October 12, 2021 — Dallas, Texas
American Jewish Committee (AJC) welcomed a Texas court’s decision to recommend a new trial for Randy Halprin, a Jewish prisoner on death row who has long claimed that the judge presiding over his trial was inherently biased against Jews and other minorities.
“The court reached the only possible result, that the original judge’s long uncontested and undisguised bigotry made it essential that Randy Halprin be granted a new trial,” said AJC Chief Legal Officer Marc Stern. “The district court’s recommendation that the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals order a new trial is a vindication of core American principles of impartiality in American jurisprudence.”
The court’s ruling was based on an exhaustive review of Halprin’s trial records, Cunningham’s statements about Jews during that trial and over many years in Dallas County, and testimony from the judge’s family and associates.
“Judge Vickers Cunningham possessed antisemitic prejudice against Halprin which violate Halprin’s constitutional right to a trial in a fair tribunal,” wrote Dallas Criminal District Court Judge Lela Mays in the decision. “Halprin’s right to a fair proceeding has been violated. A new fair trial is the only remedy.”
Cunningham sentenced Halprin to death in 2003 for his role as a member of the Texas 7 gang of prison escapees in the murder of a police officer in December 2000.
AJC filed an amicus brief in September 2019 in support of Halprin’s petition to stay his execution and order a new trial on allegations that Cunningham was hopelessly biased against Jews. The brief disclaimed any view on Halprin’s guilt or innocence. What mattered was that his “trial” was fundamentally an irreparably flawed. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals stayed the execution in October 2019 and remanded the case to the district court in Dallas County.
“In light of all the evidence," the District Court found that “Judge Cunningham harbored actual, subjective bias against Halprin because Halprin is a Jew, and that Judge Cunningham’s antisemitic prejudices created an objectively intolerable risk of bias,” states Judge Mays’ decision.
“The uncontested and credible evidence presented through Halprin’s witnesses detailing (and quoting) Cunningham reflect lifelong prejudices,” wrote Judge May. “Given his longstanding prejudices, Judge Cunningham must have been aware that he was required to recuse or disqualify himself on the basis of bias, or at least reveal his views so that the parties could decide whether to seek his removal."
AJC Dallas President Elect Stuart Blaugrund of Blaugrund PLLC, who prepared the 2019 AJC amicus brief in collaboration with Marc R. Stanley and Martin Woodward of Stanley Law Group, stated that “the Court’s findings regarding Judge Cunningham’s racist and antisemitic comments are not just shocking, they are morally outrageous. What is particularly horrifying about the Halprin case is that this could have happened to anybody in any courtroom across America.”