Judge must undergo sensitivity training after 'tree and a rope' post

A Burnet County judge who wrote it’s “time for a tree and a rope” in reference to a black man accused of killing a police officer told the State Commission on Judicial Conduct that the remark was a reference to a 1980s salsa commercial.

The commission didn’t buy it.

Judge James Oakley received a formal reprimand from the commission last week, concluding he “cast reasonable doubt on his capacity to act impartially,” and willfully acted in a way that discredited the judiciary. He will be required to complete a 30-hour training program for new judges and participate in four hours of racial sensitivity training with a mentor.

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Oakley wrote “time for a tree and a rope” on Facebook on Nov. 21, in a comment to a post he shared from the San Antonio Police Department about the arrest of Otis Tyrone McKane, accused of killing Detective Benjamin Marconi.

The judge received immediate backlash from many who considered the comment a reference to lynching. He issued a public apology but denied his comment had anything to do with race.

The incident, the commission noted, became a local, national and international news story. The commission received 18 written complaints about Oakley. They included complaints about the post’s racial overtones, his call for vigilante justice, his seeming disregard for legal due process and his potential tainting of a jury pool.

“Multiple Complainants also questioned Judge Oakley’s suitability for judicial office, and expressed doubts that he could perform his duties impartially,” the reprimand said.

Oakley told the commission that the "tree and a rope" reference came from Old West references to hanging, such as a 1980s humorous Pace Picante salsa advertisement that ended with the threat "get a rope" when a chef tried to substitute New York salsa for San Antonio salsa.

“My comment was intended to reflect my personal feelings that this senseless murder of a police officer should qualify for the death penalty,” Oakley told the commission. “In my mind, the race/gender of the admitted cop killer was not relevant.”

He added that his Facebook comment did not discredit the judiciary because his words were twisted and “media stories were promoted as a political attack,” according to the reprimand.

The commission, however, noted that Oakley had never attended any Texas Association of Counties judicial training. And some of his comments in person apparently concerned members.

“During the appearance, Judge Oakley made certain statements that indicated to the Commission that he could benefit from racial sensitivity training with a mentoring judge,” the reprimand said.