Texas Judge Sees Himself Above the Law

Judge Lawrence Meyers sits on the highest criminal court in Texas, the Texas Court of Appeals. He is the longest serving judge in that court with 19 years of experience. That experience should provide him with enough knowledge to mete justice appropriately and guide his personal life. Instead, it seems that 19 years on the bench has given Meyers a sense of entitlement.

On October 20, an arrest warrant was issued for Meyers’ arrest. His crime: failure to pay a 2008 speeding ticket. Meyers was caught doing 79 mph in a 60 mph zone.

That it took four years for an unpaid speeding ticket to become an arrest warrant points to the multiple efforts by Meyers to get the ticket dismissed or fine reduced. More importantly, it reveals a dismissive attitude toward the justice system by someone who knows its ins and outs but is supposed to uphold it.

After receiving his ticket on August 12, 2008, Meyers announced that he was pleading not guilty. A court date was scheduled for the following month. Meyers didn’t show. His excuse was one that he has probably heard many times in court. Meyers said that he wasn’t notified of the court date.

Nothing happened for a year after Meyers skipped that September’s hearing. However, the ticket was not forgotten by Meyers. A year later, he requested a new court date, claiming that he had never been notified of the first trial. He was granted that second court date in 2010.

Meyers pleaded no contest to the charges and was ordered to pay a $200 find in 90 days. He didn’t. In 2011, a bench warrant was issued for his arrest.

Since Meyers eventually pleaded no contest, it is a mystery why Meyers didn’t pay the speeding ticket after receiving the initial fine. Pleading no contest for a traffic ticket is an unusual and somewhat meaningless step to take. It would be a harbinger for what was to follow.

After two months, Meyers filled a writ of habeaus corpus to overturn the warrant and begin his case all over. In August of 2011, a new court date was set.

Let’s not forget that this legal maneuvering imposes further cost to the courts. Most Americans pay these traffic fines and move on. These infractions don’t usually involve three court dates. Yet Meyers wasn’t through gumming up the system. He was just getting started.

At the new trial, Meyers was against give 90 days to pay $200. He didn’t pay that either. Meyers filed for yet another trial. His fourth trial over a speeding ticket was set for January of 2012.

If that sounds excessive, then get a load of this. The trial was delayed six times, usually because of Meyers’ request. Finally, his seventh request was denied. When Meyers failed to show up for trial in June, another warrant was issued for his arrest.

According to my count, that is nine trial dates and two warrants to this point.

Finally, on August 8, Meyers appeared before the thirteenth judge to see at least part of his case. Meyers dropped the pretense of pleading not guilty or no contest and admitted guilt to a four-year-old speeding ticket. Meyers was given 30 days to pay an enhanced fine of $481.

To no surprise, Meyers did not pay the fine within 30 days. His third warrant was then issued. After the case drew wider public attention last week, Meyers finally paid the new fine of $535.90. Yet right until the end, Meyers was still planning to seek another trial to plead his case as the Austin American-Statesman reports:

In a series of interviews Wednesday, however, Meyers said he had declined to pay the fine in order to preserve his right to appeal his conviction, saying he believed the city judge had improperly left him little choice but to accept an unfavorable plea arrangement with prosecutors.

During his final interview Wednesday evening, Meyers at one point said he had decided to pay the fine, and forgo his appeal, “to get this whole thing over with.” Meyers then changed his mind, indicating he wanted to press ahead with his appeal.

By Thursday morning, a touch of reasonableness had overcome Meyers. He again rethought his options and paid the fine. What should have been a $193 fine in 2008 ended up costing Meyers an extra $350. Undoubtedly, it cost the justice system even more than that.

Meyers said that he didn’t pay the $481 fine imposed on him in August because he felt it was excessive. He planned to appeal it, but like most developments in this case, Meyers figured that he could play by a time clock and rules different from the rest of America.

“If they can show I sped with no particular good reason, then I should be found guilty. That’s what I’ve been prevented from showing – the reason I had to go a little bit over the speed limit at that particular place and time. If you are breaking the law and you have no acceptable defense to that, then surely that is not acceptable conduct. But that is not what I have right now.”

Meyers had nine trial dates, and he has the audacity to argue that he was prevented from showing his defense. More likely, Meyers never presented it, or it was rejected. Meyers did plead no contest and guilty at different times. While he expressed an intent to plead not guilty initially, he never actually did that in four years of a convoluted court case, although he is claiming that as his defense in the final stages of this case.

His legal troubles with traffic tickets and the law may not be over. He has a 1988 speeding ticket in Virginia unpaid. He also has a $100 fine outstanding for running a stoplight in Texas during 2010. Meyers said that he doesn’t remember either ticket but promised to pay them if they are valid. Fat chance of that happening in the near future.

This isn’t merely the case of a mischievous speeder trying to avoid responsibility for his actions. It is a blatant abuse of the legal process by a judge who thinks he can use unusual legal wrangling like a writ of habeas corpus for a speeding ticket. Meyers sees himself above the law. Frighteningly, he is the law for many criminal defendants. It is unlikely that as a judge he would tolerate the same legal games that he has played on the Texas judicial system.

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