SHERMAN, Texas (CN) - A Texas judge's bizarre habit of locking spectators out of his in-session courtroom is an unconstitutional denial of access, an attorney claims in court.
Attorney Norman Hoppenstein sued Collin County Justice of the Peace Chuck Ruckel, bailiff Tim Walker and constable Sammy Knapp in Federal Court on July 14.
Hoppenstein, whose law office is in Dallas, claimed he was directed to wait in a waiting room for his case to be called on Feb. 13.
"The door to the courtroom was locked, but court was in session," the 9-page complaint state. "Mr. Hoppenstein asked the others present and waiting for their cases to be heard why they were waiting in the waiting room rather than in the courtroom itself."
Hoppenstein said he knocked on the courtroom door and Walker refused him access, though Hoppenstein invoked his constitutional right to access.
"The civil matters heard by Judge Ruckel that morning were on the default judgment docket," Hoppenstein claims. "Accordingly, upon information and belief, there was no legitimate reason that morning (such as privacy of minors, trade secrets, or national security) to exclude spectators from the courtroom."
The policy of locking litigants and the public out of the courtroom continues in Ruckel's court to this day, the complaint states.
Hoppenstein seeks declaratory judgment that the lockout is unconstitutional, and a permanent injunction stopping the practice.
The defendants' attorney, Bob Davis with Matthews Stein in Dallas, declined to comment Wednesday. Davis said his office would "file an appropriate response with the federal court detailing the defendants' position."