Judge Meyers: ‘I’m really sorry’ for 4-year ticket fight (TX)

In an interview Friday morning, Judge Lawrence Meyers said he ended his four-year fight over a speeding ticket with more than a $535.90 payment – he also wrote a letter of apology to Austin Municipal Court.

“I told them I’m really sorry,” said Meyers, who could not be reached for comment Thursday for an American-Statesman story about the payment that ended his traffic case.

“I feel that I was very foolish for extending this all this time, and I’m just glad it’s over with. From the beginning, I should have worked it out,” he said.

The story of Meyers’ protracted fight over the 2008 speeding ticket, including an arrest warrant issued Oct. 20 after he had failed to pay a fine, had become a staple on local talk radio and national legal blogs.

The 19-year judge on the Court of Criminal Appeals, the state’s highest criminal court, had extended his fight over the ticket well beyond what is typical by employing legal tactics seldom seen in municipal court, including a writ of habeas corpus to overturn one conviction.

On Friday, a contrite Meyers said the coverage, along with reaction to it, “was a real awakening on how I’d lost my perspective on this case.”

Meyers said he believed he had a valid defense for speeding on Interstate 35 in North Austin. While driving in the left lane, he said, an emergency vehicle pulled behind him looking like it needed to pass, even though its overhead lights were off. Meyers said he sped up to let the vehicle by, and that’s when he was caught going 79 mph in a 60 mph zone.

In hindsight, Meyers said, the effort spent fighting what began as a $193 ticket was out of proportion.

Meyers’ public apology – relatively rare in a public official – was echoed in a letter he hand-delivered to municipal court Thursday after he had paid his fine online.

The letter also said he would not pursue a planned appeal in his case, said Meyers, who praised judges and staff at the city court, saying they had always acted professionally.


Judge Meyers: ‘I’m really sorry’ for 4-year ticket fight
Chuck Lindell
November 30, 2012
Austin American-Statesman

Additional coverage:

Judge pays 2008 traffic fine; arrest warrant voided
Chuck Lindell/Tony Plohetski
November 29, 2012
Austin American-Statesman

Lawrence Meyers, a judge on the state’s highest criminal court, paid off a 2008 speeding ticket Thursday morning, bringing his long-running legal challenge to a swift close and prompting Austin Municipal Court to cancel a warrant for his arrest.

Meyers submitted a $535.90 online payment to municipal court around 10:30 a.m., hours after the American-Statesman published a story detailing the legal maneuvers employed by Meyers but rarely seen in traffic court — such as a motion for new trial and a writ of habeas corpus — that delayed the disposition of his case.

A municipal court judge had issued the arrest warrant Oct. 20 when Meyers had failed to pay his fine after pleading guilty to speeding Aug. 8. The warrant put Meyers at risk of being booked into jail if he were pulled over in a traffic stop.

Efforts to reach Meyers, the longest serving current judge on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, were unsuccessful Thursday. His payment was confirmed by municipal court staff and a review of online court records.

In a series of interviews Wednesday, however, Meyers said he had declined to pay the fine in order to preserve his right to appeal his conviction, saying he believed the city judge had improperly left him little choice but to accept an unfavorable plea arrangement with prosecutors.

During his final interview Wednesday evening, Meyers at one point said he had decided to pay the fine, and forgo his appeal, “to get this whole thing over with.” Meyers then changed his mind, indicating he wanted to press ahead with his appeal.

News of the arrest warrant spread across the nation Thursday as media Internet sites, legal blogs and the American Bar Association Journal mentioned Meyers’ case. An online version of the Statesman story generated three dozen negative comments from readers, with many accusing Meyers of displaying arrogance or misusing the court system, and a version of the story also ran on the front page of his hometown newspaper, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Meyers’ original ticket included a $193 fine, court records show, and at various times as his case progressed, the municipal court tried to collect a $200 fine.

The final bill of $535.90 includes court costs, related fees and a $50 “warrant fee” assessed for the bench warrant for his arrest.

The case began Aug. 12, 2008, when Meyers was pulled over and ticketed for driving 79 mph in what was then a 60 mph zone on North Interstate 35 in Austin.

He entered a not guilty plea but missed his court date, then pleaded no contest when the case was reheard, after several delays, in 2010. Meyers then failed to pay his $200 fine, prompting a municipal court judge to issue the first of three bench warrants for his arrest. That warrant was rescinded after Meyers filed a writ of habeas corpus to overturn his conviction, followed by a motion for a new trial after another hearing and guilty verdict.

Arrest warrant issued for Fort Worth judge from unpaid 2008 speeding ticket
Chuck Lindell/Tony Plohetski – Austin American-Statesman
November 29, 2012
The Dallas Morning News

The longest serving judge on Texas’ highest criminal court has a warrant out for his arrest, issued by an Austin municipal court judge, for failure to pay a 2008 speeding ticket, the American-Statesman has found.

The arrest warrant for Lawrence Meyers, a 19-year judge on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, has been active since Oct. 20 and is the third time Meyers has faced possible arrest in his long-running battle over a $193 ticket for driving 19 miles over the speed limit on Interstate 35.

The case – repeatedly delayed at Meyers’ request and by legal challenges rarely pursued in traffic court – appeared to be over on Aug. 8, when Meyers pleaded guilty to speeding and was given two months to pay what had become a $481 fine, including court costs and related fees.

