Dallas lawyer Bree West said Tammy Kemp deserves to be un-seated after her roles in two high profile cases.
The judge who hugged former Dallas cop and convicted murderer Amber Guyger drew a challenger in the March primary.
Tammy Kemp is seeking her third term as judge of the 204th State District Court. She was a prosecutor under former Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins.
Well-known attorney Bree West, whose father-in-law is longtime State Sen. Royce West, is challenging Kemp in the Democratic primary.
This judge hears felony criminal cases at the Frank Crowley Courts Building in Dallas. The race will come down to the Democratic primary election March 1. There are no Republican challengers for this race.
Kemp, who did not respond to interview requests, became well known during the 2019 murder trial of former Dallas police Officer Amber Guyger, who fatally shot Botham Jean — a Black man — in his own apartment, which she said she believed was hers. Jurors convicted Guyger, who is white, and sentenced her to 10 years in prison.
After the trial, Kemp gave Guyger a Bible and a hug. Her actions took place outside the presence of the jury but were captured on TV cameras and broadcast around the world. Some praised Kemp for showing mercy and compassion. But others said the behavior from a judge, who is supposed to remain impartial, was unethical. Jean’s younger brother, Brandt Jean, also hugged Guyger after the trial and said he forgave her.
That hug is one of the reasons West is running against Kemp.
“It is beyond inappropriate for a judge that presides over a murder trial — in the beginning, in the middle, in the end, when it’s over, whenever — to step off of their bench and physically hug a person that’s just been convicted of murder,” West said.
Kemp defended her actions in interviews shortly after the trial, saying it’s not uncommon for her to speak with people after they’ve been convicted to encourage them. Never before had one of those people asked for a hug, she said. Guyger did.
“And I thought, well, how can I not hug this woman?” Kemp said after the trial. “So when she asked the second time, I said yes.”
West said she decided to run after Kemp’s involvement in another high-profile case. Dallas police fired and arrested one of their own, Bryan Riser, on suspicion of ordering multiple killings. A judge later ordered Riser’s release from jail after deciding police did not have sufficient evidence to hold him.
In a hearing, Dallas police Detective Esteban Montenegro admitted to putting false information in an affidavit for Riser’s arrest, which Kemp signed. Montenegro wrote that cellphone data placed Riser in or around the area of the killings. But the cellphone data did not put Riser in the area when the killings occurred and Montenegro testified he erred in writing that it did. Montenegro later removed that information from the affidavit and went back to have Kemp sign the new affidavit. In the court hearing, defense attorney Toby Shook asked Montenegro what Kemp said when he told her about the changes in the affidavit.
“She basically said, ‘It’s OK. It’s an error,’” Montenegro testified.
West argues that Kemp should have been more critical of the detective. She believes Kemp has shown bias toward law enforcement.
“I think that if you have somebody that’s willing to rubber-stamp arrest warrants … without any check and balance, we as a community all need to be concerned about that,” West said.
Prosecutors have not presented Riser’s case to a grand jury and said during the hearing that they did not intend to unless more evidence was discovered to prove the charge.
West, who was a prosecutor for seven years and has spent the last five years as a defense lawyer, argues she can “bring balance to the bench.”
“I understand the system from both sides. I think that that makes it so that I can see the holes and can be really committed to trying to fix them,” West said.
The deadline to register to vote is Jan. 31.