Ken Kalthoff, NBC 5 News
A racially charged debate over selecting Municipal Court Judges resurfaced as the Dallas City Council considered reappointing three who had been removed from the bench.
A racially charged debate over selecting Municipal Court judges resurfaced when the Dallas City Council considered on Wednesday reappointing three judges who were removed from the bench.
The debate began months ago when a study showed Dallas had high rates of case dismissals and low fines compared to other cities.
A reform movement swept out some judges. Four black and Latino judges sued the city last month over their removal.
They had strong support among several back and Latino City Council members.
"They only filed a suit because that was the next process that is afforded to every American in the United States of America," Councilman Dwaine Caraway said.
The ousted judges claimed their removal was unfairly based on money and not qualifications.
Their council supporters used a budget maneuver to make way for three of the judges to return in newly created positions. Mayor Mike Rawlings was the lone Anglo swing vote two weeks ago to establish the new positions.
As the vote came Wednesday to fill those positions, the leading supporter of Municipal Court reform, Councilwoman Angela Hunt, blasted the proposed reappointments.
“It appears that they have some benefit conferred by council members and some relationship with council members that got them on this list,” she said.
Hunt, who is also an attorney, said the lawyer handling the judges’ lawsuit is a top traffic-ticket attorney who practiced in their courts.
“How does this look to the public when we’re welcoming back in open arms, these judges who sued the city that we had rightfully not reinstated?” Hunt said.
Councilwoman Vonciel Hill, a former Municipal Court judge, said Hunt violated ethics rules by publicly disparaging another lawyer.
“The two full-timers that we propose and a part-timer have a depth of experience and can move those dockets,” Hill said.
Caraway claimed that back-room politics was also responsible for Hunt’s crusade against the judges.
“We don’t have to agree with you," he said. "But when we know the back door and the real back door, and everything associated with it -- you all want to play the game; let’s play the game."
In the end, Rawlings switched sides to stop the expected reappointments.
“I want to make sure that we all listen to each other as we struggle with the issues we are facing," he said. "On the other hand, perception is reality."
Some of the council members who supported the judges said hard feelings over the issue would be difficult to mend.
“It has been demonstrated here today that no one has heard us,” Caraway said.
Councilwoman Carolyn Davis told the other black and Hispanic council members not to forget what happened.
“We’ve got to remember this," she said. "We have to remember."
Just one of the three judges was approved. Two vacancies remain for future debate.