Tarrant County Court Watchers Harassed
January 7, 2016
Judges, bailiffs and the employees of the Tarrant County family courts have been at odds with court watchers for years. We have not publicized all the harassment court watchers have experienced because it is par for the course. After all, it is alleged many attorneys who choose to practice family law are bankrupting families instead of representing the best interests of their clients in court. Court watchers exist due to many public complaints of denial of due process and violations of local, state and federal laws in the family courts.
Protective Parents Coalition (PPC) has documented courtroom harassment by obtaining affidavits, videos, pictures and public information. Prior to November of 2014, the court watchers were unaware of the emails and instant messages between judges, family court personnel and bailiffs about the court watchers. We thought we would share some of our findings.
Top 10 comments about court watchers:
- Pictures of court watchers on a public street were left in sealed envelope on a Tarrant County district judge’s desk mysteriously overnight. The forged return address is one of a court watcher’s and no finger prints are found on the envelope or pictures. The incident was not formally investigated.
- A district judge creates impromptu policies in order to discourage (or intimidate) court watchers from observing her court.
- Court watchers are compared to Nazi’s in this YouTube video. (click here)
- Bailiffs from the 233rd District Court discuss how to physically take out one of the court watcher’s knees by using their ASP baton.
- Discussions when to deny or delay public information requested by the court watchers.
- Tarrant executives add ‘court watchers’ to county meeting agendas.
- Attorneys ‘watching’ court watchers by following them from courtroom to courtroom.
- Judge’s calling court watchers to the bench to inquire who they were and why they were there.
- Discussions of discretionary policies to confiscate court watcher’s cell phones.
- Many people elected, appointed and privately employed in Tarrant County discuss PPC’s website and Facebook accounts on a regular basis.
The purpose to ‘court watch’ is intended to educate the public about how our family courts function. Really, the only level of oversight and accountability over the family courts is by the public.
By observing hearings, the public can make opinions based on first hand knowledge. This is very uncomfortable to the family courts. By design, the family courts have alienated themselves from the civil and criminal courts. The outcome is a tight clique and anyone who intends to challenge their objectives will be retaliated against and the court watchers are no exception.
In September of 2015, the 233rd district court hired their own bailiffs instead of using the Tarrant County Sheriff’s deputies. This was the first time any Tarrant County family district judges were statutorily permitted to hire their own bailiffs. We question Judge Bill Harris’ decision because the bailiffs he hired were investigated by the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office nine months earlier. The bailiffs violated mulitiple Tarrant County policies and threatened to physically harm a court watcher in his courtroom. The sheriff suspended one bailiff and the other resigned while under investigation.
According to Sheriff Dee Anderson of Tarrant County, the bailiffs are not under his watch while working inside a courtroom. It is the judge who calls the shots and the sheriff’s hands are tied. With the bailiffs now Harris’ employees, Judge Harris and Haddock are responsible for their own safety in their courtrooms and the bailiffs no longer report to the Tarrant County Sheriff.
Last year, the court watchers in the Tarrant County family courthouse were overly monitored by bailiffs, often under direction of Sergeant Glenn Burton. He managed all the bailiffs assigned to work in the family courts.
When a court watcher asked for the county’s court docket (a schedule of court cases for the day), Sgt. Burton stated he was asserting his 5th amendment right and would not respond. He later sent emails out to all of the bailiffs asking if they gave any court dockets to court watchers. It was discouraged for the bailiffs to comply with any requests made by court watchers without the permission of their judge.
Sheriff Dee Anderson removed all bailiffs including Sgt. Burton from the family courts and assigned them to new posts after he learned the court watchers were harassed in 2014. Judge Bill Harris and Judge Diane Haddock however, hired the two disciplined bailiffs to work directly for them in their courtrooms in September of 2015. Both bailiffs are still employed by the 233rd District Court.