Ty Herndon Sings for You (9/22/97) 
I have yet to have any defendant I've prosecuted offer to help me in any political fundraiser, and I seriously doubt I would take him up on the offer if the occasion should arise.  Then again, I'm not Judge James Wilson in Tarrant County.

First, a little background.

You may recall that country singer Ty Herndon (who, by the way, is pretty good) was indicted in Tarrant County in 1995 for allegedly possessing methamphetamines in a Fort Worth park. What made the story particularly noteworthy was not that Herndon was accused of possessing a controlled substance, but rather the circumstances surrounding his arrest that led up to the discovery of the substance in his wallet. You see, Herndon was arrested after an officer believed that he saw Herndon expose himself to the officer in a manner that would violate state law. So not only did Herndon find himself facing the felony drug charge, but he also had to deal with a (career threatening) charge of misdemeanor indecent exposure.

The drug charge, at least some believe, saved Herndon from country and western oblivion.

Admitting that he had a drug problem, Herndon pled guilty to the felony charge, received five years deferred adjudication probation, and the indecent exposure charge was dismissed. Deferred adjudication would allow Herndon to escape a conviction on the drug charge if he abided by all terms and conditions of his probation.

Let me say up front that the plea bargain offered to Ty Herndon was not out of the ordinary. In that respect, kudos to the Tarrant County D.A.'s office for treating him no harsher or no lighter than any other individual that might have been caught in the exact same situation.

The trial judge in the case was the aforementioned James Wilson. He, as is his right and duty, passed judgment on the plea bargain and approved it. This, once again, is not unusual, and Herndon again received treatment consistent with the common man standard.

Herndon apparently did well while serving the first part of his probationary term. So well, in fact, that he subsequently petitioned the judge to release him  from the remainder of his community supervision. Judge Wilson acquiesced. Once again, this apparently is not unusual in Tarrant County, but I suspect the policy regarding early termination varies between judges. Nevertheless, for Judge Wilson at least, he treated Herndon in a typical manner.

Herndon has every right to be thankful to the justice system for not making an example out of him. It would have grabbed headlines if Judge Wilson had rejected the plea bargain on the basis that it was too soft. But he did not. So Herndon, now no longer under the supervision of the probation department and as free as you an me, agreed to perform at a concert and rodeo fundraiser for Judge Wilson's reelection campaign. That's right, Herndon will perform a free concert. (For the record, Wilson apparantly did not ask Herndon for this favor. The concert was arranged through the defense lawyer that handled Herndon's case).

This revelation, of course, caught the attention of the news media. I have written before that public perception is sometimes more important than reality. Let this situation be Exhibit "A".

No blame can be cast on the man on the street who read the story and shook his head in disgust. Anyone's first reaction, albeit an incorrect once, would be that Herndon received a "sweetheart deal" and then turned around and performed the functional equivalent of providing Wilson with a big bag of money.

In reality, however, Ty Herndon is probably just saying thank you for not being unfairly treated as a whipping boy for a "Tough On Crime" campaign. In this respect, Judge Wilson perhaps deserves credit.

Nevertheless, a former criminal defendant publicly thanking a judge (especially via a method that is worth a great deal monetarily) simply looks bad.

Wilson is a good judge.  Some of my prosecutor friends in Tarrant County have told me so.
But exercising poor judgment during a political campaign is not exactly the best way to convey that fact to the voters.

Barry Green is the District Attorney for the 271st Judicial District.

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