A coalition of national and local Jewish organizations and lawyers have asked the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to stop the scheduled October 10, 2019 execution of a Jewish death-row prisoner to review his claim that the judge before whom he was tried was racist and anti-Semitic. Randy Halprin (pictured) was convicted and sentenced to death in a trial presided over by Dallas County Judge Vickers Cunningham, who referred to Halprin as a “f***ing Jew” and a “G*dd**n k**e” and called Halprin’s Latino co-defendants “wetb***s.” On September 5, 2019, the American Jewish Committee, the Union for Reform Judaism, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, and Men of Reform Judaism, and more than one hundred Jewish members of the State Bar of Texas filed an amicus brief with the state court in support of Halprin’s request for a stay of execution and a new trial free of bias.

Halprin was sentenced to death for the murder of a police officer who responded to a robbery committed by a group of inmates, later dubbed the“Texas 7,” who had escaped from a Texas prison in 2000. Halprin has long maintained that he was not involved in the shooting, but was convicted under Texas’ law of parties, which permits the death penalty based upon the actions of other participants in a felony, even if the defendant himself did not commit the killing or intend that a murder take place.

Halprin’s lawyers first learned of Judge Cunningham’s possible racial and religious bias as a result of news reports by the Dallas Morning News in 2018 that revealed that Cunningham had established a financial trust that rewarded his children if they married a white Christian of the opposite sex. Subsequent investigation by Halprin’s defense lawyers discovered that Cunningham had made bigoted comments about Jews in general and about Halprin personally. Halprin filed an appeal in May detailing Judge Cunningham’s bigoted speech and actions and arguing that Cunningham’s bias violated Halprin’s constitutional right to due process. In the stay application, they wrote, “Because the Supreme Court has held that a biased judge is structural error, …the evidence of bias, in and of itself, is more than sufficient to invalidate the conviction and sentence…. A biased judge constitutes a basic defect in the ‘whole adjudicatory framework’ of the trial.”

The amicus brief supports the stay and seeks further judicial review of the issue for Halprin. “If Judge Cunningham is the bigot described in the application, a fair trial has not yet happened,” the brief states. “Well into the twenty-first century, it is beyond dispute that a trial conducted before a racist judge who boasts of his bigotry is no trial at all. If the allegations here are true—and they unfortunately ring true—the trial was no trial, and the verdict no verdict, because the judge was no judge.”

The brief addresses the numerous ways in which Cunningham’s bias could have altered Halprin’s trial: “Even if Judge Cunningham were unaware of how his bias affected him, his prejudices—thinking of a Jewish defendant as a ‘k**e’ and his Latino co-defendants as ‘wetb***s’—rendered him unable to be neutral on pretrial motions, challenges to jurors, objections to evidence, proposed jury instructions, and his interactions with the lawyers, defendant, and jurors, regardless of whether they may appear facially neutral in the record.”

Two letters of support were also delivered to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and Dallas District Attorney John Creuzot, one from a group of interfaith leaders and another from a group of rabbis. The interfaith letter says, “As a diverse group of faith leaders, we stand united against any expression of hatred…. We are called to speak out against this bias and demand that our state leaders actively address anti-Semitism when it infects any public office or proceeding. In Mr. Halprin’s case, it is unacceptable that his legal proceedings were led by an official who appears to have harbored anti-Semitic beliefs.” The faith leaders continue, “There is no room for the possibility that the race, ethnicity, gender, or religious beliefs of the accused play a role in the proceedings. Any erosion of this basic right to be judged fairly and neutrally threatens the freedom and safety of all citizens.”

The rabbis’ letter describes Cunningham’s anti-Semitic actions, saying, “Drawing on enduring hateful and hurtful stereotypes about the Jewish people, Judge Cunningham attended a costume party dressed as a ‘Jew banker,’ and was quoted as having said that Jews ‘needed to be shut down because they controlled all the money and all the power.’” It cites biblical commands regarding the impartiality of judges, then goes on to link them to the ongoing importance of judicial fairness: “Judaism’s commitment to pursuing justice calls us to insist no judge can perform his or her tasks with integrity while holding religious or ethnic bias, discrimination or bigotry. Justice is only possible when we look at the actions of a person accused of crime, not who they are, where they come from, the color of their skin, or where they worship, if they do. And the possibility of justice is only possible if impartial courts hear out claims of judicial bias.” In June, the Anti-Defamation League filed a brief in support of Halprin, explaining the bigoted nature of Cunningham’s actions. It wrote that Cunningham’s “use of the term ‘Jew’ as a pejorative, and his apparent belief in the anti-Semitic conspiracy theory that Jews control money and power make it impossible to avoid the conclusion that he is an anti-Semite.”

In June, Halprin commented on the newly-discovered information, saying, “I’m still in shock and reflecting on the news that I had a judge who hated Jews. It’s just a weird thing to have someone hate you for a religious view or how you were raised, or whatever. I can only hope the court is fair and pays attention to this.”