The Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct had imposed remarkably light punishment in the admonishment of Justice of the Peace Gustavo “Gus” Garza. While the act was in the mid range of the possible discipline, it is disturbing that this Commission would consider Garza to be competent to continue on the bench after he ordered physical punishment to be carried out in his courtroom.
Garza is part of a new generation of judges who seem to run their courtrooms like tabloid television court programs — ordering punishment that grab headlines and turning their courtrooms into circuses. He has been accused of sending kids to jail for the smallest of infractions.
Garza gave parents the choice of paying fines or letting him watch as they spanked their children in his courtroom. Many parents could not afford Garza’s fines.
The Commission found that “Judge Garza routinely facilitated and permitted the paddling of juveniles in his courtroom thereby clothing the practice with an improper judicial blessing” and subjects kids to pain and humiliation in his courtroom.
Despite these complaints, the Commission still believes that he should be a judge, a decision that undermines the credibility of the Texas court system as a whole. Garza has been defended by citizens who believe that he is a model of a judge. This was an opportunity to make it clear that, regardless of the cheap appeal of judges meting out their own forms of justice, it is intolerable in a system committed to the rule of law.
The Commission also addressed abuses by and Tony Torres, though nothing on the level of Garza. Torres was disciplined for mishandling a small claims case and ordered to take six hours of instruction. This is his third sanction. He previously was found to have dismissed a small claims case without cause and also violating campaigning rules in his support for a local sheriff.
Torres will now be assigned a “mentor” to help him in his judging.
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