Panel to decide if San Antonio judge can display gay pride flag

AUSTIN — An attorney’s grilling of a witness in the state’s highest civilian courtroom was polite but fraught with legal heartbreak — and it was a San Antonio judge in the hot seat.

The case: what is the difference between government speech and free speech? He pitted the sometimes-secret commission that oversees the Texas justice system against Judge Rosie Speedlin Gonzalez, who was trying to evade panel discipline.

Bexar County’s first openly gay Latina elected to a bench argued that her right to display a rainbow pride flag in her courtroom was protected by the First Amendment. Testimony at the special trial to decide his appeal took hours and a decision may not be made for months.

It was on the wall with the flags of Texas and the United States for about 10 months after she took office in 2019, but she removed it and moved it to her apartments after a complaint about it arose. resulted in a private warning from the State Commission on Judicial Conduct. .

The lawsuit was filed by a lawyer who found it offensive and sought to move all of his belongings from Bexar County Court No. 13, chaired by Speedlin Gonzalez. It is one of two county misdemeanor courts that focus on domestic violence cases.

Arguing before a three-judge panel convened by the commission in the Texas Supreme Court courtroom, Speedlin Gonzalez said the flag is not a political statement, but a symbol of inclusivity, acceptance of self, unity and pride for a community that she feels has long been oppressed and made to feel separate from everyone else.

“This flag is a flag that symbolizes equality,” she said during direct examination by attorney Phil Robertson, the commission’s attorney.

Robertson argued that the flag created the appearance of partisan bias.

Speedlin Gonzalez is also appealing a separate public reprimand issued by the commission for his social media posts praising attorneys after winning jury verdicts in his court.

Speedlin Gonzalez said a training session for new judges she attended after her election encouraged them to praise good work, but she stopped the praise after being reprimanded.

The Special Court of Review consisted of Bill Pedersen III and Bonnie Lee Goldstein, both judges of the state’s Fifth Court of Appeals; and J. Wade Birdwell, judge of the second court of appeal.

Their eventual decision on the flag dispute could set a precedent, “not just in Texas, but across the country,” said Deanna Whitley, who represents her.

“The panel views this as an important decision,” Whitley said after the hearing. “As a judge and a member of the LGBTQ community, when elected, she does not lose her rights. She has to balance them.

From the moment she was sworn in on January 1, 2019 and moved into her apartments, she has given it her own touch, hanging artwork and displaying symbols that not only reflect her cultural heritage, but also her identity of a homosexual woman.

Decor spilled into her courtroom and included ornaments on her judicial robe. The rainbow flag was a gift from Orgullo de San Antonio, the local LGBTQ council of the League of United Latin American Citizens. Orgullo is the Spanish word for pride.

It was a bit shorter than the Texas and American colors and some distance away, but all three were right behind the judges’ bench. Speedlin Gonzalez unsuccessfully argued before the commission in February 2020 that it was not a political symbol.

“We have, in our country and throughout the state, many – I couldn’t even say count them – children’s courts and family courts with rainbows all over their courtrooms. hearing,” she said in her testimony at the time. “But I was ordered to remove not only my flag, but also my rainbow-rimmed glasses, my multicolored pen on the bench, my rainbow flag mouse pad on the bench.”

Speedlin Gonzalez also stopped wearing a dress with a colorful design taken from a Mexican zarape, given to her by her stepmother, Phylis J. Speedlin, a former Fourth Court of Appeals jurist. She has stopped wearing a pin that recognizes the International Association of LGBTQ Judges.

The flag became an issue after local defense attorney Flavio Hernandez filed a motion to recuse Speedlin Gonzalez from presiding over his cases because of it. He also filed a complaint with the commission,

It was an anonymous complaint, but he admitted authoring it and told Express-News columnist Gilbert Garcia in a written statement in April 2020: “I may not be able to turn the tide plague of immorality sweeping our country like a virus, but in my own little way, I voiced my support for traditional American family values.

Testimony established that Speedlin Gonzalez is not the only Bexar County judge to wear distinctive robes. County Court Judge No. 2 Wayne Christian, who presides over the Veterans Treatment Court, wears a camouflage robe. Criminal Judge Andrew Carruthers’ robe has an African daishiki pattern on the shoulders.

And at least one other judge regularly wears a San Antonio Spurs pin, Speedlin Gonzalez pointed out. None of them were ordered by the commission to stick to basic black dresses and ditch the decorations – and none of them should be, she said .

Speedlin Gonzalez is re-elected this year and will face Republican Charles E. Gold in November.

[email protected] | Twitter: @elizabeth2863

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