Tyler defense attorney mulls filing grievance against Smith County District Judge

Tyler defense attorney mulls filing grievance against Smith County District Judge

UPDATE: Judge Christi Kennedy released the following statement Friday afternoon.

"As Mr. Roberson's statements relate to a felony case pending in the 114th District Court, the Code of Judicial Conduct does not permit the court to comment on the statements."

TYLER (TYLER MORNING TELEGRAPH) - A Tyler defense attorney, on Friday, said he might file a judicial grievance against Smith County District Judge Christi Kennedy because she ordered his arrest by Smith County deputies on July 1 as he stood at the hospital bedside of his dying aunt.

Clifton Roberson, 56, said he was "humiliated" when he was taken from Trinity Mother Frances Hospital in handcuffs after he had tried to reset a hearing to withdraw as the court-appointed attorney for a client in a burglary of a habitation case in her case in her court. Judge Kennedy presides over the 114th District Court, and the client case Roberson was representing had been transferred into her court from the 241st District Court of Judge Jack Skeen Jr.

A phone call place to Judge Kennedy was not immediately returned.

Roberson said he usually works as a contract attorney in the Smith County 241st District Court. He said on Friday that after a busy morning representing five clients in the 241st District Court that he knew he would be late for a hearing set in Judge Kennedy's court on the morning of July 1.

After the bailiff in Judge Skeen's courtroom notified Judge Kennedy that Roberson would be late for the hearing, the hearing was reset to 4:30 p.m. on the same day. But Roberson said he knew he had to be at the hospital to say goodbye to his aunt and to meet with his family. He spoke to Judge Kennedy's staff and told them of the situation, asking if the hearing could be reset to July 2 or the next day.

"The coordinator called Judge Kennedy as I stood by, and informed her of my situation stating that I had an aunt in the hospital dying and that I wanted to be with my family at her bedside," Roberson said on Friday. He said that Judge Kennedy still told him he must be in court at 4:30.

Roberson said he told Skeen about the situation and that Skeen said Judge Kennedy probably just needed verification from the hospital. "They all suggested that I call from the hospital and inform Judge Kennedy of my whereabouts and verify my aunt's terminal situation," he said.

Roberson said he and his wife, Chris Bell-Roberson, arrived at the hospital around 4:25 p.m. and called from the hospital to inform Judge Kennedy of the situation. "The Judge's reply was that I had five minutes to get to court," Roberson said. He said he tried to express his need to be with his family to the court room staff, who then shared the concern with the judge.

The Smith County Sheriff's department then called, saying they were coming to arrest Roberson, who was placed in handcuffs in the back of a patrol car. "While we were going to the courthouse, the deputies continually apologized for having to arrest me," he said. The deputies shared that the judge had told them to handcuff me… but because they knew me and were sensitive to the situation they could not handcuff me at the hospital…"

Roberson said his elderly parents and his wife were waiting for him at the courthouse and that his wife was "hysterical" about the situation. He was led into the elevator and into the 114th District Court in handcuffs, where his client was waiting. He said the judge held the motion to withdraw hearing and then told him he could leave.

"I don't know why she did it… I was humiliated," Roberson said. His aunt died two days later, he said. Roberson has practiced as an attorney in Tyler for 24 years, and is considered to be one of the most prominent attorneys in the area, said Wes Volberding, a Tyler defense attorney, who is advising him.

Roberson said the African American community has expressed concern at what happened. "When they brought me through the courthouse, there were several African American deputies present … you could see the disbelief on their faces that this was happening," he said.


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