The Dallas Decoder Guide to Texas Justice

Rogue’s gallery

Gang’s all here

The Ewings go to court in “Trial and Error,” TNT’s latest “Dallas” episode, and if past is prologue, the experience will be as enlightening as it is entertaining. Here’s what we learned about the Texas legal system from watching the original “Dallas.”

Rush to judgment

Rush to judgment

Justice is swift. (Except when it isn’t.) When someone in the Ewing camp is accused of a crime, the wheels of justice either spin super fast – or grind to a halt. Jock (Jim Davis) was charged with killing Hutch McKinney and indicted a week later, and then his trial lasted all of one day. But when Bobby’s girlfriend Jenna Wade went on trial for murdering Naldo Marchetta, the case dragged on for 11 episodes – almost a third of that season!

Snide and prejudice

Snide and prejudice

What conflict of interest? When Jock’s case went to trial, the assistant prosecutor was – drumroll, please – Cliff Barnes (Ken Kercheval). Did it matter that Cliff’s father was once Jock’s business partner? Or that Cliff’s sister was married to Jock’s son? Of course not! Look, if Senator Bobby Ewing could preside over a legislative inquiry into J.R.’s shady dealings, surely Cliff could prosecute Jock without prejudice. Right?

Cliff jumping

Cliff jumping

What courtroom etiquette? You know how Christopher has a penchant for courtroom outbursts on TNT’s “Dallas”? Uncle Cliff had the same habit on the old show. Remember when he interrupted a Ewing Oil ownership hearing by loudly telling opponent Jack Ewing, “This is all a setup by J.R. Ewing! You are here to cheat me!” The judge vowed to eject Cliff, but of course he didn’t. Do TV judges ever follow through on that threat?

Greasing the wheels

Chamber of commerce

Judges are for bribing. J.R. (Larry Hagman) never met a judge he didn’t try to influence. When Cliff tried to weasel his way into Ewing Oil, J.R. gave Judge Loeb (Jerry Hardin) some valuable stock tips in exchange for an injunction stalling Cliff’s case. Of course, these things sometimes backfired. When J.R. tried to pressure Jenna’s judge, the judge jacked up her bail to $2 million. Silly jurist. That’s what the Ewings call “pocket change.”

Mr. Cool

Mr. Cool

Scotty Demarest: Texas’s Matlock. Whenever the Ewings landed in hot legal water, they summoned Scotty (Stephen Elliott), an ultra-cool legal eagle whose disarming drawl added a few extra syllables to every word. Scotty’s best stunt: putting accused shooter Jenna on the witness stand and asking her to activate the gun’s “sy-luntz-uh.” She couldn’t, giving “Dallas” its own if-it-doesn’t-fit-you-must-acquit moment.

Spectacles of justice

Spectacles of justice

Harv Smithfield was cool too. Who didn’t love Harv (George O. Petrie), the Ewings’ loyal consigliere? He wasn’t quite as flamboyant as Scotty, but he had a flair for legal theatrics nonetheless. I mean, is it me or did Harv only trot out his lawyerly pince-nez spectacles when he was in court? The other remarkable thing about Harv: He was highly ethical. So how’d he manage to stay on the Ewing payroll for so long?

He must object

He must object

Don’t forget about Cole Young! Cole (Walter Brooke) helped acquit Cliff of Julie Grey’s murder through sheer incredulity. During J.R.’s three-minute testimony against Cliff, Cole objected five times. Cole was especially outraged when he thought the prosecutor was being mean to Pam on the witness stand. As Cole put it: “I protest that, not only as an officer of this court but as a citizen of the great state of Texas!” You tell ’em, Cole!

He’ll smell ya later

He’ll smell ya later

Trials are for stargazing. In addition to Brooke, who famously gave Dustin Hoffman career advice in “The Graduate” (“plastics!”), “Dallas” also gave us stars-in-the-making, including Steven Williams (the boss on “21 Jump Street”) as the bailiff during Ray’s trial for Mickey Trotter’s death and James Avery (Will Smith’s Uncle Phil on “The Fresh Prince Bel-Air”) as the judge in one of little Christopher’s many custody hearings.

