Human rights advocates are sounding the alarm in Texas as a Jewish death row inmate is set to be executed against the backdrop of recently released evidence suggesting his trial judge was a racist and antisemite.
On Thursday, attorneys filed a Notice of Non-Opposition & Submission of Matter for Decision arguing that soon-to-be-executed Randy Halprin be granted a new trial due to the revelation of several anti-Latino and anti-Jewish comments made by former Dallas Judge Vickers Cunningham. An amicus brief was also filed and signed by over 100 Jewish attorneys from Texas, as well as the American Jewish Committee, and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.
On August 22, a motion for stay of execution was filed with the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals–citing recent media reports and signed declarations from the judge’s friends and colleagues attesting to his alleged bigotry.
An excerpt from that August filing notes:
The Honorable Vickers Cunningham, the presiding judge at Mr. Halprin’s capital trial, is a racist and anti-Semitic bigot who described Mr. Halprin as “that fuckin’ Jew” and a “goddamn kike.” That judge—who decided all pretrial motions, challenges during jury selection, and all objections during the taking of evidence—believed that Jews “needed to be shut down because they controlled all the money and all the power.”
One week after the above-referenced filing, Halprin’s attorneys met with Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot in a bid to convince the newly-elected DA to use his institutional imprimatur to oppose Halprin’s execution. Creuzot was not convinced and preferred to keep his office neutral–saying he would simply not oppose Halprin’s latest filings.
In comments provided to Law&Crime, Halprin’s attorney Tivon Schardl had harsh words for Creuzot.
“Texas lawyers with a wide range of cases and interests agree that the Court of Criminal Appeal must act to reassure the people of this State that a criminal judgment tainted by religious and ethnic bias cannot stand,” he said. “Similarly, District Attorney John Creuzot, who campaigned on a promise to eliminate bias from the criminal justice system, speaks volumes when he takes the rare decision not to oppose a stay of execution and further proceedings on the allegations.”
The latest legal filings were buoyed by the support of several non-legal advocates in Texas and across the country. Copies of those various letters and legal filings were also provided to Law&Crime via email.
“As a diverse group of faith leaders, we stand united against any expression of hatred,” an interfaith letter sent to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and Creuzot notes. “Texas must not carry out the scheduled execution of Mr. Halprin without first guaranteeing that his trial was not tainted by an anti-Semitic judge who held a religious bias against him.”
A separate letter signed by Jewish community leaders in Texas and Florida laid out the necessity of a judicial system free from the stain of racial hatred and anti-Jewish prejudice.
“As rabbis, cantors, and lay leaders from across the spectrum of Jewish practice and belief, we stand together in our belief that our country’s justice system, and those it employs, must be free of any bias that might hinder its ability to review evidence with impartiality and treat the accused with fairness and dignity,” the letter notes. “Capital punishment is the most extreme action a government can take against a citizen. State officials must therefore take every step to ensure complete public trust in any death penalty case.”
The Jewish leaders then bluntly ask:
How can the public trust that every decision Judge Cunningham made. during Mr. Halprin’s trial was fair and free of bias, knowing the comments his friends attribute to him? How can the public even be asked to trust the system if prosecutors oppose impartial. judicial review when this kind of evidence emerges?
Cunningham has been the subject of racist controversy before. As a Republican running for re-election in 2018, the now-former judge lost his seat after it was revealed that he created a trust fund for his children that rewarded them for marrying white Christians of the opposite sex.
That was not all, per Dallas News back in June:
Halprin’s attorneys quote Tammy McKinney, who grew up with Cunningham and knows him as an adult, as saying that the judge “did not like anyone not of his race, religion or creed, and he was very vocal about his disapproval.”
Halprin is scheduled to be executed on October 10, 2019.
[image via screengrab/Dallas Morning News]