A judge’s festive court welcome for an apprehended fugitive has judicial watchdogs and legal experts wondering whether the use of balloons and cake in legal proceedings overstepped the bounds of court decorum, the Dallas Morning News says. Billy Wayne Williams e disappeared during his trial on aggravated assault charges nearly a year ago. He was convicted and sentenced in absentia to life in prison by District Judge Faith Johnson. Williams, 54, choked his girlfriend into unconsciousness and had a history of domestic violence. When he returned to court for sentencing Monday after he was apprehended at a gas station, the courtroom was decorated with balloons, and a celebratory cake was on display.
Seana Willing, executive director of the Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct, is concerned that the tone of the proceeding made light of the occasion – a man being formally sentenced to life in prison. She said the events reminded her of the days when criminals were put on public display in stockades. “I’m not saying the defendant wasn’t a bad guy, but if you’re being sentenced to life in prison, there should be some solemnity,” Willing said. “Having cake and balloons is mocking him and making fun of him.” Robert Dawson, a law professor at the University of Texas, agreed. “That’s not the decorum and dignity that should accompany a court proceeding,” he said. Judge Johnson declined to comment about the balloons and cake, and offered up Mr. Williams’ bulging court file documenting his history of domestic violence. “The sentencing is over, and that’s history,” she said.