1992 Barbara Rosenberg Campaign Story

By Barbara Rosenberg

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My story is not one of personal gay activism, but it is a story of gay activism. My story is a glimpse at the 1992 Justice Rosenberg campaign for the Dallas Court of Appeals.

But first let me give you a little background. I was born in Galveston and raised in Texas City. Texas City is a small industrial town on the Gulf Coast. Having grown up there I established two goals. The first was to get out of Texas City and the second was to get a car.

I got out and went to University of Texas at Austin. I thought I should study the hardest subject I could think of. I chose math. Well, I did get my BA in Math but barely. I taught for a year and all the teachers I admired wished they were doing something else. After hearing this my Mother encouraged me to do something else. When I mentioned law, she called law schools and found my LSAT scores taken several years before. Thus after a short time as a teacher and getting a car, I entered law school. Now I had found a course of study where I could excel. I graduated 4th in my class.

For women in 1976 and education and a profession did not necessarily mean employment. I could not get an interview with a big firm or a clerkship that usually came with my class standing. At that time most firms did not have women and no woman had clerked for the Texas Supreme Court. 

That experience got me active in women's issues and politics. I wanted to make it easier for those that followed. I was helped along by my law school classmate, Don Maison, the only person I knew when I moved to Dallas. He introduced me to the Democratic Party leadership. While studying for the bar I helped organize a successful challenge of conservative delegates to 1976 Texas State Democratic Convention. The challenged delegates had illegally manipulated the delegate allocation to the convention. From that time on I have been an activist and participant in the convention process.

Don also helped get my career started by introducing me to the person who gave me my first job, Alvin Granoff (a future state representative).

My first break into the judiciary came from working in a municipal campaign. My candidate, Don Hicks from Oak Cliff, won. At the victory party he told me that he thought I would make a good judge. He asked if would I be interested. I said yes. My friends thought it was impossible because I had been a lawyer less than a year. Nevertheless, through his guidance, I was appointed a part-time municipal judge.

I worked in the municipal court and various law offices for the next 7 years. During that period I was on the legal team defending those arrested in the Village Station raids and I taught the then Gay Political Caucus members the rules of participating in the democratic convention process. I was vice chair of the Dallas Area Women's Political Caucus.

My next step in the judiciary was an appointment as an associate judge for the 330th District Court, a family court. I had applied for the job several times and was not chosen. In the 1980's all the judges were Republican and found me too political--that is all but one, Theo Bedard. She had been a Democratic judge at one time. When it came time for her to choose an associate judge to work for her court she called me. Her only question about politics was whether I intended to protest the Republican National Convention in Dallas that year. I responded that I had previous plans out of town that week.

While in the family court I worked for many campaigns, was a delegate to two Democratic National Conventions, president of the Women and the Law Section establishing gender bias study for the courts, and a vice president of the American Jewish Congress. I thought about running for office. But I was told that I could not win with a name like Rosenberg. The only Jews that held office at that time in Dallas County had the last names Frost and Moss. I sat back.

Then Ann Richards won office. I had been hearing divorces for seven years and I was willing to take the risk to run in a Republican district. When there was an opening on the Dallas Court of Appeals I applied. After Ann Richards appointed me, Harryette Ehrhardt stepped up and did me the great favor of being my campaign manager and Mary Gilmore became the campaign administrator. Deb Floyd designed and took care of the data base. Tom Timmons became my legal advisor.

Charlotte Taft immediately advised me that I would have to tell people why I want to be a judge. She knew I was very reserved but she said I would have to express my feelings during the campaign. I had to dig deep and I learned about myself and others.

The district covered seven counties and my staff was worried about a Jewish woman running in the rural counties. I was not as worried I grew up in Texas City, there weren't many Jews there. As it turned out, I was never publicly asked about my religion. The only time I was asked if I was Jewish was in private by other Jews.

To make sure I was prepared they enlisted Susan Caudell to conducted interviews in front of video camera, so I could practice answering questions about religion and myself. But nothing quite prepared me for what came next.

Criminal District Court Judge Jack Hampton was my opponent. All of a sudden this campaign was high profile. You might ask why running against Jack Hampton was such a big deal.

Well in 1988 Jack Hampton commented on a criminal case that he had heard against Richard Lee Bednarski who was tried for the murders of Tommy Lee Trimble and John Lloyd Griffin, two gay men. He was interviewed about the relatively light sentence that that he gave Bednarski. In response to the questions he stated:

1) these two gays that got killed wouldn't have been killed if they hadn't been cruising the streets picking up teenage boys.

2) I don't care much for queers cruising the streets picking up teenage boys. I've got a teenage boy.

