February 2024 A Criminal Waste of Space - Mr. Tommie and the Sisters of St. Francis

by Justice William W. Bedsworth

The biggest drawback to being an appellate court justice is that it makes it harder to be young. People keep asking you to swear them in and give commencement addresses and mentor their children.

These are not young person activities. And no matter how fresh my senior prom still is in my own mind, the fact remains that it predates about sixty pages of your daughter’s seventh-grade history book.

More and more these days, I find myself reading the newspaper1 and feeling like maybe I’ve lost a step. It’s nothing serious, mind you. I can still go from first to third on a single to center.2 But I find myself with increasing frequency unable to come up with a good reason why I’d want to.

I’ve been trying to reassure myself that this is a matter of maturity, that I am finally growing up rather than just growing old. “If the world seems to be moving a little rapidly,” I’ve told myself, “it’s only because I am learning to appreciate a more measured cadence.”

I’ve taken solace in the thought that a more reasoned pace would result in refinement of my tastes. I’d develop an affinity for cognac and stop drinking Diet Pepsis and virgin coladas. I’d learn to forgo Bob Seeger and Robert Service and chocolate chip cookie dough in favor of Stravinsky and Wordsworth and vin et fromage.

Unfortunately, my progression into a more reasoned pace has left me out of step with the rest of society, which appears to have no intention of either slowing down or growing up. They’re out there carousing and debauching and just generally flouting convention in ways my poor, straight little mind never conceived of. To borrow from my late Uncle Floyd, “Them folks are eatin’ things we wouldn’t even go swimmin’ with back home.”

I read this morning—not in a supermarket tabloid but in a national news magazine of serious repute—that a “Catholic health network in the Midwest is removing crucifixes from the walls of its hospitals to stop patients using them as weapons. Hospital Sisters Health System . . . said its decision was forced by the ‘general increase in healthcare workers experiencing workplace violence.’ The nonprofit said it hoped to acquire ‘safer’ crucifixes that can be more safely affixed to walls.”

Safer crucifixes.

That juxtaposition of words got its own paragraph because I want you to stop and ponder the idea of the Hospital Sisters of St. Francis, who’ve been caring for people in Illinois and Wisconsin since 1875, having to find SAFER CRUCIFIXES because people were USING THEM AS WEAPONS.

That’s how far we’ve “evolved,” folks. Ten thousand years of development have gotten us from hitting each other over the head with mammoth bones to hitting each other over the head with crucifixes. Enough people were taking crucifixes off the wall and attacking hospital employees with them that the Hospital Sisters of St. Francis now have to go find Nerf crucifixes to cover the holes in their plaster.

Good luck to them. Me, if I were the Hospital Sisters of St. Francis, I think I’d probably just face the heavens and say, “Come and get me, Lord; my bags are packed, I’m ready to check out.”

I think this indicates that twenty-three years into the twenty-first century, I am still operating with a twentieth century imagination. I’ve been in a lot of Catholic hospitals in my time, and I’ve never—not once—ever contemplated a crucifix as a potential weapon.

My imagination is hopelessly dated. I have no tattoos. I have no earrings. I have no nose rings, eye rings, nipple rings, or tongue studs.3 I don’t eat sushi unless it is first dipped in batter and then deep-fried.

I don’t do drugs. I don’t vape. I don’t use AI—despite what you may have thought of my last opinion. My idea of an alternative lifestyle is someone who holds the TV remove in the left hand.

I did not watch a single episode of Game of Thrones or Succession.

And, incredible as it may seem to those of you who’ve admired me from afar, no part of my magnificent body has ever been surgically enhanced.4

For all these reasons, I am resigned to my place in the apres garde of modern culture. I accept the fact I enjoy a lifestyle which, by today’s standards, is hardly deserving of the suffix “style.”

So I wrote off the wild-eyed crucifix-wielders of Illinois and Wisconsin. I tried to convince myself this was some kind of bizarre aberration, prompted no doubt by the dearth of vitamin C available to people in the colder climes.

But then I read about Jerry Lee Tommie. I read about Jerry Lee Tommie in the opinions of the Texas Supreme Court. The opinions of the Texas Supreme Court are a good starting point any time you’re looking for stories about people with entirely too many first names.5

In a memorandum opinion, the Texas Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Texas Court of Civil Appeals, which had reached the opinion that Jerry Lee Tommie was both “happy” and “well-adjusted.” Since these are not the kind of conclusions courts of appeal are typically called upon to render, it should come as no surprise to you that Connecticut General Life Insurance Co. v. Tommie, 619 S.W.2d 199, is not a typical case.6

Here are the facts of ConGenLifeInsCo v. Jerry Lee, as related in the official reporter:

