Attorneys Blast Waco Judge for Million Dollar Bonds in Biker Shootout

How a Texas judge’s “irresponsibly biased public comments”  led defense lawyers to file an official judicial complaint.

By Rhonda Fanning & Alain StephensSeptember 28, 2015 8:58 am

On a seemingly normal Sunday afternoon in May, a congregation of bikers met at a Twin Peaks bar and restaurant in Waco, Texas.

While reports are still vague, some say it all started with someone getting their foot ran over. What followed in that heated exchanged would be one of the worst incidents of biker gang violence in U.S. history: 9 dead, 18 injured, and 177 arrested.

More than four months later, the incident is far from an open-and-shut case. There’s a gag order in place and not a single person has actually been indicted.

One consideration drawing attention is the fate of the 177 individuals who’ve found themselves arrested, and facing bonds as high as $1 million.

This issue prompted the 3,000-member Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association to file a judicial complaint against Justice of the Peace W.H. “Pete” Peterson, alleging a violation of the law and the Texas Constitution. It’s the second complaint against the JP.

TCDLA President Sam Bassett tells the Standard about what the complaint could mean for transparency in the courts.

“There was no differentiation in the defendants,” he says. “There was no individualized analysis of what involvement the persons might have had.”

Bassett says the “quick cut-and-paste” probable cause affidavits filed led to $1 million bonds for all 177 arrested.

Prosecutors and police officers have said that the high bail amount is meant to send a message that biker gang activity will not be tolerated. Bassett says Justice Peterson’s comments of the same sentiment show bias before trial.

“We have a presumption of innocence and for a judge, a judicial official to say ‘We’re gonna send a message’ is totally out of bounds,” he says.