McLennan County Justice of the Peace W.H. “Pete” Peterson has been cleared by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct after three complaints from attorneys and the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association over the manner in which he set bonds for 177 bikers arrested after the May 17 Twin Peaks shootout.
Peterson, who set identical $1 million bonds for each of the bikers and said he did so, in part, to “send a message,” declined comment Monday about the dismissal of the complaints.
Peterson’s attorney, David Deaconson, said he and Peterson went to Austin to meet with the commission Feb. 11.
“They got to see and hear from and talk to Pete and made a decision after that to dismiss the complaints,” Deaconson said. “I don’t think it was lost on the commission the fact that at least two of the complaints we learned about from the Tribune-Herald after a press release was issued and copies were provided to us by the Tribune-Herald, and the other two were virtually identical and filed by fellow attorneys. I think that makes clear the motives behind the filing of the complaints.”
Dallas attorney Clint Broden filed the initial complaint in June, alleging Peterson violated judicial ethical canons. It appears that attorneys John Hirsch and John Moore merely got copies of Broden’s complaint and signed their names, Deaconson said.
“I think Judge Peterson attempted to do his job to the best of his ability given the circumstances that all were confronted with at the time,” Deaconson said. “I think the commission confirmed that he did nothing to violate any judicial canons.”
Broden and Sam Bassett, president of the 3,000-member Texas Criminal Defense Attorneys Association, both declined comment Monday, saying they had not been notified yet of the commission’s decision.
“I guess I need to see what the commission said before I can comment, but it is obviously disappointing if he didn’t get at least a professional reprimand because of the manner in which he set the bonds,” Bassett said. “He set the bonds in a rubber-stamp fashion, and we just don’t think that is carrying out the proper duties of a magistrate.”
Broden said at the time that his complaint was based on comments Peterson made to the Tribune-Herald, including, “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.”
The complaint also alleged that Peterson set $1 million bonds for the bikers “without any individual consideration for the facts of the individual cases.”
Most of those bonds were reduced drastically after negotiations between biker attorneys and prosecutors.
Broden’s complaint also alleged Peterson set bonds “in mass, group hearings without considering the rules for establishing bonds under the Code of Criminal Procedure.”
The TCDLA complaint, filed in September, alleged that Peterson violated the law, the Constitution and judicial canons, which “likely caused the unnecessary extended incarceration of many presumptively innocent individuals.”
“Our law specifically states that the setting of bail is not to be used as an instrument of oppression,” the TCDLA complaint said. “ ‘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.”