When it comes to the Bexar County judiciary, party affiliation plays more of a role in re-election than the quality of service. It is costing taxpayers.
Since 2007, Bexar County taxpayers have been footing the cost of an appointed associate judge because Probate Court No. 2 Judge Tom Rickhoff decided he was not up to performing some of the duties that have been part of his elected office.
Rickhoff, who has held various elected posts within Bexar County, waited until after he won his 2006 re-election to disengage himself from the mental health docket he had been splitting with Probate Court No. l Judge Polly Jackson Spencer, who is now retired.
“In an effort to reduce angst and conflict in my life,” Rickhoff wrote in his letter announcing he was abandoning some of his workload, “I need to step aside from the mental-health docket now.”
Jackson Spencer, known for her strong work ethic, was given an assist by Bexar County commissioners. They allocated tax dollars from the general fund to hire an associate judge.
The associate judge who was hired, Oscar Kazen, operated under the radar for almost nine years. A few months ago, he was fired by Kelly Cross, who replaced Jackson Spencer on the probate court bench two years ago.
The move against the popular judge gave rise to a feud with Commissioners Court over who has the authority to appoint the associate judge. Legal action in now being threatened.
Taxpayers could be in for some hefty legal bills. A lawsuit would pit elected county officials against one another. Under normal circumstances, the district attorney’s office would represent the county, but this would be a conflict of interest.
We recommend that the county abolish the associate judge slot altogether. The public interest would be best served by having the county’s two elected probate judges, Rickhoff and Kelly, share that docket, as it had been divided before.
If help is needed, they should enlist the assistance of other judges. Most afternoons, especially toward the end of the week, we still find many judges’ parking spaces vacant.
Eliminating the job would create an immediate savings of $163,000, the amount allocated for salary and benefits. And if there is no associate judge position, the issue over who gets to appoint becomes moot.
A court battle on this issue could easily cost several times what the job pays. Taxpayers could do without the bill