A longtime local judge who has been criticized in several Fort Worth Weekly articles over the years is seeking reelection – and going on the attack. In January, Justice of the Peace Jacquelyn Wright left a comment on the article “Riding the Bench” (May 10, 2017), in which we described how Lake Worth police accused Wright of refusing to sign their arrest warrants because one of their detectives had announced plans to run against her in the Republican primary election on March 6.
“This story is a complete lie,” Wright wrote.
Hey, I wrote that story. So ouch.
“Over 57 percent of the warrants I sign are for the City of Lake Worth,” she wrote. “I’ve offered to show the records to the Weekly, but the truth never stands in the way of a good story.”
Double ouch. I must really suck as a reporter.
Wright’s comment told people to get the “real story” at her website, where she has published rebuttals to other “rumors” about her actions both on and off the bench. The rumors were actually researched and reported as fact in the form of Weekly news articles, but it’s her website, so she can call them what she wants.
Wright was first elected to the bench in 1991 and has presided over administrative hearings and civil and criminal cases for Precinct 4 ever since. The precinct includes portions of 15 municipalities, including Azle and Lake Worth, and 10 school districts in Northwest Tarrant County.
Last week, I asked Wright for the records that she allegedly offered to show me last year. (She didn’t.) She told me she had public records that proved she signed many warrants for Lake Worth police. At the time I was researching that story, the Lake Worth police chief told me Wright had refused to sign warrants for two months. We published the story in May.
Wright said she signed off on more than 80 warrants last year, a large portion of them for Lake Worth police. I asked how many warrants she signed for Lake Worth police in March and April of 2017, the two months in question.
She had not signed any during that time.
Police had not brought any warrants for her to sign during that time, she countered. She had refused to sign warrants only for her political opponent, the Lake Worth police detective, she said, citing the potential for conflict of interest. The detective could accuse her of letting politics impact her judgment if she refused to sign a warrant for him, Wright said.
At the time, however, the police chief told me Wright had refused to sign any warrants for his staff. Wright said he was mistaken.
Another “rumor” involved an ethics breach committed while campaigning during the Republican primary in 2013. Wright sent a letter to the Tarrant County GOP chairperson suggesting a “win-win solution” that smacked of quid pro quo.
“At the end of this term, I will have completed 24 years,” Wright wrote. “I must have 25 in order to get to full retirment [sic]. So I will fight like the dickens to get there. I must get sworn in January 2015 in order to qualify for the 25 years and full retirement. That doesn’t mean I must fulfill the next term of office.”
Wright suggested she could win the election, serve at least a year of her four-year term, and then step down and endorse her challenger as her replacement. The GOP chairperson reported the letter to the Office of the Secretary of State. That earned Wright a public warning from the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, which also ordered her to receive three hours of additional judicial training.
Wright visited the same political opponent’s Facebook page on the March 4, 2013 primary election night and left a message: “Here’s an Italian wish … ‘bafongoo’ and that’s accompanied by a flick of the wrist under the chin.” (“Bafongoo, Voters!” Oct. 15, 2015.)
“Bafongoo” is Italian slang for “fuck off” or “go fuck yourself.”
Now, Wright’s campaign website says her admonishment from the state commission was overturned by an appeals court tribunal. “They ruled that even judges have the right to free speech,” Wright wrote.
I asked which free speech case she is referring to, and she said, “The ruling came down about two weeks later from an appeals court tribunal,” she said. “Judge Savage is the one who challenged the issue, because she was charged with the same thing. The tribunal ruled against the commission, saying that even judges have the rights to free speech.”
There are no records of a “Judge Savage” being admonished by the commission in 2015. Wright appears to be referring to state District Judge Michelle Slaughter. The commission admonished her in April 2015, after she posted basic information on her Facebook page about a case in her court. In September, not long after Wright was admonished, the commission rescinded its charges against Slaughter. But that was a different case and different situation (and didn’t involve telling anyone to go fuck themselves). The Wright admonishment, which is still available online as public record, lists several problems and focused mostly on her quid pro quo offer to the GOP chairperson rather than the “bafongoo” flap.
The judge’s online rebuttals to the various “rumors” might hold up in (her) court. But, to us, her responses appear to stretch the parameters of truth juuuuust a smidgen. Oh, well. Wright won her last election handily, hasn’t been unseated for a quarter century, and told us she loves her job and wants to continue serving another two or three terms. That’s not a rumor. It came straight from the judge’s mouth.