Spank or pay up, judge says

2009-04-02 09:46

Brownsville, Texas - A justice of the peace who gave parents of school-dodging kids the option of paddling their children in court or paying a fine has received a warning from the state panel that oversees judicial conduct.

The State Commission on Judicial Conduct rebuked Gustavo Garza for violations of judicial conduct that included the option of spankings instead of $500 fines. 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.

The warning was not accompanied by any fine or discipline.

If Garza continued the practice, he could receive discipline or the commission could ask the state Supreme Court to suspend him from office.

Garza, of the southern Texas town of Los Fresnos, said he believed the positive result of reduced truancy cases in the school district outweighed any harm from the spankings, The Brownsville Herald reported on Wednesday.

"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 in which a man reluctantly paddled his 14-year-old stepdaughter because he could not afford the $500 fine.

Garza criticised him for paddling softly with the large plank that court staff referred to records as the BOE, 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.