On the heels of my latest Sharon Keller post, comes this gem from this month’s Texas Bar Journal under disciplinary actions: the State Commission on Judicial Conduct issued a public warning to Judge Gustavo Garza, justice of the peace, in Los Fresnos, Tx. What sorts of judicial No No’s could merit a public warning? Among other things:
Failing to inquire into the students’ or their parents’ ability to pay a fine or to provide them with the options of a payment plan, performing community service in satisfaction of a fine or court costs, or waiving the fine or costs after a determination of indigency;
Sounds like made-for-TV Podunk I’m-a-JP-and-I’m-here-to-collect-$$$ garbage. “Hey, I’ve just made a finding that you have no money, but since no one else gets community service in my court, neither do you…” What else?
Failing to properly document or issue a written judgment or order of probation or deferred disposition, or of assessing a fine, court costs or special fees in both students’ and parents’ cases.
Maybe it’s his busy afternoon golf schedule that prevents Judge Gus from bothering to issue his demands in writing, but won’t he run into problems with enforcement if there’s no documentation to show what a potential contemnor failed to do? Naaaah:
Holding a student in contempt of court without affording her adequate due process, including the right to be represented by counsel or providing evidence of the violation of a written order or judgment of the court and ordering the confinement of a student, who was 16 years old when charged with the offense of failure to attend school, for contempt of an unwritten court order.
No lawyer, no proof of what you were supposed to do in the first place, no problem: go to jail. But my favorite part?
Requiring the students and their parents to return to court after the parents had discharged the fine through paddling.
Paddling? Seriously? Let’s skip the part where the student and parents were forced to return to court after the ‘sentence’ was fully completed and jump right into the issue of corporal punishment.
Now, as the father of twin two year old boys, I completely understand the allure of spanking. I don’t do it, mostly because it seems illogical to believe that the primary behaviors that I’m tempted to negatively reinforce would be reduced by a whooping. (“I’ll teach you to stop hitting, kicking, and otherwise assaulting your brother!” SMACK)
But I could be wrong about that, and when my boys steadfastly refuse to behave, I sometimes hear the echo of my father’s voice, “Spare the rod, spoil the child”. (To give him some credit, not only were spankings both mild and infrequent, but I now actually believe the part where he added, “This hurts me more than it hurts you”.)
But a judge? Forcing parents to paddle their children to “discharge their fine”? Maybe he didn’t know this was beyond his authority…
While acknowledging that the Legislature had not provided the courts with any legal authority to impose corporal punishment as a sanction under the Texas Education Code or the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, Judge Garza routinely facilitated and permitted the paddling of juveniles in his courtroom thereby clothing the practice with an improper judicial blessing.
And for all this, merely a public warning. Again, while fundamentally disagreeing with his practices, I can understand how a judge might think parents have under-disciplined their children, and that a little dose of old school parenting from the bench will do the child and society some good.
But in today’s world and especially knowing he didn’t have authority to do this in the first place, how did he think he would get away with it?