t want to go back to jail. Turner says Brazier still lives with her parents and is attending high school. Blake’s order also prohibits Brazier from wearing clothing “associated with the drug culture” or obtaining new tattoos or body piercings during the three years she’s on probation. Texas Code of Criminal Procedure Article 42.12, 11, authorizes a judge to set any reasonable condition to protect the community or victim or to punish, rehabilitate or reform the defendant. Fred Moss, a Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law professor who teaches criminal law, says a judge has a lot of latitude. But he says there are legal limits to the conditions a judge can set for probation. “The judge can’t simply say, ‘I’m your parent, and I’m going to impose my personal morals on you,’ ” Moss says. Moss says it’s “quite debatable” whether Blake has gone too far in setting the probation conditions for Brazier. However, he says, there are few things that a court of appeals will reverse a judge on with regard to probation conditions.

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