City Judges Go to War With Dallas

     DALLAS (CN) – Four municipal judges claim in court that Dallas violated their judicial independence and city codes by refusing to to renew their appointments to the bench.
     Timoteo Gonzalez, David Indorf, Ruth Logan and Cheryl Williams sued Mayor Mike Rawlings and the Dallas City Council, in Dallas County Court. The plaintiffs, and Municipal Judge Carrie Chavez, were effectively fired last week when the council passed an ordinance hiring new municipal judges.
     “The judges currently serve on the municipal court as full-time judges and have served in that capacity from two to thirteen years,” the complaint states. “They have consistently received positive reviews. The City Council has a history of violating judges’ rights and removing them from the bench.”
     In 2006, the City Council wrongfully tried to remove Municipal Judge Elizabeth Frizell because she was running for a seat on the Dallas County Criminal Courts, the plaintiff judges claim.
     An in January, they say, the City Council tried to remove Municipal Judge Phyllis Brown because she was running for a seat on the 162nd District Court.
     City managers briefed the City Council on Aug. 1 on results of a 2-year study of the municipal courts. The study accusedmunicipal judges of being too soft on defendants and making it too easy for defendants to ignore citations, resulting in millions of dollars in lost revenue.
     The study found a high percentage of dismissals by municipal judges and that defendants ignored 36 percent of notices.
     It also found that judge relied too heavily upon nonfinancial penalties, such as time served and community service, and that only 25 percent of the face value of fines are ever collected.
     The study found that Dallas collects average revenue of $41.49 per case, compared with $104.34 in Irving, $98.90 in Arlington and $53.93 in Fort Worth.
     The plaintiff judges claim that by relying on the study findings, the City Council is imposing an illegal quota system and violating the separation of powers.
     “This again represents illegal action by the defendants by requiring, or purporting to require, that the judges commit to assessing maximum fees or maximum deferred fees [in] all traffic cases, regardless of the merits or facts of the case, as a condition of their appointment,” the complaint states.
     The plaintiff judges also claim the City Council picked new judges who were not nominated by a Judicial Nominating Commission, violating city code.
     “In the past, the ad hoc legislative committee has always followed the recommendations of the JNC and has always chosen judges from the list of 18 nominees provided,” the complaint states. “Not only was the action illegal, but it raises concerns for the veracity and transparency of the process by completely ignoring the process to invoke the review of candidates and recommendations.”
     The plaintiffs seek a declaration that the City Council violated the City Code and an injunction against the ordinance that appointed new municipal judges.
     They are represented by Stanley Mays.

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