The Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association filed a judicial complaint against Justice of the Peace W.H. “Pete” Peterson on Thursday, saying the 3,000-member group is “astounded” by the way the judge handled setting bonds for 177 bikers after the deadly May 17 Twin Peaks shootout.
In a complaint to the Texas Judicial Conduct Commission, Sam Bassett, president of the TCDLA, alleges Peterson violated the law, the Texas Constitution and Texas judicial canons by “illegally setting $1 million bonds (for the bikers) without considering any of the factors he was required to consider in setting bonds.”
The complaint also charges that Peterson made “irresponsibly biased public comments” about the case the day after the shooting that left nine bikers dead and 20 wounded.
Peterson, a retired longtime state trooper appointed justice of the peace in December 2012, declined comment Thursday on the complaint, the second filed against him over the Twin Peaks shootout.
Dallas attorney Clint Broden, who represents several bikers arrested at the chaotic gathering of motorcycle groups, filed a similar complaint in June.
A month later, Broden was successful in having Peterson removed from presiding over an examining trial for Hewitt biker Matthew Clendennen, who was arrested after the incident. Since then, a visiting judge from Comanche County has presided over a handful of biker examining trials, ruling in each case that officers had sufficient probable cause for the arrests.
Bassett acknowledges in the TCDLA complaint that the Twin Peaks incident was “unprecedented” in its scope, including the number of deaths, those wounded and the total arrested. Still, the complaint contends, the unique nature of a case has no bearing on a judge’s duty to follow the law and judicial canons.
“I think that judges, especially in these type of high-profile situations, need to exercise better judgment in carrying out their duties,” Bassett said Thursday. “I think most judges do. I just don’t think this judge did. I think it is a challenging situation, for sure. But we expect judges who may not know how to handle a novel situation to confer with judges from higher courts instead of just setting bonds with a rubber stamp. That is not appropriate.”
The complaint contains a quote from Peterson from the May 18 issue of the Tribune-Herald in which he said: “I think it is important to send a message. We had nine people killed in our community. These people just came in, and most of them were from out of town, very few of them were from in town.”
“Our law specifically states that the setting of bail is not to be used as an instrument of oppression,” the complaint says. “ ‘Sending a message’ to anyone is not a factor to be considered in setting any bond. In setting over 170 $1 million bonds, Justice of the Peace Peterson ignored Texas law. In setting 170 $1 million bonds, ‘to send a message,’ Peterson abdicated his duty to follow the law.”
By violating the law, the constitution and judicial canons, Peterson “likely caused the unnecessary extended incarceration of many presumptively innocent individuals,” the TCDLA complaint alleges.
The commission has taken no action on Broden’s complaint.
After investigating a complaint, the commission can take a number of actions, including dismissing a complaint because it failed to allege a violation or lacks evidence; ordering a judge to receive additional education; issuing a private sanction or a public sanction; a suspension; or removal from office.