Got a stack of those?

Might want a stack of those, just in case

Testify! The amazing thing about the Ewings: They often told the truth in court. For example, Bobby allowed the sordid story of Christopher’s paternity to come out during his final custody fight for the boy. J.R. even delivered potentially damaging testimony against his daddy at Jock’s trial, although he declined to drag Sue Ellen’s name through the mud at their first divorce hearing. Who says miracles don’t happen in “Dallas”?

What have the Ewings taught you about the justice system? Share your comments below and read more “Dallas Decoder Guides.”


  1. LOL…considering that JR thinks that courts are for the desparate and losers…it is amazing how many times they have been in court. Did you notice tonight that JR is still sniffing out Ryland on the web and kept checking him out in court. Big sigh…think of the actual showdown we could have had between our bad guy and the gutless child. Now, we MIGHT get to see the after effects of JR’s plan,

  2. I liked the trial scene in the fourth season of Dallas “Ewing-Gate” because it was a great showdown between Cliff Barnes and JR Ewing. Cliff honestly feels he has finally nailed JR Ewing. A confession to planning a foriegn coup on tape and JR’s brother Bobby Ewing working with him. This is just a day at the park for J.R. . After getting Afton to drug Cliff Barnes to get to the evidence, (which I think he legally would be able to see anyways, I know it is a TV show), and having the Amabssador from this South Eastern Asian country testify as to how altruistic JR Ewing and Ewing Oil really is. JR finishes up stating that his “confession on tape”was just his way of trying to impress an attractive female. These were the days when Cliff Barnes could never beat J.R., even when teamed up with Bobby.

    When I read about or hear about ridiculous court decisions involving major corporations, I think about this episode. I think about how ridiculous the defense and prosecution was. In my opinion, this episode is a good metaphor for real life. A corporation may go to trial looking like the worst of the worst and by the time the trial ends look like the most benevolent organization run by the most devout saints.

    • “These were the days when Cliff Barnes could never beat J.R., even when teamed up with Bobby.”

      Yes, the good old days! Back when J.R. was virtually unbeatable, always two steps ahead of his enemies, and any setback he experiences was temporary. THAT is the J.R. Ewing that we all loved. The last few seasons of Dallas seemed to forget that, and had J.R. constantly being outwitted. “J.R. Returns” restored that, but the new series set him back. The writers just didn’t get that we wanted J.R. Ewing ON TOP.

    • Good one, Jump. As I recall, that was technically a legislative hearing, not a trial — but when I do a “Dal-List” or “Dallas Decoder Guide” on the Ewings’ best moments in government, that one is definitely going on the list.

      And you’re so right about how that episode echoes lots of real-life corporate malfeasance.

      Thanks for commenting!


  3. Justice for the Ewings is a concept best addressed in the family. When public officials intervene it isn’t pretty.

  4. My spouse and i enjoyed this trial landscape in the 4th year connected with Dallas “Ewing-Gate” because doing so was a fantastic series among Cliff Barnes along with JR Ewing. Cliff honestly seems he’s got finally nailed JR Ewing. A new admission to help planning a foreign coup about mp3 along with JR’s buddy Bobby Ewing working with your ex. This really is just a day at this playground for T. Ur.. After receiving Afton to help medicine Cliff Barnes to access the data, (which I think this individual legally could notice anyhow, I understand it’s a TELEVISION show), along with finding the Ambassador using this To the south Far eastern Oriental country state in respect of exactly how altruistic JR Ewing along with Ewing Essential oil is really.

  5. Texas justice isn’t always fair. While I agree with capital punishment, many a fine Texan has been put down to death despite a real shortage of hard evidence. There almost seems to be a craving 4 death there & all over america with your violent gun culture.

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