3) some murder victims are less innocent in their deaths than others. In those cases a defendant is unlikely to deserve a maximum sentence.

4) I put prostitutes and gays at about the same level. If these boys had picked up two prostitutes and taken them to the woods and killed them, I'd consider that a similar case. And I'd be hard put to give somebody life for killing a prostitute.

He then told the paper to spell his name right. And if this decision makes anybody mad they'll forget for the next election. It was not enough to give this interview to the Times Herald but he repeated his reasoning in a telephone interview given to the Associated Press. He said he didn't care what the Gay Alliance thought.

No surprise, the LGBT community and allies decided to take a stand against this type of bias in the judiciary. Religious leaders urged Hampton to retract his anti-gay comments. Eighteen hundred complaints were filed with the Commission on Judicial Conduct (the most ever). Thirteen attorneys some of whom had cases in his court filed a petition for his removal. Don Maison, Bill Nelson (the lawyer), Jerry Birdwell and Jim Barber were among those signing. Also lawyers representing J.L. Turner, the African-American attorney association, the American Jewish Congress, and North Texas Legal Services signed. The gay alliance lead a 500 person protest. At the protest statements were read from Ann Richards and U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy. Hampton's words made national news. Even the New York Times editorial disapproved of Hampton's comments.

As a result, the State Commission on Judicial Conduct denounced the public comments made by Hampton holding that the comments were destructive to the public confidence in the judiciary. A public censure was issued.

However, he could remain on the bench. And he was running against me. Would people remember? The press did. The press was calling from day one.

Our first plan was to try to put Hampton off the ballot because he filed defective petitions. We thought it would be easier to win if I did not have an opponent. But the courts allowed him to stay on the ballot with the defective petitions.

At this point I really thought that running against a biased judge would not be that hard. Who would want a censured judge? Early on the campaign I got a quick lesson. I won a vote of attorneys in a bar poll but by less than 200 votes out of three thousand. The Committee for a Qualified Judiciary run by attorneys and business leaders did not endorse either of us. Those that supported Hampton would not vote for me unless Hampton got an endorsement too. I lost the endorsement by one vote.

I guess Hampton also thought I would be easy to beat. Republicans had been winning seats on the court of appeals. A friend did a little undercover work to see what his campaign was saying and doing. His campaign was describing me as a New York Jewish lesbian. We had a plan for such questions but nobody asked.

His literature stated that he was a native Texan with Texas values. Imagine his surprise at our first joint appearance when he learned I was born in Galveston, a native Texan after all.

But native Texan or not I needed 400,000 votes to win the election. From our previous campaigns, Harryette and I knew that we need some data to decide how to proceed. We commissioned a poll. It was not exactly commissioned. We had a book and some software. We wrote questions and got a phone bank. We picked a sample of independents. The questions included a choice of characteristics that are wanted in a judge: fairness, intelligence, age, years of experience, toughness, integrity, public conduct, honesty, party affiliation, race, religion. Together fairness integrity and fairness received 55%. No one said party. This looked good.

The poll asked about endorsements. Most it was pretty even whether they helped or hurt. But 76% of the respondents said they were less likely or much less likely to vote for a person endorsed by an LGBT group. The poll also showed that the respondents did not want gays treated unfairly or prevented from holding office (Jerry Birdwell was running that year).

The poll showed that the respondents got there information from stories in the newspaper and the TV. The polling showed that if no one knew us I got 28% and he got 25%. When people got information about each of us I got 61% of the vote. I needed to remind people who Hampton was and get a message of fairness to as many as possible and getting on TV was the answer. We needed to raise enough money ($200,000) to get on television.

In my personal communication, Charlotte did not have to worry because with Hampton it was easy to show my feelings about the race and why I wanted to be on the court. I would say "A judge has a special charge given in the code of judicial conduct that states: A judge shall perform judicial duties without prejudice or bias. In my opinion there is no place for prejudice and bias in this world but prejudice and bias must be kept out of the courtroom. That is the pledge that I give you."

Now I need someplace to say it. And Harryette and Mary sent me to every woman's club, political organization professional association that would listen to me. It did not matter how small or large. I went places where there were only two voters. I went after every endorsement. They would send me alone to strangers homes with all my campaign material. It was a time without cell phones and GPS. Map in hand I would set out, set up give my speech. I would collect names and money and move on to the next event. Because of my activism, time in the judiciary, the staff and my opponent, volunteers joined the effort and soon I would have company at the house parties.

It was always exciting when a new volunteer walked in and proposed a new group to meet. Carl Parker walked into the campaign office (Harryette's home) and made a proposal that was campaign changing. He suggested a series of fundraisers given by Black Tie Dinner table captains. I do not have a count of how many homes I went too but I had 99 home fundraisers that year and I am sure he is responsible for most of them. I think George Harris and Jack Evans attended every one and could have given my stump speech.

