Dallas Backed on Firing of Municipal Judges

     DALLAS (CN) – Four former municipal judges cannot sue Dallas over their firings last year because they lack standing and their claims are moot, an appeals court ruled.
     Timoteo Gonzalez, David Indorf, Ruth Logan and Cheryl Williams sued Mayor Mike Rawlings and the Dallas City Council in Dallas County Court in August 2012.
     The council had effectively fired five of the judges of the Municipal Court, included Judge Carrie Chavez who did not participate in the lawsuit, earlier that month by replacing them via ordinance.
     Several weeks before their termination, city managers briefed the council on the results of a two-year study of the municipal courts. The study accused municipal 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.
     But the fired judges said reliance on the study’s findings imposed an illegal quota system and violated 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 stated.
     The judges also said that the city’s refusal to renew their two-year appointments to the bench violated the Texas Transportation Code and city law. They sought an injunction to stop publication of the ordinance appointing new judges.
     A county judge initially entered a temporary restraining order against the ordinance but dissolved it just two days later.
     The council appealed the denial of their plea to jurisdiction, persuading a three-judge panel with the 5th District Texas Court of Appeals to dismiss the action Wednesday.
     Dallas showed that the plaintiffs lack standing in their injunctive and declaratory claims and that the claims are moot, according to the ruling.
     “The candidates will have no recognizable interest in a municipal judgeship if they are not currently holding the office,” Justice Michael O’Neill wrote for the court. “The council is not required to appoint them to judgeships. The only question presented to the trial court is an abstract one about the 2012 selection process. Regardless of the resolution of that question, any declaration the trial court could make would not resolve any controversy about the candidates’ rights or status.”
     Improper jurisdiction also makes it futile to let the plaintiffs amend their claims, the court found.
     “Regardless of any repleading of the candidates’ allegations, the trial court can no longer enjoin the publication of the ordinance or prevent the judges appointed by the ordinance from taking their oaths of office, because these events have already occurred,” O’Neill wrote.

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