Justice of the peace who proclaimed he ran 'a redneck court' receives public warning

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A Texas justice of the peace has received a public warning for his daily proclamation, “This is a redneck court,” after a complaint from a Hispanic litigant.

The State Commission on Judicial Conduct warned the judge, Christopher Lee of Kleberg County, in an April 18 order released on Tuesday, report Courthouse News Service, the Corpus Christi Caller-Times and KZTV 10. Lee will also have to take four hours of training from an assigned mentor in showing racial sensitivity and avoiding the appearance of bias.

Lee acknowledged he opens court each day by saying, “This is a redneck court,” according to the commission’s findings of fact.

Lee told the commission he believes “redneck” means “a small town country boy who works hard from sun up tell [sic] sundown in order to get the job done,” the order said. In his courtroom, he said, he intended the term to mean, “This court will work hard being informal to hear anything and everything pertaining to the case and stay as long as it takes to get to the truth.”

Lee also provided the commission with the Merriam-Webster definition, which says a redneck is “a white person who lives in a small town or in the country especially in the southern U.S., who typically has a working-class job, and who is seen by others as being uneducated and having opinions and attitudes that are offensive.”

Lee said he agreed with the definition. He also agreed the phrase “redneck court” could inject bias in a proceeding. But he didn’t think the Hispanic complainant, a litigant in a landlord-tenant dispute, would have viewed the term “redneck” as projecting potential bias.

The litigant had contended his landlord breached a lease agreement by intimidating conduct that included flying a Confederate flag on the property.

The commission concluded the redneck language displayed bias and prejudice against the litigant, and Lee had failed to be patient, dignified and courteous when he used the term.

Lee told the Caller-Times that the only person he was calling a redneck was himself. He said he used the term because it “means you know how to work.”

“I still don’t think I did anything wrong,” he told the newspaper.

Justices of the peace in Texas can hear landlord-tenant disputes, as well as hear traffic cases and misdemeanors punishable by fines, civil cases up to $10,000 in controversy and truancy cases.

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