Texas' "Paddling Judge" Warned by State

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    What's that old saying? Spare the rod ....

    A South Texas justice of the peace who offered the parents of school-dodging kids the option of paddling their children in court has been publicly warned by the state panel overseeing judicial conduct.

    The State Commission on Judicial Conduct warned Gustavo Garza of Los Fresnos for violations of judicial conduct including offering spankings instead of $500 fines and other procedural problems. The commission found that Garza exceeded his authority by providing a "safe haven" for corporal punishment.

    "Judge Garza routinely facilitated and permitted the paddling of juveniles in his courtroom thereby clothing the practice with an improper judicial blessing," the commission wrote in its March 9 public warning.

    A public warning falls in the middle of the public discipline options available to the commission, between an admonishment and a reprimand. If Garza continued the practice Garza could receive tougher discipline or the commission could ask the state Supreme Court to suspend him from office.

    Garza told The Brownsville Herald in Wednesday's editions that he believed the positive result of reduced truancy cases in the school district outweighed any harm from the spankings.

    "I understand their (the commission's) function and they performed their function as best they thought they could," Garza said. "I respect them. I performed (my function) as best as I thought I could."

    The commission's investigation included an incident when a stepfather reluctantly paddled his 14-year-old daughter because he could not afford the $500 fine. Garza criticized him for paddling softly with the large plank that court staff referred to records as the B.O.E., or Board of Education.

    The commission found, that among other violations, Garza did not ask parents if they could pay the fine or offer alternatives such as a payment plan or community service.