KLEBERG COUNTY – The State Commission on Judicial Conduct says a Kleberg Justice of the Peace used language that "manifest bias and prejudice" during a 2016 trial. Justice of the Peace, Christopher Lee was given a warning (made public) and is required to take additional education in the areas of racial sensitivity.
According to a document from the Commission, Judge Christopher Lee, presided over a small claims jury trial on November 30, 2016. Plaintiff Darla Gandy sued Jesus Espinosa for fees incurred when he left a rental lease agreement before the lease was up. Espinosa countered her complaint saying that Gandy breached the lease agreement by aggressive and intimidating conduct directed at him, including flying a Confederate flag on the property.
Espinsosa told the Commission that when the trial began the judge made the statement " this is a redneck courtroom." Espinsosa told the Commission that he felt offended by the judge’s remark and that the judge showed prejudice against him.
Judge Lee responded to the accusation by explaining that he believes the term "redneck" means "a small town country boy who works hard from sun up tell [sic] sun down in order to get the job done." He admitted to the Commission to opening his court each day with that remark and that he said it to mean: "this court will work hard being informal to hear anything & everything pertaining to this case & stay as long as it takes to get to the truth." Lee also quoted a definition from the Merriam-Webster dictionary that a "redneck" is "a white person who lives in a small or in the country especially in the southern U.S., who typically has a working-class job, and who is seen by others as being uneducated and having opinions and attitudes that are offensive."
Judge Lee also told the Commission he could understand how his use of the term could inject bias or prejudice into a legal proceeding but that he didn’t agree with the notion that a person in Espinoza’s position could have perceived it that way.
The Commission disagreed with the judge and said he failed to be patient, dignified and courteous to Jaime Espinosa, and used language that manifest bias and prejudice against him through his "redneck court" statement.
The judge has 60 days from the date he is assigned a mentor to complete his four hours of additional training in racial sensitivity and avoiding creating an appearance of bias while conducting judicial duties.