While Mrs. Tommie was out of the house shopping for groceries, Mr. Tommie dressed himself in her wig, bra, nightie, and panties. He went into a bedroom and placed the end of a nylon exercise rope in a noose around his neck. He placed a pad around his neck under the rope. Standing with his back to the door he ran the other end of the rope over the top of the door and down the opposite side of the door around the outside doorknob, and then tied that end around his left foot. The exercise rope was equipped with pulleys so that with his left foot he could increase or decrease the pressure of the rope around his neck. The purpose of the preparations made by Mr. Tommie, according to the medical testimony, was to heighten sexual pleasure during masturbation by reducing the supply of blood, and therefore the supply of oxygen to the brain, by gradually tightening the rope around his neck. The reduced oxygen to the brain produces a state of hypercapnia, or an increase of carbon dioxide in the blood, which is supposed to increase the intensity of orgasm.

619 S.W.2d 199, 201-202, so help me.


Boy, do I feel out of it. Some East Texas redneck with three first names knows more about sex than I do.

Or at least, knew more about sex. Ol’ Jerry Lee is no longer with us. Something went awry with his Hugh Hefner science project and he strangled himself.

When Mrs. Tommie got home, she was unable to get into the bedroom until she got a kitchen knife and cut the rope, at which time she was confronted with a picture even more difficult to imagine than some guy in Wisconsin climbing out of traction and ripping the crucifix off the wall to go after whoever just delivered his jello to him. If you haven’t already, go back and read the excerpt from the opinion quoted above and imagine what this poor woman’s husband looked like when she found him.

So whaddya think? You think this is pretty bizarre behavior? You think this is maybe just a little bit off the wall? I did. But then, I’m Mr. Stodgy, remember? I’m still trapped in the nineties.

You wanna know what the appellate courts of The Great State of Texas thought? In rejecting the idea of suicide, they opined that there was, “abundant evidence that Mr. Tommie . . . was a well-adjusted, happy individual who was looking forward to the future . . . .” 619 S.W.2d 199, 203.

Well, I have no doubt Mr. Tommie was happy. And I’m quite sure he was “looking forward to the future.” In fact, I’m reasonably certain that his rather obsessive, happy anticipation of the IMMEDIATE FUTURE was what got him dead. I’m just struggling a little with how much effort he was willing to expend to get there.

But I accept the fact that my advanced age may have affected my analysis. Times have changed. If I’m going to continue to inhabit this century, I need to adapt to new ideas as reflected by new word usages. I’ve learned to accept “reference” and “impact” as verbs; now I have to modify my understanding of other words as well. Deal with it, Beds.

And I am, after all, a trained logician.7 It’s clear to me that if you ignore the undistributed major premise, the syllogism here is very simple—even for me. The Texas Supreme Court is a prestigious, authoritative body, and it finds men who dress up in women’s lingerie and put nylon nooses around their necks for sexual purposes mainstream and unremarkable. I want to be considered mainstream and unremarkable by prestigious, authoritative bodies.8 Therefore . . .

Therefore, I’m not only adopting the precedent of the Texas Supreme Court, I intend to profit from it. I’m opening an escort supply service, “providing lingerie, pulleys, rope, and crucifixes (strictly for self-defense) to ‘happy, well-adjusted individuals, looking forward to the future’.” That’s exactly how the ad will read.

You can come visit me when I’m rich. I’m sure I’ll seem a lot younger then.


  1. Another thing young people don’t do: go out to the driveway for the paper.
  2. Metaphorically. In actuality, I’d be no better than even money against a glacier at that distance.
  3. If you can read the phrase “nipple rings or tongue studs” without shuddering, you are considerably better prepared for twenty-first century life than I am.
  4. Although it is true that my breastbone was wired back together after the heart surgery, I have one titanium hip, and there is a metal clip in my left temporal lobe. I don’t see it as “enhancement” that I now set off metal detectors every time I so much as drive by an airport.
  5. I have a cousin in El Paso named Billy Ray Dale who is better than even-money to make the Texas Supreme Court advance sheets in any given year.
  6. Your second clue that it is not a typical case is its citation in this column. Read on for your third and final clue.
  7. Which I understand to be someone who performs sleight of hand with large pieces of firewood.
  8. Especially the one presided over by The Honorable Patricia Gutierrez. It’s never a good thing when the Supreme Court remarks upon the work of an intermediate appellate court justice.

William W. Bedsworth is an Associate Justice of the California Court of Appeal. He writes this column to get it out of his system. A Criminal Waste of Space won Best Column in California in 2018 from the California Newspaper Publishers Association (CNPA). And look for his latest book, Lawyers, Gubs, and Monkeys, through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Vandeplas Publishing. He can be contacted at william.bedsworth@jud.ca.gov.