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www.corpun.com   :  Archive   :  2008   :  US Judicial Jun 2008

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UNITED STATES

Judicial CP - June 2008



Corpun file 20281

masthead

Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Texas, 5 June 2008

South Texas judge offers paddling in courtroom

By Christopher Sherman
Associated Press Writer

A South Texas justice of the peace will find himself in another judge's courtroom Friday morning, likely grateful that one - unlike his own - contains no wooden paddles.

Cameron County Justice of the Peace Gustavo Garza is being sued by the parents of a 15-year-old girl whose stepfather was given the choice of paying a $500 fine or paddling the girl in open court for skipping school.

Daniel Zurita reluctantly used one of the two paddles in Garza's courtroom on his stepdaughter, who was 14 at the time, in April. It's the option that 98 percent of parents choose in his courtroom, Garza said.

"It is lawful," said Garza, who said he has practiced law for 26 years, including work as a prosecutor in Willacy and Cameron counties. Garza stressed that he never ordered a parent to paddle a child, he simply offered it as an option in place of a fine and a misdemeanor mark on their records.

Mark Sossi, who is representing Josie Vasquez and her parents Mary Vasquez and Zurita, said it is not much of an option.

"It's not really a choice when your choice is buying groceries or spanking your child," Sossi said. And doing it in open court in front of other parents and juveniles caused "humiliation, fear and mental anguish," according to the lawsuit.

The family wants a temporary injunction against Garza - a hearing in district court is scheduled for Friday - as well as damages and the court to tell Garza he does not have the authority to offer corporal punishment as an option.

The lawsuit also seeks Garza's removal from office for incompetence and official misconduct.

Garza's raised bench sits in the corner of a small courtroom with a low ceiling. He shares the building with a county tax office and constable.

Hanging on the wall within reach is a paddle that appears to be cut from a one-inch by four-inch board. Holes have been drilled into its spanking surface. An identical paddle lays across the top of Garza's bench.

Garza, who is more than a year into a four-year term, said he began offering the paddle when parents told him they had lost control of their children, but were afraid they would get in trouble for spanking them at home.

The lawsuit does not say how many times Vasquez was struck. Asked to describe a typical paddling in his courtroom, Garza said "five soft whacks."

The lawsuit alleges that Garza told Zurita he did not hit his stepdaughter hard enough. Garza said he did not recall the specific case with Vasquez, but did say some parents paddle with more gusto than others.

Garza considers it a "reasonable condition" that is within his authority to issue.

Opinions issued by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct appear to disagree.

In 2002, the commission publicly reprimanded a Montgomery County justice of the peace who had suggested a boy in his court needed a good "butt-dusting."

When the boy's foster parent said he was not allowed to spank the child, the judge provided a paddle and said he could do it with the court's permission. The commission looked at it as an order and concluded, "While judges have some discretion to order various methods of appropriate discipline for children who misbehave at school, including ordering community service, they have no authority to order a foster parent to paddle his or her foster child."

"It's not OK," said Seana Willing, the commission's executive director. "I'm not aware of any law that gives a judge the authority to administer corporal punishment or allow anybody to administer corporal punishment in his courtroom."

The commission does not reveal its investigations unless a decision is made for public punishment, Willing said.

Mary Alice Palacios, a justice of the peace in neighboring Hidalgo County for eight years, hears about 600 truancy cases per week, but has never considered corporal punishment in her courtroom.

Palacios spanked her children at home when they were young, but does not believe it has any place in a courtroom.

"I don't think that's right," Palacios said. "That's not a choice, you're practically ordering them to do it."

Walking home from the Hernandez Tortilla Factory just a few blocks from Garza's courtroom in Los Fresnos, 15-year-old Anna Mujica agreed.

"I don't think that's right for them to paddle them in the courtroom - that's embarrassing," Mujica said.

Her friend Amy Luna knows a boy who was paddled in Garza's courtroom this year. Her take was more practical.

"He's still missing school, so I guess it didn't work."



blob RELATED VIDEO CLIP

TV news report, "JP Being Sued Over Teen Spanking Order" (2 minutes 33 seconds), from KRGV-TV, Weslaco, Texas (5 June 2008). Judge Garza is interviewed and we see the two wooden paddles in his courtroom. The reporter also speaks to a mother who has twice had to spank her son in Judge Garza's courtroom.

HERE IS THE CLIP:

IMPORTANT: Copyright in this video material rests with the original copyright holders. This brief excerpt is reproduced under the "fair use" doctrine EXTERNAL LINK: opens in new window for private, non-profit, historical research and education purposes only. It must not be redistributed or republished in any commercial context.



