Barrera allows a chuckle. “You probably have a greater number of defense attorneys who think he’s okay than do judges and prosecutors. I say probably, overall, two thirds of all people who work in the courthouse think he goes too far.”
And this is in Travis County, a known island of liberal thinking—and liberal juries—in a sea of dead-red Baptists.
As we converse I get the impression that Barrera likes Reposa, even if he finds his act obnoxious. Thinks he is smart. Just too much of a wiseass—particularly when he knows he’s right.
“He’ll make comments that are unnecessary,” Barrera says, “although they might be true. He can’t refrain. They make him look bad.”
Like badgering the state’s expert witness about the level of pain a blood-engorged penis jammed up her butt would cause.
TWO DAYS EARLIER
“Oh, man, I was so fuckin’ right about that penis thing. The jerk-off sign? Same trial. Okay, wrong on that. Not wrong-wrong, you know, but wrong to, like, do it. I apologized. Took my jail time. Told you I came out with four clients? Took the home confinement with the ankle monitor, paid the $3,000 fine. Took the work release picking up trash on the side of the road. The three-year probation, up next March.”
Reposa spoons the last of the sludgy frozen margarita into my glass, orders chicken burritos, a side of red beans and rice, another pitcher. In perfect Spanish. South side of town, across the Colorado. Gen-u-ine Mex restaurant.
Certain he is always “so fuckin’ right” and then being so smart about it has been a hallmark since he first began practicing. One of his first trials, defending “a buddy” charged with second-degree DWI, was up in Denton County, north of Dallas. “Bunch of Baptists,” he remembers. “Super Bible Belt.”
Cut his hair, wore a conservative suit, ended his summation “just throwing out random shit.” Mimics the twang he used, as slurry as any jim-cracker.
“As ah stand heeyuh I am jus’ afraid that I didn’t do a good ’nough job for mah client. I am jus’ afraid that I failed him buh-cause I know he is not guilty. I can look at this videotape and tell that he is not guilty. And I pray to Gawd that ahm not alone.…”
Ace in the hole? The clock. It was 4:40, and court was closing at five. Only Reposa noticed. The judge moved to send the jury home and come back the next morning to deliberate. “I hopped out of my chair. ‘Judge, we don’t mind. Let ’em start deliberating.’ Looks at me with these fucking killer eyes.
“Then he turns to the jury and says, ‘Do y’all want to try and deliberate for 15 minutes?’ Jury says yes. At 4:59 they come in. Out 16 minutes. Not guilty. Like they were really gonna come back tomorrow. Judge is fuckin’ pissed. Kinda growls, ‘You got lucky, Mr. Reposa.’”
Luck is good. Until it goes bad. Like in the penis case. “Pure bullshit” Reposa calls the state bar’s grievance against him. “And it wasn’t even the witness who complained; it was the prosecutor. And the state bar fuckin’ grieved me!”
Long story short: defending an alleged homosexual rapist. Says he felt “terrible and horrible” for the alleged victim, “if it happened.”
Still, everyone deserves their day in court. Reposa smelled a rat. All came down to the opinion of the state’s expert as to what constitutes pain.
“So they got a case they can’t prove. They offered my guy two years deferred. He could have been looking at life, and they reduce it to the lowest grade of felony—two years deferred probation. Wouldn’t even go on his record if he completed the probation. I told my client, ‘Turn that down.’
“That’s a very hard thing to do, tell your client not to take that. Put your whole life on the line, and you might go to prison forever.”
The case hinged, as per the Austin defense attorney I spoke to earlier, on the Adam Reposa show. Back-and-forth with the state’s expert medical witness about the level of pain caused by anal penetration.
“She’s like, ‘Well, I don’t know how to answer that question.’
“So I said, ‘Well, let me ask, if you get smacked in the head full-swing with a golf club, is that gonna hurt?’
“‘Well, if you get hit in the asshole with a fucking dick, is that gonna hurt?’”
Well, I sure don’t believe that. You said “asshole” and “fucking dick” in court?
Sheepish pause. More margaritas. “No, I did not. I said something like ‘So you would also agree then, the first time you get anally penetrated by a penis it is going to cause pain?’”
The expert witness waffled, he says. “So I respond, ‘Well, are you personally familiar with the phenomenon?’
“The state objected. The judge sustained it. All hell breaks loose. I’m like, ‘Is anal sex embarrassing? You’re a doctor. Does the subject of anal sex embarrass you, Doctor?’ Jesus.
“That’s what I got nailed on. The prosecutor filed a grievance with the state bar. The law says that if you ask a question that’s just intended to embarrass a witness and not have any substantial purpose, that’s grievable. My purpose was obviously to find out, What’s the basis of your opinion? Have you ever been penetrated? If her answer is yes, then my next question is, ‘Did it hurt?’
“And how’s she gonna answer? ‘Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the first time it happened to me it didn’t hurt.’ She loses all her credibility. Or she says, ‘No, I have no idea.’ Well, everybody on this jury knows that you know it hurts. I’ve got them, and I’m never gonna lose them.
“Criminal case? I won. Not guilty on every count. And then after I got the contempt I did go kind of postal, because that’s when I really wanted to show the world how terrible the lawyers are in Austin.”
