“Frankly, it was a category of its own,” Zaffirini wrote in an email to the Webb County Commissioners Court.
Zaffirini, D-Laredo, is requesting the Commissioners Court appoint a successor to Garza, Webb County Court at Law II judge. Garza was suspended without pay Jan. 13 by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, three days after a grand jury indicted him in the 111th District Court on a misdemeanor influence-peddling charge.
In an email Zaffirini sent Jan. 13 to Webb County Judge Tano Tijerina and county commissioners, she calls for a successor who has the “ability, interest, energy, time and commitment to clean up this dire situation regarding guardianship in that court and who will commit to accountability and transparency in doing so.”
She suggests this successor should preclude anyone who has ties to Garza and who might become involved in a coverup.
Jesus M. Dominguez, one of Garza’s attorneys, declined to comment on Zaffirini’s email.
Reports indicate Garza appointed four local attorneys to the resounding majority of cases, paying them an overwhelming percentage and the highest average of fees paid in his court, according to Zaffirini.
Zaffirini further alleges Garza’s court is what motivated her to pass laws requiring the rotation system for making appointments and monthly reports regarding appointments made and fees paid.
Senate Bill 1876 — authored by Zaffirini and passed in 2015 — directed state courts to use a rotation system for most appointments of attorneys and guardians ad litem, guardians and mediators, while preserving judicial discretion. Ad litem refers to the appointment by a court of an attorney to act in a lawsuit on behalf of another party, such as a child or an incapacitated adult.
All appointments and related payments for attorney ad litem, guardian ad litem, guardian, mediator and competency evaluator are now reported to the Office of Court Administration.
“As your state senator I am keenly interested in helping you address this important and timely issue,” the email states.
In response to her correspondence to commissioners, Tijerina requested Webb County Attorney Marco A. Montemayor take immediate action in addressing Garza’s suspension.
“I strongly feel that removal of office should be considered and would be essential in restoring the trust and integrity in the County Court at Law 2,” said Tijerina in an email obtained by LMT.
Garza, who has served as Webb County Court at Law 2 judge since 1993, was arrested and charged Jan. 12 with one count of gift to a public servant by a person subject to his jurisdiction, a Class A misdemeanor.
The indictment alleges that in January 2015, Garza asked local attorney Shirley Mathis for a $3,000 loan in exchange for appointing her to represent the wealthy Carlos Y. Benavides Jr. estate in a civil dispute. The loan was intended for Christopher Casarez, one of Garza’s court coordinators, the indictment states. Casarez died by suicide Dec. 11 in his home in the Lakeside Subdivision, according to Laredo police.
Zaffirini’s husband, Carlos M. Zaffirini Sr., represents Leticia Benavides, wife of Carlos Y. Benavides Jr., in multiple civil cases involving Carlos Y. Benavides Jr.’s estate, according to court records.
Oscar O. Peña, an attorney for Garza, said in a statement following his arrest that his client maintains his innocence.
“He intends to investigate the state’s claim and he looks forward to defending himself and putting this matter behind him,” the statement reads. “This is a difficult time for the judge, his family and his friends, but he has faced many challenges in his life and he intends to face this one too.”
Zaffirini said in her email that as a member of the Texas Judicial Council and Senate State Affairs Committee, she “received reports and heard extensive testimony that 90 percent … of the guardianship cases in Chuy’s court were not in compliance with state law.”
She wrote that “deficiencies include waived bonds for guardians (though there is no legal authority for waivers), no initial inventory, no annual report and missing assets (including an airplane).”
A 2016 report from the Texas Office of Court Administration indicates Webb County has the highest reporting deficiencies in guardianship cases when compared to the counties of Anderson, Bexar, Comal, Guadalupe, Hays, Lubbock, Montgomery, Orange, Tom Green and Tyler.
Reporting deficiencies included 79 percent of cases missing annual reports of person, 77 percent of cases missing annual accounting reports and 80 percent missing initial inventory reports in Webb County courts at law I and II.
Of those statistics, 97 cases in County Court at Law II were reported as missing annual reports, 88 were missing initial inventories and 79 were missing annual accounting reports.
A supplemental report shows County Court at Law II had 69 open cases where the ward was deceased, eight cases with deceased wards who had assets over $10,000, 84 cases where minors had reached the age of majority and 31 cases where the docket showed expired temporary orders or other miscellaneous deficiencies.
The Office of Court Administration additionally recommended the dismissal of 41 cases in Garza’s court due to guardianship not being established.
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Zaffirini Voices Concern