Judge Chris Lee sees himself as an ordinary citizen of Kleberg County.
“Chris Lee is just a good ol’ country boy that don’t mind getting his hands dirty and we’re gonna get the job done, whatever the job may be,” he said.
Judge Lee also considers himself a ‘redneck’, and the Justice of the Peace for Riviera regularly referred to his courtroom as a “Redneck court”. That is until one day in 2016, when a Hispanic man appearing in Lee’s court took offense.
“Evidently the word redneck offended him, which in my opinion is not an offensive term,” said Lee. ”I apologize for offending anybody with the term redneck.”
The man, Jesus Espinosa complained to the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct. The commission sided with Espinosa, ruling Judge Lee failed to be patient, dignified and courteous to Espinosa.
The commission ordered Judge Lee to undergo four hours of racial sensitivity training, which the judge says he’ll comply with.
Lee also says he’ll never call his courtroom a redneck court again.
“It will never come out of my mouth in that courtroom, I promise,” said Lee.
People in Riviera use words like "excellent" and "great" to describe Judge Lee. A volunteer fire fighter, and heavily involved in livestock shows, Judge Lee says his work ethic is part of why he’s proud to call himself a redneck.
“A redneck is somebody that works hard, they most of the time live in the country,” said Lee. “Whether it’s the Deep South or the North, it doesn’t really matter.”
The incident in question occurred during a small claims hearing in November of 2016. The plaintiff in the case, Darla Gandy was Espinosa’s landlady, and sued Espinosa for breaking his lease.
According to Gandy, Espinosa, a Child Protective Services Special Investigator and Texas Peace Officer, who is authorized to carry a firearm, wore his gun into court.
Judge Lee asked Espinosa to remove the gun, which led to an argument.
KRIS 6 News also reached out to Espinosa for comment, but he declined a request for an interview.