At one of those parties at the home of Mike Hutchison (the senator's nephew), sponsored also by Lee Taft and Mike Anglin, I met Mike's mother Mrs. Hutchison, a prominent republican and president of a republican women's club. After hearing my campaign pitch she invited me to do the same at her home in Bent Tree. I was nervous, but I was in. I would go into the heart of Republican country. I arrived, and there were about 15 couples. Before my time to talk the women surrounded me and started asking questions. I gave a little information and then mentioned I was appointed by Ann Richards. They each took a step back and gasped, "She's a Democrat." Mrs. Hutchison had not told them. They all stayed to hear my talk and took yard signs. That night I made a few more friends. I thought to myself, we are right ... most people want an unbiased judge. Mrs. Hutchison was severely criticized by other Republicans for supporting the campaign. People like her make a difference in this world. She understood that fairness is important in the judiciary, as well as life.

At my bank a teller recognized me and said she was a Republican. She told me all her Republican friends were voting for me. They could not have Hampton on the bench.

I was feeling good. I needed not to make any mistakes. I think trying to be perfect caused a few break downs. My staff booked me for a live interview on a gay news program called KYRO on local access cable. Pat Gamble drove me there. When I arrived I was greeted by the on-screen commentators in drag. Even Pat's brow raised. I panicked. I was much too serious for this. I called my staff and asked what was going on.

They calmed me down. As I sat and waited for my turn, a taped interview of Senator Paul Tsongas was shown. There was news segment "about town" given by a drag queen. But she did not interview me. The interview went well, and I still have that tape of the program.

A highlight of the campaign was meeting Stephen Pyles at an event at Kay Wilkenson's home. He was not political but for me he gave a small dinner for my large donors at the Routh Street Cafe. It was a six course dinner with 6 matching wines. It impressed all.

In running for judicial office there were many forums. In most forums Judges don't debate they present their credential and reasons for running. I learned a little about credentials at the Van Zandt County Farm Bureau's Chili Supper and Candidates night. Each candidate had 3 minutes to present themselves. The MC was an Aggie that made fun of every UT graduate. After my intro (he missed my UT credential) I stated that I had learned a little about qualifications for office here. And I wanted everyone to know my father had graduated from Texas A&M and so did my brother. There was a roar of laughter and I won Van Zandt County.

Because of the high profile of the race, there were many additional forums where people could ask questions. Wherever we went you could tell the difference between the two of us. You either liked him or me. No one could like both. For example, when asked why we wanted to be a judge, he said he wanted a steady pay check, I said I was interested in justice.

During that year it was reported that Hampton remarked during one trial that he was glad he had an all white jury and in another made jokes about the disabled. But Hampton was only asked about his biases once. It was at a forum at the Jewish Community Center where 36 candidates had been invited to speak. There, an audience member asked Hampton and me the following question: Do you think homosexuals should be treated differently from other people before the court? I answered first: everyone is equal when it comes to the law. Hampton refused to answer the question. No comment. As some members of the audience laughed, Hampton became red-faced and angry and then stormed off the podium. It was October 8.

Thus, we got our newspaper stories. The time was right for the TV ads. They went up as early voting started. The ads reminded voter of his censure and offered the alternative. There was also a Democratic Party ad for all the candidates for the Dallas court with Ann Richards speaking. People noticed.

From January 1-October 31, I raised over $150,000 the second most in the state for that office, from over 1000 contributors. That along with hundreds of phone calls for contributions, 400 appearances including 25 law firms, over 99 small fundraising events. I appeared in 4 parades, 2 radio shows and several TV news programs. I had 275 volunteers, volunteers made phone calls, helped with mailings, distributed thousands of yard signs in the seven counties and to all polling locations, 50,000 pieces of mail were distributed. This does not include what the endorsing organizations like the LGPC did. It was a movement. The campaign was exhausting for all. I gave my 100% and so did everyone else. On election night we got 409,0975 votes. I won by 15,000 votes. A close one but a win. The result even made the New York Times crediting the LGBT community and women for the win.

From the campaign, I learned people would put a Rosenberg bumper sticker on their car. I had my doubts. I learned that a majority of people want to be fair unbiased judiciary and would cross party lines to achieve it.

I learned how much of a difference you make when you stand up for your own rights. Even an event that takes place in 1988 could make a difference and be remembered in 1992. The LGBT community made a significant difference between winning and losing that race when it stood up to Jack Hampton and said no in 1988. And what remains true is that what we do now makes a difference in the future we will have.

Barbara's remarks are from Outrageous Oral Volume 14