In the eyes of the incumbent and the challenger for the 85th District Court, there was mud to be slung Wednesday night.
J.D. Langley and David Barron engaged in what is surely one of the most heated, vicious debates in local history. The discourse took place on KEOS Community Radio as the lead up to their April 11 runoff for Langley's seat on the bench. There is no candidate from another party running for the 85th District Court.
If you would like to hear audio of this debate in its entirety go to KEOS.org
Throughout the campaign, Barron has focused on alleged anger management problems of Langley's, and has been fueled by a pair of emerging issues.
One is an increasingly-known relationship between the judge and a local attorney, Patricia Bonilla Harrison, a relationship Langley maintains was professional.
In addition, a recent allegation of sexual harrassment has arisen against Langley. Gaye Lynn Sanders resigned from Langley's office, claiming she was treated inappropriately by the judge. Langley has denied the claims.
"I'm very, very suspicious about the manner in which this occurred, because it did occur one day prior to the primary election," Langley said in the debate Wednesday, referring to Sanders' resignation. He also claimed Barron had the letter of resignation before Langley's office.
"The idea that this was somehow orchestrated for political purposes is ridiculous," Barron said.
The debate's slinging began early in the broadcast after a caller asked whether Barron had been diagnosed as bipolar.
"Judge, is your wife calling in questions again," Barron asked Langley.
"I don't think my wife is even close to the telephone right now," Langley responded.
"Well, one of your supporters is doing it," Barron answered. "If you want to be man enough and ask me these questions, Judge, you go straight ahead and do it."
When Barron brought up Langley's anger management, the judge responded by bringing up somewhat similar allegations against Barron, saying he has displayed uncontrolled anger in previous law jobs in the Brazos Valley. And while Langley did credit Barron for getting admitted alcohol problems under control, he also said those past indiscretions needed to be examined by voters.
"It think that it is important if you have some kind of mental illness problem, whether or not you should serve as a district judge," Langley said.
Barron responded, "I don't have any mental problems. I think Judge Langley might benefit by talking to a psychologist or a psychiatrist because I think he has some underlying issues." Barron said he has overcome any past anger and alcohol problems.
Responding to allegations of him being overly angry on the bench, Judge Langley said that on occasion, he has shown anger towards some criminals and attorneys who are out of line, but that it has been an infrequent occurrance, and that he has never stepped over the line.
"Fear is an appropriate mechanism to change behavior when you can't get them to change their behavior any other way," Langley said.
Langley also claimed lawyers unhappy with his job have been the primary funders of the Barron campaign, which Langley said has raised five times the money of his reelection campaign.
"This has been one of the dirtiest campaigns that I have ever seen," Langley said, "and I can only attribute that to a small group of criminal defense lawyers who have banded together to buy the bench because they can't get their way."
Barron said fellow lawyers only make up a small percentage of his campaign funds, and that he's used his own money, taken out loans, and received contributions from friends.
The two also disagreed over the former job status of Harrison, who was offered the job of county juvenile referee last year, but turned it down. She said she had been offered a better position in Houston, but she turned it down at a time when prior alcohol-related arrests became a public talking point.
Langley said it was Judge Rick Davis who wanted to hire Harrison. That prompted a call from Davis during the debate to refute that statement, saying Harrison was actually his third choice. Langley said that was not what he remembered from the executive session discussion on Harrison. In that call during the show, Davis also expressed displeasure that his name was brought into another court's debate.
Harrison would later plead guilty in December 2005 to improper influence concerning her relationship with former Brazos County Court at Law #1 Judge Randy Michel, who himself pleaded guilty to abuse of official capacity. Michel had to resign from the bench as a result. The two had improper discussions about a case being tried by Michel, and which Harrison was an attorney for.
In what may have been the most notable statement of the night, Barron said, "I guess it boils down to this: do the voters want a reformed drunk, or a man who uses the courthouse as a sexual playground? Period."
In a much less-heated discussion, Jay Granberry and Amanda Matzke debated for the Republican nod in the County Court #1 race. The winner of that runoff will face Allen Segal in November.