Corpun file 20295

logo

kgbt4.com (KGBT-TV), Harlingen, Texas, 6 June 2008

Judge defends 'spanking' policy

By Ryan Wolf

Judge Garza Cameron County Precinct 6 Justice of the Peace Gustavo "Gus" Garza described for Action 4 News how the paddling in his courtroom takes place.

He said the student receiving the discipline is bent over 90 degrees with their forearms on a chair and hit five times by their parent with a wooden paddle.

The judge admits it's corporal punishment for a Class C misdemeanor like truancy.

But parents choose the option he says over a fine 99 percent of the time.

"This is your option mom, what do you want to do," Garza asked. "Do you want to pay for your child or do you want to discipline for yourself?"

A Los Fresnos man reportedly took the discipline for his 14-year old stepdaughter back in April 2007. 

He has now filed suit against the judge.

Court documents alleged "Garza directed Daniel Zurita to repeatedly strike his stepdaughter on the buttocks with a large, heavy wooden paddle in open court and in the presence of other adults and juveniles."

Brownsville attorney Mark Sossi represents the plaintiffs.

"Parents have the right to raise their child as they see fit and a judge does not have the right to sentence a person to corporal punishment," said Sossi.

He adds the judge's actions prey on working families with little money like his clients ultimately intruding on family matters.

The judge estimates nearly 500 people, parents and guardians, have chosen the paddle over paying.

He even says some students have returned to say their day in court led to positive behavior changes.

The judge showed Action 4 News several copies of high school diplomas given to him by past students who were paddled.

But whether re-empowering parents as he puts it is within his legal parameters will be in the "hands" of another judge to decide.



Corpun file 20282

masthead

Brownsville Herald, Texas, 7 June 2008

History favors plaintiffs in corporal punishment cases

By Emma Perez-Trevino
The Brownsville Herald

Spanking minors in a courtroom has brought Texas judges serious consequences, ranging from private and public sanctions to banishment from judicial office, public records reflect.

Now, through a lawsuit filed Wednesday in state district court against Cameron County Pct. 6 Justice of the Peace Gustavo "Gus" Garza, parents Mary Vasquez and Daniel Zurita of Los Fresnos are seeking the judge's removal, along with unspecified damages.

The Los Fresnos parents filed the lawsuit on behalf of their 15-year-old daughter, who appeared before Garza's court in April for truancy. The couple alleges that Garza threatened the girl and Zurita, her stepfather, that she would be found guilty of a criminal offense and fined $500 unless Zurita spanked her in the courtroom.

The family is also seeking the state court's ruling that justices of the peace in Texas lack the authority under state law to order the corporal punishment of minors as part of a punishment for truancy or as part of a rehabilitation plan.

Seana Willing has been with the State Commission on Judicial Conduct for nine years. She was the commission's general counsel and is now the executive director.

"We have had relatively few complaints filed about the issue, but as a result of those cases, the commission has issued some form of discipline against the judges for engaging in such conduct," Willing told The Brownsville Herald.

She couldn't say if complaints against judges involving corporal punishment would be considered unusual, noting that it depends on the facts of each case.

"In the end, the concern should be the fact that the judges are acting without legal authority and may be violating the law, may be exposing the county and themselves to liability for acting outside the scope of their legal authority, and may be creating a circus-like atmosphere in the courtroom by allowing such conduct," Willing said.

Among three cases in the state involving corporal punishment in the courtroom since 2002, the most notable is that of former Justice of the Peace Thurman Bill Bartie from Jefferson County, who was forever barred by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct in 2004 from holding judicial office.

Bartie, who resigned in 2003, reputedly had a string of unusual conduct, but incidents involving corporal punishment factored in the state agency's recommendations that he be removed and banished from judicial office.

According to public records, Bartie threatened to hit juveniles on the head with his gavel, punched a juvenile in the chest, and hit another juvenile on the head with his knuckles.

"(Bartie) also took his belt off and handed it to parents and encouraged the parents to whip or beat their children with the belt," the commission reported through findings in the case. "These events took place in the courtroom."

The public record also reflects that, in 2002, the commission issued a public reprimand to then-Justice of the Peace John Robert Kleimann of Montgomery County.

Mike Rooney appeared before Kleimann in May 2001 with his 11-year-old foster son, who was cited to appear before the judge for using profanity at school, public records reflect.

After Kleimann heard Rooney describe the boy's unruly conduct at home and at school and how discipline had been unsuccessful, the judge remarked, "what he needs is a good butt-dusting."

The record further notes that when Rooney explained that he was not allowed to spank any of the foster children. Kleimann indicated that Rooney could spank the boy and directed a deputy constable to give Rooney a paddle.

