By Larry Landaker
PEC Board member and Burnet County Judge James Oakley has been publicly reprimanded and ordered to take additional education by the State of Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct, according to copies of state documents recently obtained by PECTruthwatch.
These actions are in response to Mr. Oakley’s, “Time for a tree and a rope” comments posting to the San Antonio Police Department Facebook page in November, 2016 following the arrest of Otis Tyrone McKane, an African-American man arrested and charged with the capital murder killing of a San Antonio police officer. Those comments were also posted to Mr. Oakley’s personal Facebook page. These posts became the subject of negative local, national and international media attention.
The PEC Board of Directors considered this same matter for several weeks in late 2016. They received comments from members and employees and took little action other than to issue a warning and remove Mr. Oakley’s VP title. See Editor’s note.
The State Commission on Judicial Conduct received numerous written complaints including concerns about the call for vigilante justice, the apparent disregard for due process of law, the influence the comment could have on a potential jury pool and racial insensitivity.
Asked by the Commission to explain the intent and context of the Facebook post, Mr. Oakley responded, “My comment was intended to reflect my personal feelings that this senseless murder of a police officer should qualify for the death penalty. In my mind the race/gender of the admitted cop killer was not relevant.” Mr. Oakley further added, that a “tree and a rope” was a reference to the humorous advertising campaign for Pace Picante Sauce Salsa from the 1980’s.
At his appearance before the Commission on April 5, 2017, Mr. Oakley testified that while he handled uncontested probate and guardianship matters as a judicial officer, he has never attended any of the judicial training offered by the Texas Association of Counties.
During his appearance Mr. Oakley made certain statements, according to the Report, that indicated to the Commission that he could benefit from racial sensitivity training with a mentoring judge.
According to the Report, the commission considered two relevant standards in making its decision to reprimand Mr. Oakley and order additional education:
- Canon 4A(1) of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct provides in relevant part that a judge “shall conduct all of the judge’s extracurricular activities so that they do not cast reasonable doubt on the judge’s capacity to act impartially as a judge.”
- Article V. 1-a(6)A of the Texas Constitution provides, in relevant part, that a judge shall not engage in “willful or persistent conduct” that casts public discredit upon the judiciary or administration of justice.”
The Commission concluded that Mr. Oakley did, in fact, cast reasonable doubt on his capacity to act impartially in the performance of his duties and was condemned and publicly reprimanded for doing so.
The following was ordered:
In addition to completing his annual required judicial education, Mr. Oakley must attend and complete the next available 30-hour educational training program for new judges and he must participate in 4-hours of instruction in the area of racial insensitivity with a mentor to be chosen by the Commission.
It was further ordered that these actions be made the subject of a Public Reprimand and Order of Additional Education.
A full copy of the public sanction is found here: scan0065
Editor’s Note: The PEC Board of Directors considered this same matter for several weeks in late 2016. They received comments from members and employees but ultimately took little action other than to issue a warning and remove Mr. Oakley’s VP title. They did however note that “no member or employee should be subject to any actual perceived act of retaliation for their individual input into the Cooperative’s review of this matter…that retaliation is strictly prohibited and that the board authorizes and encourages PEC management to act swiftly under current PEC policy and procedures with the reporting and immediate addressing of any action of retaliation.”