But when officials didn’t receive payment, Municipal Judge Ferdinand D. Clervi signed the warrant for Meyers’ arrest, meaning he could be taken to Travis County Jail at any time.

This week, Meyers said he declined to pay the fine because doing so would end his case, and therefore his ability to file an appeal based on what he alleges to be mistakes by Clervi.

According to Meyers, he approached Clervi intending to plead guilty and pay the fine, which he expected to be $100 to $200, based on the speed he had been traveling. Meyers said Clervi declined to take his guilty plea, giving him only two options: post a $500 bond and go to trial, or accept a plea deal from prosecutors to pay $481.

Feeling pressured, Meyers said, he accepted the deal with the intent of later filing an appeal seeking to overturn the conviction. That writ of habeas corpus – a legal challenge common in Meyers’ court but seldom seen in municipal court – will argue that Clervi violated Meyers’ right to make a plea in court and approved an excessive fine.

“I hate that there is an arrest warrant out, but I’ve got to look at the situation,” Meyers said in an interview. “All I was wanting to do was get it over with and be treated like any other citizen. I would’ve paid a fine within the range of punishment.”

Clervi and Presiding Austin Municipal Court Judge Evelyn McKee declined to discuss Meyers’ case because it appears to be ongoing.

Meyers’ legal tangle began Aug. 12, 2008, when he was pulled over for driving 79 mph in what was then a 60 mph zone near St. John’s Avenue in North Austin.

Meyers submitted a not guilty plea but failed to show up for his court date the next month, city records show.

The case apparently languished for a year, until Meyers requested a new court date, saying he wasn’t informed about the original trial. The request was granted, and his case eventually landed on the Aug. 13, 2010 docket, when Meyers pleaded no contest and was given 90 days to pay a $200 fine, city records show.

The deadline, however, passed without payment, leading Municipal Court Judge Kirk Kuykendall to issue a bench warrant for Meyers’ arrest on Feb. 20, 2011.

From there, according to city records, the case took several unexpected turns:

. After two months under an active arrest warrant, Meyers filed a writ of habeas corpus seeking to overturn the judgment against him and restart the case. Municipal Court Judge Celeste Villarreal granted the writ, the arrest warrant was voided, and Meyers’ case was reset for a hearing on Aug. 12.

. On that date, Meyers was again given 90 days to pay a $200 fine for speeding. Instead, he filed a motion for a new trial, which was granted last January.

. Meyers’ new trial was delayed six times this year, mostly at his request. His bid for a seventh delay, however, was rejected on June 29. When Meyers failed to appear that day for trial, Municipal Court Judge Rebecca Sonego signed a bench warrant for his arrest.

. Meyers appeared before Clervi on Aug. 8, pleaded guilty and was given one month to pay $481 in fines and fees. At Meyers’ request, Clervi extended the deadline another month – but when no payment was received, he eventually signed the current bench warrant seeking Meyers’ arrest.

By then, Clervi was the 13th municipal court judge to oversee a portion of Meyers’ case.

It is unlikely that police will track down and arrest Meyers because law enforcement seldom actively pursues warrants for traffic violations. However, such defendants are routinely arrested if they are pulled over again and a records search finds an outstanding warrant.

Meyers also has a second case pending in Austin Municipal Court for an unpaid fine after a city red light camera photographed his car running a stoplight at Interstate 35 and East 11th Street in January 2010. Records show Meyers hasn’t paid a $75 fine and $25 late fee for the infraction, a civil matter for which defendants don’t face arrest.

Meyers said this week that he didn’t remember receiving that ticket but promised to investigate and pay any fine he owes.

In addition, an online search of court records nationwide found that Meyers received a 1988 speeding ticket in Virginia that wasn’t resolved, and he was found guilty in absentia. Meyers acknowledged that he was taking classes at the University of Virginia at the time, but didn’t recall the ticket.

As for his long-running Austin case, Meyers said he hopes his writ will allow him to receive a new trial to present a defense explaining why he exceeded the speed limit four years ago – though he declined to discuss that reason in an interview.

“If they can show I sped with no particular good reason, then I should be found guilty,” he said. “That’s what I’ve been prevented from showing – the reason I had to go a little bit over the speed limit at that particular place and time. If you are breaking the law and you have no acceptable defense to that, then surely that is not acceptable conduct. But that is not what I have right now.”

Meyers sits on the Austin-based Court of Criminal Appeals, the court of final review for Texas criminal cases ranging from death penalty offenses to lesser crimes. Its sister court, the Texas Supreme Court, handles civil matters.

But the criminal court’s role in the justice system goes far broader than ruling on appeals. Its nine judges, elected by voters statewide to six-year terms, also set the rules of evidence for criminal cases, determine how criminal appeals may proceed and distribute money to educate judges and lawyers on legal matters.

Meyers was last elected to the court in 2010. Last year, during a short-lived campaign to challenge Presiding Judge Sharon Keller in the Republican primaries before backing out, Meyers acknowledged improperly using campaign donations to pay property taxes on his Austin home.

Meyers repaid $6,215 to his campaign, saying he had used part of his home as a campaign headquarters in 2011 and 2009 but misunderstood restrictions limiting the use of political donations on personal items.