Bum Steer: The Judge Who Facebooked Johnny Football’s Speeding Ticket
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We’ve all been there, right?
You’re in a hurry. You’re distracted. Maybe “Enter Sandman” by Metallica is playing. You get worked up. Next thing you know, your foot’s too heavy on the gas, and—BAM—you just got yourself a speeding ticket.
Next thing you know, your fingers hit the phone keyboard, and—BAM—you just said something that you shouldn’t have on social media.
So it was in the case of “a certain unnamed (very) recent Heisman Trophy winner” and Ennis municipal court presiding judge W. Lee Johnson (just “Lee Johnson” to his Facebook friends … and their cats).
As the screenshot on the left (via the message board TexAgs.com, which as far as we can tell published the image first) shows, Judge Johnson thought it would be fun to coyly—but not very subtly—tell his little corner of the virtual world that Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel commited a moving violation in his town, which is a little south of Dallas on the way to Houston (or College Station).
If the judge thought that not naming names would sidestep any ethical concerns, he probably should have been more subtle, what with the OU reference and the “Gig Em” (sic).
“‘Allegedly’ speeding,” he added in a second Facebook post, which still came off as more sarcastic than ass-covering.
Johnson’s inappropriate glee apparently stems from the fact that he got both his undergraduate and law degree from Baylor. A&M and Baylor fans have never had a warm relationship, with the Aggies’ 2011 NCAA women’s basketball title and last fall’s SEC drama only heightening the rivalry. Our favorite dear departed Aggie feline, AggieBisbee, especially loved to make fun of the Bears on Twitter.
“It’s just another unfortunate reminder that everything Johnny Football does will be magnified and, usually, criticized,” wrote David Harris of Aggiesports.
“If any other person had received that speeding ticket, we’d never know about it,” echoed Chris Huston of Heisman Pundit. “At the very least (according to legal experts we consulted), [Johnson’s] commentary is unethical and could result in some disciplinary action—or force him to recuse himself from the case.”
That’s assuming Manziel would contest the ticket, which may be tempting now. After all, as anNCAA athlete, the 20 year-old probably doesn’t have much money. But wouldn’t that just mean another round of media coverage?
As WFAA and the Associated Press reported, Ennis city manager Steve Howerton distanced the town from Johnson’s actions, issuing a statement that called his comments “insensitive and inappropriate.”
“Receiving a traffic ticket is not a humorous matter,” the statement read. “Further, it is not the policy of the City of Ennis to indiscriminately publish the identity of traffic ticket recipients or to publicly lecture them.”
Howerton said Johnson has worked in public service for 25 years with an “unblemished record” and reached out to the football player in an attempt to apologize. The city manager said the incident is under investigation.
Johnson has yet to make a public statement since the story broke; the clerk who answered the Ennis Municipal Court phone number on Tuesday told the TM Daily Post “it’s a pending case, we have no comment at this time.”
Of course, nobody wants to hear what Johnson has to say about the speeding ticket; just about his own actions. The Facebook post could certainly be seen as a violation of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct (h/t to TexAgs there as well), which says, among other things, that a judge “should participate in establishing, maintaining and enforcing high standards of conduct, and should personally observe those standards” and “should act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.”
In other words: no trolling. No internet snark. And no “Sic ‘Em!”
“It’s not clear why a municipal judge has a Facebook page in the first place,” wrote Andrew Lu of Findlaw’s Tarnished 20 blog.