No action on new county court
EDINBURG — The Hidalgo County Commissioners’ Court on Tuesday took no action on selecting a judge for Hidalgo County Court-at-Law No. 7 after not being able to agree on a candidate last week.
But on Wednesday, commissioners said they were inclined to forgo funding for the new court this budget cycle all together, citing budget and space constraints.
“We’re shooting from the hip,” said Precinct 1 Commissioner Joel Quintanilla of funding the court. “We’re not ready.”
By delaying the court’s creation and omitting its costs, which includes staffing, the county can save about $600,000 this year, Budget Officer Sergio Cruz said Wednesday.
The county discussed housing the new court in the commissioners’ courtroom, which would move commissioners into Edinburg City Hall for meetings. But that accommodation wouldn’t last long as the courtroom and much of the administration building is undergoing renovations, officials said.
State legislators have allowed the county to create two new courts due to an increase in court cases here; the eighth court will be formed in September 2012 while the seventh court creation took effect at the beginning of September.
While commissioners have struggled to figure out how they’ll finance the new court, on Tuesday, commissioners decided to take no action on naming a judge, despite pleading from a number of residents.
“There are some issues I’m not satisfied with,” Quintanilla said Tuesday, explaining he wanted administrators to take a closer look at budget options before making a decision.
Quintanilla wasn’t present at last week’s meeting where the court was expected to make a decision on a judge. There they were selecting between two candidates, Linda Yañez who serves as a judge on the county’s auxiliary court and McAllen attorney Rolando Cantu. Commissioners were deadlocked in their decision and placed it on this week’s Commissioners’ Court agenda.
Hidalgo County Judge Ramon Garcia said another candidate, former state district Judge Fidencio Guerra Jr., who most recently lost a bid for district attorney, has asked that he be included in the pool of candidates.
Attorneys were notified of the opening through judges associations and a bar association of the opening for an interim judge to serve until 2012.
Commissioners on Wednesday asked Court-at-Law No. 1 Judge Rodolfo “Rudy” Gonzalez if judges were able to continue carrying their current caseload.
“We are used to working hard,” Gonzalez said. “It’s not going to be out of the ordinary to keep the caseload…It’s not going to break us if we continue.”
Precinct 4 Commissioner Joseph Palacios said he’d prefer that residents elect the judge.
“We’re trying to take a logical approach,” Palacios said.
As the county has tried to decrease its $20 million shortfall, Palacios said the court was most concerned with making harsh budget cuts while maintaining staff and county services.
Quintanilla said he preferred waiting and allowing the county time to plan for the court, rather than scramble to house and budget for the new courtroom.
“We are reacting instead of planning,” he said. “We can’t afford it. There’s just no way.”
Commissioners said they feared problems with funding and space for the eighth court, as well.
“Where is our planning,” Quintanilla asked. “There is none.”
While the overwhelming caseload was the very reason for the new courts, Gonzalez said he could handle his workload a little while longer. He added that he’d ideally like to have all the judges seek office at the same time in a uniform election.
In other action at this week’s court, the county’s Operation Clean Slate, where they hope to collect on over $30 million in overdue fines and fees, went live on Thursday. Officials said individuals could check their status and pay online with a valid credit card.
County officials said initiative will run for 60 days, allowing residents to clear their name, avoiding other consequences like holds placed on driver's license renewals and motor vehicle registration.
Residents can check their status at www.co.hidalgo.tx.us/cleanslate or call 1-888-223-1137.
The court approved the formation of a 24-person committee to review the courthouse master plan. Commissioners and the judge selected two people for the committee, a staff member and a resident. Other members are from county departments like the courts, the district attorney and other law enforcement entities, among others.
In Precinct 3, Commissioner Joe M. Flores selected Mingo Villarreal, his coordinator, and Objective Watchers of the Legal System (OWLS) member Fern McClaugherty of Edinburg. Fellow OWLS member and Mission resident Virginia Townsend was also selected to the board as appointed by Precinct 2 Commissioner Hector “Tito” Palacios.
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