Judge was the ‘dean of Bexar ju­di­ciary’

San Antonio Express-News - - METRO - By El­iz­a­beth Zavala

Re­tired Se­nior Dis­trict Judge Wayne Pa­trick “Pat” Pri­est, whose de­ci­sion to call for new tri­als led to the ex­on­er­a­tion of the “San An­to­nio Four,” died un­ex­pect­edly early Fri­day af­ter a brief ill­ness.

Pri­est, 77, presided over many high-pro­file re­gional, state and na­tional cases. In 2010, he presided over the po­lit­i­cally charged crim­i­nal trial of for­mer U.S. Rep. Tom De­Lay, at one time the House ma­jor­ity leader, who was con­victed of money laundering and con­spir­acy. The con­vic­tions were later over­turned.

In 2016, Pri­est rec­om­mended new tri­als for El­iz­a­beth Ramirez, Anna Vasquez, Kristie May­hugh and Cas­san­dra Rivera, known as the “San An­to­nio Four,” who were con­victed of sex­u­ally as­sault­ing two girls in the 1990s. Pri­est stopped short of declar­ing them in­no­cent but said the case needed an­other look.

Bexar County Dis­trict At­tor­ney Nicholas “Nico” LaHood said at the time he did not be­lieve pur­su­ing the cases anew would be in the in­ter­est of jus­tice, and the Texas Court of Crim­i­nal Ap­peals ex­on­er­ated them, assert­ing in plain but force­ful lan­guage that they did not sex­u­ally as­sault two young girls in 1994, for which they had spent years in pri­son.

News of Pri­est’s death Fri­day from sep­tic shock with mul­ti­ple or­gan fail­ure sad­dened many who looked up to him in the Bexar County jus­tice cen­ter.

“It feels like the end of an era,” said Melissa Bar­low Fis­cher, gen­eral ad­min­is­tra­tive coun­sel for the Bexar County Crim­i­nal Dis­trict Court Ad­min­is­tra­tion.

She de­scribed Pri­est as an old­school judge who was re­spected by all in Bexar County’s halls of jus­tice, re­gard­less of age.

“He taught so many of us here to try cases, young and old,” Fis­cher said.

Pri­est earned a bach­e­lor’s de­gree from Tu­lane Univer­sity and his law de­gree from St. Mary’s

Univer­sity School of Law. Ac­cord­ing to his web­site, he mar­ried his wife, Nancy, in 1961. They had four chil­dren and three grand­chil­dren.

He was ad­mit­ted to the State Bar of Texas in 1968 and be­came board-cer­ti­fied in crim­i­nal law in 1975. He was elected state dis­trict judge in 1980 and presided over the 187th state Dis­trict Court un­til 1994.

In 1995, he be­came a vis­it­ing judge and presided over cases by as­sign­ment. Pri­est stopped sit­ting as a vis­it­ing judge last year when his health be­gan to de­te­ri­o­rate, Fis­cher said.

Be­sides pre­sid­ing over cases, Pri­est taught crim­i­nal law, crim­i­nal pro­ce­dure and trial ad­vo­cacy as an ad­junct pro­fes­sor at St. Mary’s Univer­sity School of Law and wrote a book, “Texas Court­room Crim­i­nal Ev­i­dence,” pub­lished in 1998, Fis­cher said.

“He was so much more than all that,” Fis­cher said, call­ing him “the dean of the Bexar County ju­di­ciary.”

She said she knows of some judges who have told her when they have a ques­tion or a dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tion, they would call Pri­est, or sim­ply ask them­selves, “What would Pat Pri­est do?”

Call­ing Pri­est a men­tor, friend and con­fi­dant, Vis­it­ing Judge Philip A. Kazen said Pri­est’s pass­ing was “a huge loss, per­son­ally and pro­fes­sion­ally.”

“He had an en­cy­clo­pe­dic knowl­edge of law,” Kazen said. “He was a judge’s judge and al­ways the smartest lawyer in the court­room.”

Fis­cher said Pri­est was the best friend of her fa­ther, for­mer pros­e­cu­tor and re­tired state Dis­trict Court Judge James Bar­low. Bar­low died in 2010.

“(Pri­est) and my dad started the Romeo Break­fast Club, which stood for re­tired old men eat­ing out,” Fis­cher said.

“Judge Bar­low and Judge Pri­est were thick as thieves,” Kazen said, adding that their ca­ma­raderie was ad­mired by many.

Ser­vices for Pri­est are pend­ing.

“He had an en­cy­clo­pe­dic knowl­edge of law. He was a judge’s judge, and al­ways the smartest lawyer in the court­room.” Vis­it­ing Judge Philip A. Kazen

Pri­est

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