It does strike me that taunting rival attorneys in the newspaper with foul plays on their names—“Betty Butthole,” “Prick McGuire”—qualifies as going postal.
One night we bounce, hit six, eight joints. Start on the quieter south side of the river before making our way north to downtown. Reposa’s friend defense attorney Ben Blackburn drives. Big Ben’s ride is a yellow Caddy decked out with a supersonic boom box that he parks outside of saloons with the trunk open to display a neon sign that reads 478-JAIL—GET OUT. Keeping Austin weird.
It is, as I said, a holiday week, and the city is jacked. Lines to get in to all the live-music joints, though Reposa and Blackburn jump every one. They’ve represented so many of the bouncers and bartenders.
As part of the state bar findings against him, Reposa still owes the state community service. At one of the quieter gin mills he tells me his idea. “Drunk Drivers of Texas.” No shit. Drunk Drivers of Texas.
He hatched it with his old friend Chad Holt, a reefer-dealing legal assistant he hired after walking him from a hashish arrest. The filmmaker Bob Ray is in on it too. Ray, a former punk rocker, directed the YouTube video of Reposa in a monster truck and a well-received documentary about Holt called Total Badass. My favorite line from the film, which Holt repeats to me one day when we talk in Reposa’s office: “I took a year off from work to raise guinea pigs with my girlfriend and do cocaine.” Show-quality guinea pigs, mind you. Who knew? He only started the blow, he says, because he was on probation and they were testing him weekly for marijuana.
Reposa, Holt and Ray figure the city needs a nonprofit program that attracts attention. Drunk Drivers of Texas sure fills that bill. They will recruit people recently arrested for DWIs and send them into bars and saloons as living, breathing warnings. Have them sit there “like in an airport information booth, educating people.” Reposa’s eyes light up, either at the thought of his pending Samaritan-ness or from the reddish-colored double shots containing God knows what that we have just downed.
“Have them saying, ‘Look, man, they’ll arrest you for goddamn nothing. Then you’re gonna be spending all this money going to court. It’s just not worth it. Here are the bus routes. Here’s the number for a free cab ride.’”
He plans to outfit these volunteers in safety orange or neon green to make them easy to spot and fund the entire enterprise—the clothing, the gratis car services—with donations from bar owners, who will then get publicity as sponsors of Drunk Drivers of Texas.
Meanwhile Reposa will be able to walk the busted offenders into their court hearings and explain to the judge that they have already learned their lesson, Your Honor, and have voluntarily begun their own community service. He is pleased with himself. Orders us another double shot of red goop.
I express my reservations that bar owners will line up to get involved with this scheme. Reposa takes umbrage. “I seriously doubt that. I think a lot of bars would want to be Drunk Drivers of Texas sponsors. That’s good PR. ‘Yeah, we sell a bunch of drinks, but we also give some of that money to this nonprofit to try to facilitate keeping people from getting behind the wheel after they’ve been drinking.’
“You’ll see. We’re going to shoot the first PSA at my birthday party.”
ONE DAY EARLIER
Breakfast. Huevos rancheros.
One of Reposa’s more interesting crusades is his ongoing harassment of a state district judge named Ken Anderson from neighboring Williamson County. Twenty-five years ago Anderson, then a district attorney, put an alleged wife killer named Michael Morton away for life. Morton was released only last October when he was exonerated by DNA evidence. Morton’s lawyers claim in court papers that Anderson withheld crucial evidence that allowed the real murderer to remain free and kill again.
A formal court of inquiry into Anderson’s alleged misconduct will begin in December, and Reposa burns white-hot over the fact that Anderson still presides while he’s being investigated. He has cases before this judge. Still, not long ago he drove up to Williamson County with 100 yard signs adorned with Anderson’s creepy-leery Satan-smile face juxtaposed with the words I COST AN INNOCENT MAN 25 YEARS OF HIS LIFE, AND I FEEL TERRIBLE. THAT IS WHY I REFUSE TO RESIGN.
“Offends my sensibilities.” Reposa mops up the last of his huevos with a slice of sourdough toast. To the waitress, “Más café, por favor.
“Cops use their county up there like a hunting preserve. They brag, ‘We are the most pro-law-enforcement county in the area.’ And people move there for that. So you get simpler-minded people. There are counties like this in and around Dallas, around Houston. Everyone knows that the cops up there are much more likely to pull people over, profile, do illegal searches. So when you do catch them at it”—he bangs so hard on the table other customers flinch—“you don’t let ’em off the hook.”
But why single out Anderson?
“Jesus, because he’s still on the bench. It is utterly repugnant that he is still making rulings after there’s been a probable-cause determination that he failed to turn over what he was ordered to turn over, and an innocent guy did 25 years.
“Look, y’all need to wake up and see that there are real consequences when people put themselves in the position of basically saying they believe whatever government tells them to believe. When people give government that much power, they’re gonna exploit it. That’s the nature of government. And people can’t wrap their minds around it. It’s cognitive dissonance. They’re just unable to believe something like that—that Williamson County and a crooked, rogue district attorney convinced a jury to throw away an innocent man’s life—because government says so.”
I delicately mention that a cynic might associate Reposa’s offended sensibilities toward the miscarriage of justice in Williamson County with the attendant free media coverage.