The paddle was about 18- to 24-inches long, contained holes bored into the flatter end and had a special grip on the handle. Rooney swatted the boy's buttocks three times and later said that he feared the judge would jail him if he refused the order. A witness said that it was not the first time that a child was paddled in court.

The commission found that although judges have discretion to order appropriate discipline, such as community service, "they have no authority to order a foster parent to paddle his or her foster child."

The commission issued a private sanction against a judge in 2004. The commission's summary in that matter stated that, "the judge's actions and suggestions regarding the administration of corporal punishment by parents to their children constituted willful or persistent conduct that cast public discredit upon the judiciary or administration of justice."



Corpun file 20293

masthead

Brownsville Herald, Texas, 11 June 2008

Without a paddle

Ruling: Justice of the Peace can no longer allow paddlings in his court

By Emma Perez-Trevino
The Brownsville Herald

Supporters of Pct. 6 Justice of the Peace Gustavo "Gus" Garza file out of a courtroom Wednesday during a hearing.
Brad Doherty/The Brownsville Herald
Supporters of Pct. 6 Justice of the Peace Gustavo "Gus" Garza file out of a courtroom Wednesday during a hearing.

Pct. 6 Justice of the Peace Gustavo "Gus" Garza will not be able to allow spanking as an option for disciplining children in his courtroom, according to a court ruling Wednesday.

State District Judge Abel C. Limas, who asserted jurisdiction in the case, halted spanking as a form of punishment in Garza's courtroom on Wednesday. Limas pointed to the protection, safety and emotional well-being of children as his reason for approving the temporary injunction.

"I am encouraged that Judge Limas acted to protect the interests of the children of Los Fresnos," said Mark Sossi, the attorney who on behalf of three families requested that courtroom spankings be stopped.

The ruling came after the filing of a lawsuit by Mary Vasquez and Daniel Zurita against Garza last week. The lawsuit alleges that Zurita had felt compelled to spank his stepdaughter in lieu of a $500 fine and criminal conviction for truancy.

"Obviously, we had one judge acting outside his authority when forcing parents to spank their children in his courtroom," Sossi said. "It doesn't help the children with anything, and it contributes to a circus-like atmosphere in the courtroom."

Cameron County Chief Counsel Richard Burst said he didn't know whether the county would attempt an appeal.

"I think it's best to sit on it and make a decision tomorrow," said Burst, who with co-counsel Bruce Hodge, defended Garza at Wednesday's hearing.

With the county's legal representation at his side, Garza took the stand early in the hearing to defend the spankings.

"I think that discipline works," Garza said of paddling, which he said parents select in lieu of paying fines by choice. "It's effective. It's efficient. It's immediate. There are no questions."

Garza said that he did not compel or coerce parents to paddle children. However, he also testified that he does not provide other alternatives to fines, such as counseling or community service, because he does not believe these are effective.

He estimated that fewer than 100 children have been paddled in his courtroom since he took office in January 2007.

During the hearing, Sossi directed Garza to demonstrate how children are positioned for the paddling. Stepping down, Garza placed his arms on the armrests of a chair and bent down with his buttocks facing Limas.

"I find your approach trying to embarrass me," Garza told the attorney. Sossi rebutted by asking whether Garza thinks 13- and 14-year-old girls and boys would find it humiliating.

Limas also found that there had been no criminal intent on Garza's part and that the spankings had not been illegal. The judge ordered Garza to refrain from this form of disciplinary action in the courtroom.

Vasquez and Zurita also took the stand, noting that they do not believe in corporal punishment. Zurita said he felt he had no choice but to paddle his stepdaughter because he did not have the money for the $500 fine.

"There were no other options," Zurita testified.

Limas indicated agreement in his comments from the bench, noting that he at times would not have been able to pay $500 either and that he had heard no testimony that the fines had been less than $500. "There needs to be a clear option," Limas said.

Limas indicated that the Texas Legislature would be the body that could address the issue of corporal punishment in the courts.

"We are not here to make law," Limas said.

Freedom Communications, Inc.



blob RELATED VIDEO CLIP

TV news report, "Spanking judge has day in court" (3 minutes 33 seconds), from KGBT4-TV, Harlingen, Texas (12 June 2008). Judge Garza is interviewed further. He used to be a teacher and also found CP very effective at school. He is seen on the witness stand explaining his policy, and he demonstrates in the courtroom how the paddling is done. The reporter also speaks to a former JP who is leading a local campaign to defend Judge Garza under the slogan "Bring Back Discipline".

HERE IS THE CLIP:

IMPORTANT: Copyright in this video material rests with the original copyright holders. This brief excerpt is reproduced under the "fair use" doctrine EXTERNAL LINK: opens in new window for private, non-profit, historical research and education purposes only. It must not be redistributed or republished in any commercial context.

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