Who is the Council of Judges? A Four Part Series

conc_judges_1It is a simple question yet no one seems to know the answer. A secretive organization dictating how much El Paso County taxpayers should pay for indigent care and no one has asked a very simple question; who is the Council of Judges? What if I told you that The Council of Judges can impact your taxes while being exempt from public scrutiny? What if I told you that the Council of Judges once attempted to convene a court hearing where elected officials could be subpoenaed all by issuing a court order without a lawsuit being filed? Does El Paso have its very own Star Chamber?

The Star Chamber was an English court of law that became a symbol of judicial abuse where meetings were held in secret and it eventually became a political weapon for the English monarchy. The Council of Judges recently made headlines when Vince Perez questioned why they have control over the county’s auditor. It then showed up on the public’s radar once again when they unilaterally impacted your tax bills by raising the payments to lawyers defending indigent defendants. Other than knowing that the Council of Judges is composed of county judges no one has asked a simple question, how did the Council of Judges come to be?

As is normal in corrupt laden El Paso the El Paso Times, masquerading as a newspaper, published an editorial on December 27, 2013 stating; “The Council of Judges’ recent unilateral decision to raise attorney fees in indigent defense cases by $15 an hour is a classic example of the dysfunctional system set up by the Texas Constitution.” The editorial continues; “The judges can order the additional expenditure and essentially mandate that county Commissioners Court foot the bill – taxpayers be damned.”

All nice and pretty wrapped up in the mantra of advocating for the poor taxpayers of the community. Although the editorial makes a half-hearted attempt at explaining to the readership why the Council of Judges have a say in this when they wrote that “El Paso County is under court order to take a two-pronged approach to indigent defense” it did not bother to explain why. And what does that have to do with the county auditor?

Why is that? Do they not know why the council came to be or what authority it wields? Or is it that the paper is taking sides in a battle for control of the county’s budget?

As you probably already know it’s all about the money and the paper’s favorite politicians looking bad in front of the electorate; Veronica Escobar and Vince Perez. Thus the paper, as is its normal modus operandi, regurgitates what the politicians tell it to write. And that is why the headlines read that the Council of Judges unilaterally raised costs by $15 an hour thus increasing the burden on the taxpayers but it neglects to explain to you the reason why it can even do that.

Plain and simple, this is a power struggle being played out through news bites. Back in September, as the county budget was being discussed, Vince Perez took exception to the fact that the County Auditor’s office is appointed by the Council of Judges. As is typical in El Paso right away politicians started to compare El Paso with other cities and during the discussion it was pointed out that El Paso County Commissioners does not have direct oversight over its budget office. However, Perez’ public pontification was the second public volley in a power struggle that was first publicly acknowledged when Veronica Escobar tried to create a centralized county authority under her control by attempting to create a county manager. When she was repudiated, Vince Perez took over the attempt in an attempt to take control of the budget.

It all plays well before the cameras, the discussion on taxes with saviors stepping in however no one has bothered to ask a simple question; who is the Council of Judges?

What if I told you that El Paso is the only county in the State of Texas with a Council of Judges? Wouldn’t your next logical question be, why?

Why it is that El Paso has a Council of Judges?

Knowing that wouldn’t your next question be what is their authority?

According to the news media we know two things; a Council of Judges appoints the county’s auditor thus being in power to exert some control over the county’s budget and the Council of Judges has the authority to mandate expenses to the Commissioners Court and thus to the taxpayers of the community through unilateral decision.

Thus the next logical question would be; are they elected? That question, obviously, would be followed by an even simpler one, is the Council of Judges subject to public scrutiny? What if I told you it wasn’t, would you be concerned?

What is unfolding before you is a struggle for control of the county’s budget being led on one side by Veronica Escobar and Vince Perez and on the other by the Council of Judges.

Thus the important questions should be answered.

Knowing that the local paper isn’t about to provide you the information you deserve to know in order to be an informed spectator in the power struggle I’ve put together a four-part series starting today and concluding on Friday.

Tomorrow I’ll start by identifying for you who and what is the Council of Judges and how they came to be. I’ll share with you what their mandate is and attempt to identify what their authority is.

On Thursday I’ll share with you how the Council of Judges previously tried to assert control over the county’s budget.

And, on Friday I’ll wrap it all up by sharing with you why I believe what is unfolding is simply a power struggle for control of the taxpayers’ purse strings.