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Paul Coates -- Confidential File, March 31, 1959

March 31, 2009 |  2:00 pm

Confidential File

Deep in the Heart of You Know Where

Paul_coatesMention Texas to me and I get misty-eyed.

Call me a sentimental slob if you must, but the word stirs images of Davy Crockett and the Alamo, and rawboned giants carving out an empire, and tall blonds inNeiman -Marcus furs. And Texas Rangers. And Texas justice. Swift and sure, but always just. The good guy always wins. The bad guy always ends up choking on a mouthful of dust.

But perhaps I've just been brainwashed. Or maybe Texas ain't Texas any more.

The plain facts are that stalwart lawmen astride noble steeds don't patrol the range these days. They've given way in part, at least, to money-hungry minions who prey on motoring tourists.

And before I'm invited to be guest of honor at a necktie party, let me explain that this isn't my conclusion.

It belongs to James F. Hamilton, a Los Angeles graphic arts executive and member of the motoring public.

And his experience with modern Texas "justice" deserves exposure, if only as a warning to others who consider traveling by car through the Lone Star state.

Mr. Hamilton told me his story yesterday.

He and his wife had just returned from a trip through Central America in what he calls his "camping vehicle," a converted Army truck. People south of the border, he assured me, had greeted him and Mrs. Hamilton with open arms.

"They were very hospitable," he said. "But despite that fact, we were congratulating ourselves on being back in our own country -- saying it right out loud -- when it happened."

"When what happened?" I prompted.

"It was right outside El Paso," he continued. "This guy with a siren on his car, a deputy sheriff, pulled me over. He told me my California license plates had expired.

"I admitted the charge and explained that I sent a check to Sacramento for the plates before we left on the trip. But I told him I was in the wrong and I'd accept a ticket gladly.

"He said that wouldn't do. That I would have to appear before a judge, who, conveniently, was located less than 200 feet away."

Mr. Hamilton was ordered to back his vehicle a short distance to reach a dilapidated shack, a Texas "court."

Once inside, Mr. and Mrs. Hamilton waited while the judge was summoned. He turned out to be a fragrant old-timer, disheveled and unshaven. A real Roy Bean.

The victim was apprised again of his offense, then notified that the court had decided to be lenient. The fine would be $1.

Getting the Business

However, added the justice of the peace, court costs would amount to $19.50.

Mr. Hamilton sputtered, but, at his wife's insistence, pulled out a $20 Travelers check.

"I don't have the 50 cents," he explained.

"Oh, that's all right," the deputy interjected. "I'll just make it up out of my own pocket."

The story isn't new. Until the very recent past, such kangaroo courts were a common threat to the motoring public.

They've been stamped out in many parts of the country. Fortunately, California is one of those parts.

But, apparently, they still exist in Texas.

Which is kind of sad.

I'd much rather remember the Alamo.