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Retired attorneys appointed as jail judges in McLennan County at a cost to taxpayers of $90,000

WACO, TX (KWTX) – McLennan County officials on Tuesday appointed three retired attorneys as vacation jail judges, a position historically held on a rotating basis by a county justice of the peace.

The decision to appoint attorneys instead of relying on justices of the peace added $90,000 to the budget for the new fiscal year, which proposes to pay three attorneys — Guy Cox, Dick Kettler and Joe Lyman — $125 an hour for magistrate duties.

The move was prompted by several factors, including county growth, an increase in the prison population, new requirements under Senate Bill 6, the retirement of longtime 5th Justice of the Peace Fernando Villarreal and the gradual retirement of current prosecutors, officials said. brought peace doesn’t want to stay on the weekend prison rotation.

Regional leaders say that the appointment of weekend prison prosecutors has been under consideration for several years. However, Villarreal and 4th Precinct Justice of the Peace Brian Richardson have been willing to alternate weekend jail duties for the past few years, so it’s done.

One by one, beginning with 3rd Circuit Judge David Parea nearly eight years ago, justices of the peace, including 1st Circuit Judges Pete Peterson and Diane Hensley and 2nd Circuit Judge James E. .

Precinct 1 is the largest justice of the peace precinct and includes two Waco hospitals. That leaves Peterson and Hensley with more death calls than other judges and their positions.

In 2012, commissioners appointed Waco attorney Virgil Bain as the new associate criminal judge, who will primarily handle jail trials Monday through Friday.

Richardson told commissioners he was willing to continue his weekend trips to the jail, but made it clear he didn’t want to do it alone every weekend. Lucie Sánchez-Miramontes, who will succeed Villarreal in January, said she told officials she would be ready to take on the magisterial duties on weekends once she was in office and received the necessary training.

“I told them I would meet the necessary expectations for the county,” said Sanchez-Miramontes, who resigned as mayor of Beverly Hills this week in anticipation of starting her new job as justice of the peace. “I know they’ve hired three judges to help with these jail functions, which I think is amazing. I’m excited to learn about it and I’m excited to serve McLennan County.”

The main factors driving the county’s decision to appoint new criminal prison courts are provisions passed last year under Senate Bill 6, known as the Damon Allen Act. Allen, a state trooper, was killed in the line of duty in 2017 in Limestone County by a repeat offender who had recently been released on bail.

The new law significantly changed the process of setting bail by providing better information about defendants, including their criminal history and any required contact conditions, prohibiting the release of defendants on personal bail under certain conditions, and increasing educational requirements for magistrates.

In addition to an eight-hour additional training course, majors must be certified to review information from law enforcement databases, officials said.

What once took 10 minutes to arraign a defendant can now take 30 minutes or more, officials said. Villarreal says he and Richardson have been handling 40 to 45 jail inmates every day for the past few Saturdays and Sundays, which can eat up a good chunk of their weekend.

“I would welcome anyone who would like to come and participate in the weekend prison rotation,” Richardson said. “It gives me some relaxation.”

Villarreal, who is retiring after 30 years as a justice of the peace, said he thinks the three new judges will ultimately save the city money because they can keep regular schedules and work with jail officials to release inmates on bail. to work Villarreal said that at $80 a day to house a county jail inmate, it could save the county money to post bonds in a timely manner to those who are eligible.

“Under the new system (Senate Bill 6), it takes about three times as long to do a master’s,” Villarreal said. “Therefore, I think that appointing these three lawyers is a good thing. And if they don’t work, they don’t get paid. So anything that’s done to get people out of jail saves money in the long run, and when you have five judges on rotation, they can make their weekend better.”

Cox, 75, and Kettler, 77, both said they look forward to starting their new roles.

“For me, being retired, it’s taking up some of the free time where I’m being unproductive,” Cox said. “I think it’s going to be a good deal for Dick and Joe and me and also for the county.”

Both Peterson and Parea emphasized that although justices of the peace have historically performed the duties of a jail judge, most judges can also serve as judges in the courthouse.

“A judge is any judge, district judge, county judge, all the way up,” Peterson said. “It just fell to the JPs. But it’s better this way, believe me. Magistrates are now very complicated. It requires more tasks. I have a job with my office and we talk three or four hours a day at the magistrate. I can’t do this.”

When told Sanchez-Miramontez was ready to jump into the prison rotation this weekend, Peterson said, “More power to him.”

Parea said he gave up on the weekend jail rotation after he was told there was no money in the budget to cover it.

“They worked us all so hard and it got to the point where we didn’t even have a day off,” Parea said. “There was no further consideration for that, so I declined at the time and said that all these other judges in our county could do the same service. We were basically the mules of the county doing the trial.”

Peterson, Hensley and Peterson earn $83,578 a year, and Lee and Richardson earn $68,268. Sanchez-Miramontes will inherit Villarreal’s annual salary of $75,098.

Bain is paid $134,371 as a prison judge.

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