It's official. County commissioners have unanimously approved the consolidation of two Brazos County Justice of the Peace positions. The decision was made in a packed room of concerned citizens who were pushing to keep the Precinct Two, Place Two Justice of the Peace.
It’s been up for discussion for the last several budget cycles, but according to Precinct Two Place Two Judge Tommy Munoz, the decision came quote, "fairly quickly."
“I was not there in support of abolishing place 2 position, I was there in favor of not taking away my clerk,” said Precinct 2 Place 2 Judge Tommy Munoz.
Tuesday morning, in a packed room Brazos county commissioners made a decision to combine J-P Precinct 2 place one and place two in one position. This means the place 2 position held by Judge Tommy Munoz for the past 7 years -- will be dissolved on September 30, 2014. The decision is expected to save the county more than $100,000 with eliminations of the justice of the peace salary, the cost of two staff positions and the departmental operating expenses.
"Other than saving money? I don't know if it's really worth it,” Munoz lamented.
Munoz says the decision came as a surprise.
"I don't think my opinions were considered,” said Munoz. “They already had their minds made up."
Brazos County Judge Duane Peters said the workloads of the two Precinct 2 justice of the peace courts has decreased significantly because of the restructuring of workloads, and Peters believes it's light enough to be handled by one office.
Before the final decision was made concerned citizens spoke out advocating and encouraging commissioners to re-think the decision.
“If we cut our throats right now and get rid of him then the crime rate is not going down," said a concerned citizen. "You know it; I know it and everyone else in this room know it."
Citizens who spoke out said, in the future, they believe the increase in workload for Place One JP Vera Lara Hooge would be an unfair justice to the citizens, ultimately causing a back-log in court cases
"How it will affect the people, only time will tell,” Munoz said.
One of the discussions I had with Judge Peters was that in my opinion Judge Vera Lara-Hooge was not prepared to take on my case loads at this time. She has even less experience with administrative hearings. Munoz later said Judge Hooge told Judge Peters she was ready to take on the role.
Both hear civil and criminal cases, however was tasked with civil and criminal cases, however Munoz says he has been tasked with all of the administrative hearings and school truancy cases.
By combining the two places, Hooge, will have larger dockets than the rest of the justices of the peace which means in September 2014 she'll receive one clerk from Judge Munoz' office. Since Munoz is an elected official, by law, he'll continue serve as a JP until his term expires in December 2014.
“At this point I have three clerks; two of those are filled positions, and they were trying to remove one of them. So I'll still have one position that I need to fill, but who is going to want to work for a judge for only one year?” questioned Munoz.
Judge Munoz says September to December will be a transitional period where he'll stop receiving new cases and transition the workload to Judge Vera Lara-Hooge's office that holds the Place 1 seat.