J’ Accuse. . . !

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Emile Zola, writer

McLennan County Commissioners, in defiance of case law, Attorneys General Opinions, and the very Constitution of the State of Texas, have conspired to deprive their constituents of an elected official – to what end?

So, I’m officially not a judge now. Someone used to addressing me as “Judge” asked me what they should call me now. Any suggestions other than “Your Majesty?” – Judge Kristi DeCluitt, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 1, Place 2

Six Shooter Junction – In their zeal, the County Commissioners have gone to elaborate lengths to save money by eliminating two constable’s precincts, thereby reducing the number of Justice Courts by two. They redistricted the lines of demarcation, and thereby created five new precincts in which three sitting judges occupied one duly constituted court.

One judge’s term expired on December 31, 2014, but in the case of Judge Krisi DeCluitt, there was an additional two years to run on her term of office. When reducing her near $60K salary to a mere $8K did not provide sufficient incentive for the judge to vacate her office, she hired an attorney and the counter offer was a new position as an analyst bring her to near the previous salary at $55K. News reports quoted Commissioner Ben Perry alluding to a threatened lawsuit. The court made two other “new” positions for former Constable Danny Tate as the supervisor of Tradinghouse Lake, and Judge Belinda Summers as field liaison for Precinct 2 Commissioner Lester Gibson.

Judge DeCluitt chose to accept a position as a Crime Analyst serving the Court to coordinate with mental health and veterans affairs officials to create new and improved means of adjudication of cases in the special populations of the homeless mentally ill and combat veterans who suffer from their combat-related stress issues.

Sounds great, but there’s a catch. The office belongs to the people of the State of Texas, and not the elected officials, and there’s a lot of law to back that statement up.

She resigned, accepted the terms of a contract for the position at $55,000 per year with eligibility for full benefits, the right to mediation coordinated by the federal court system if her employment is terminated, and certain stipulations as to her performance and principle mode of employment. 

The problem of the retaliatory elimination of justice courts and constables through redistricting had become so frequent in its occurrence by 1983 that a special election to amend the Texas Constitution to allow a sitting judge or a constable so serving to be compensated for the remainder his term. With that comes the ultimate responsibility to remain in the office.

If a judge is removed, the public is thereby deprived by unconstitutional authority of their elected official. Thus, Tex. Const. art. V, § 18(c) thereby stripped County Commissioners’ Courts of the power to eliminate a Justice Court without due observance of the law as to, the right, authority, and duty created and conferred by law, by which, for a given period, either fixed by law, or enduring at the pleasure of the creating power, an individual is invested with some portion of the sovereign functions of the government, to be exercised by him for the benefit of the public.

According to the above cited Article and Subsection of the Texas Constitution, Under subsection (c), an order abolishing a precinct does not terminate the constable’s duty to serve the current term of office for which the constable was elected or appointed…

In a 2007 Attorney General’s Opinion solicited by then Chair of the House Committee on Criminal Justice, Rep. Chuy Hinojosa, Greg Abbot held that We conclude that abolishing precinct 6 did not terminate Brown’s duty under article V, section 18(c) of the constitution to serve as a constable in the new precinct in which he resided for the term to which he had been elected. Different “provisions of a Constitution which relate to the same subject-matter should be construed together and considered in the light of each other,” and effect must be given to each part. Collingsworth County v. Allred, 40 S.W.2d 13, 15 (Tex. 1931).

In a 1982 decision, Tarrant County v. Ashmore, the Supreme Court of Texas held that while article 2351½(c) was a constitutional means of removing officers from their positions, the procedures used by the Tarrant County Commissioners to accomplish that purpose in the present case were inconsistent with the officers’ property rights and rights of due process. As a result, the court held, the officers were entitled to recover from the county the salaries and benefits they would have earned had they been allowed to remain in office for their full terms. The court of appeals affirmed the judgment of the trial court. 624 S.W.2d 740. We reverse the judgments of the courts below.

In a minority opinion addressing a similar question regarding Randall Scott Gates, a candidate who won election to a Justice Court bench in an eliminated precinct at Moody, Texas, in 2006, Chief Justice Tom Gray of the 10th District Court of Appeals at Waco held that “Whoever receives the most votes wins the election.”

In a legal memorandum sought by the candidate, then District Attorney John Segrest noted that had the voters not gone to the polls and changed the law, the Ashmore  decision would have been the law of the land, “but they didn’t, and it isn’t.”

 

 

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