San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

August 28th, 2009
Questions abound after judge selection

Anna Martinez Boling spoke to Hays County Commissioners Thursday as she was appointed Judge in Hays County Court at Law No. 1. Photos by Sean Batura.

News Reporter

Questions illuminated the immediate fallout from Thursday’s decision by the Hays County Commissioners Court to appoint San Marcos attorney Anna Martinez Boling as the interim Judge in county Court at Law No. 1.

Boling replaces the late Judge Howard Warner, who died on July 18 from cancer. Her appointment marks the second time in nine months that the commissioners court filled a key position in the county justice system after the electoral winner died in office. Last December, commissioners appointed Tommy Ratliff as sheriff after the death of Allen Bridges.

In each case, offices that are lost in the noise of higher profile campaigns during their normal election cycles came to the political front and center, with all the political intensity that entails. And commissioners who make the calls face questions unlike those encountered by November voters. To wit:

To what extent are such appointments inevitably political? Is it better to appoint a “caretaker” who will leave office at the next election, or to appoint someone who will seek the job more permanently through the voters? How should the wishes of the deceased office holder factor into the appointment?

Commissioners voted, 4-1, for Boling. All four Democrats on the court voted for Boling, while the one Republican did not. Boling recently resigned as chair of the Hays County Democratic Party after a year on the job. Warner, who held the bench for 27 years, was a Democrat. The same commissioners tabbed Ratliff, a Democrat, to replace Bridges, who ran as a Republican.

“I never have felt quite comfortable with the appointment process,” said Hays County Precinct 3 Commissioner Will Conley (R-San Marcos), the court’s lone Republican. “In all sincerity, I do believe it’s naive when somebody says that it’s not a process. Qualifications do come into play, as they should, but it is a political process. All of us, including myself, are political animals. And this court is a political mechanism. And to say that politics does not play a role in an appointment – it just simply isn’t true.”

Said Boling supporter Lydia Serna, “This is not about politics. I do not believe that it’s about politics. I believe that it begins with (asking) who is the best person for this job. (Boling) knows exactly what’s going to have to be done. She’s put her family to the side so that she is able to serve our citizens here in our county.”

Hays County Precinct 2 Commissioner Jeff Barton (D-Kyle) said a significant reason for his support of Boling is her stated intention to run for the court at law bench in November 2010. Rather than consider the appointment as a caretaker position, as he first did, Barton said consultation with attorneys, judges, and others led him to a different view.

“I’m convinced that we ought to be looking for somebody who will try to bring stability over the long term for the job,” Barton said.

Conley disagreed, and said he prefers the caretaker concept because the job of campaigning for office is “very time consuming” and “very distracting.”

Said Conley, “I kind of like the idea of somebody that’s just there in an apolitical way, (who) does not have an interest in running for the position, and they can just focus on the job at hand for … whatever (time) is left in the term … and then the political process can work itself out.”

Like Boling, Ratliff has said he will run for his position in 2010.

Warner’s family originally gave its support to San Marcos attorney Tacie Zelhart, saying the late judge endorsed Zelhart. When Zelhart then threw her support behind another San Marcos attorney, James Pape, the Warner family joined her in supporting Pape.

“I won’t talk that long,” Precinct 2 Constable James Kohler, a lifelong Democrat, told the commissioners court Thursday morning. “Y’all put in there who Judge Warner wanted you to. Y’all know who it is. Thank you.”

After the meeting, Kohler said he and Warner had known one another for more than 30 years. Kohler said once the judge “knew he wasn’t coming out” of the hospital, Warner told him Zelhart would be the best person for county Court at Law No. 1.

Hays County Judge Liz Sumter (D-Wimberley) halted the July 14 commissioners court meeting when she learned of Warner’s admittance that day to Central Texas Medical Center (CTMC). Sumter and Conley said Warner did not then express to them a preference regarding an appointment to his bench.

“I think Judge Warner had a lot of preferences,” Sumter said. “He certainly loved Anna Boling very much, and I think that maybe when Anna decided she wasn’t going to run at that point, then he was looking for someone else. I think that Judge Warner would be very proud of the appointment today.”

Boling will be sworn in on Sept. 21 during a special commissioners court meeting for that purpose, She is not due to step down until midnight on Jan. 1, 2011, unless she is elected to the position, in which case she will remain in office.

As to some of the technical aspects of the position, Sumter said she hopes Boling will take part in the ongoing collaboration between consultant MGT of America, Inc. (MGT) and various county justice system officials in an analysis of the county’s justice system.

“Even though she wouldn’t actually take the position until September 21, we’ll certainly let them know that she can be available to talk to even before that,” Sumter said.

The commissioners court authorized another consultant, Broaddus and Associates (B&A), to hire MGT for a study of the county’s justice system last month. Sumter said MGT’s results may be available in another month. B&A will use MGT’s results in its own analysis of the county’s facility needs, which may be used to determine what county offices will be relocated to the proposed government center, the price ceiling for which was recently set at $89.5 million.

“My assumption would be, I’m sure Ms. Boling has enough on her plate coming into a new position,” Conley said. “My assumption would be that (County Court at Law No. 2 Judge) Linda (Rodriguez) will continue to lead that and give Anna a chance to give her feedback.”

Boling told commissioners she is honored to have been selected, thanked Pape for his encouragement and promised to do her best in following Warner’s footsteps.

“The fact is that, you had six other very able, very well-qualified candidates that wanted this judicial position,” Boling said. ” … I just want to thank you again for entrusting me with this most important role, and my promise to all of you is that I will not let you down.”

Hays County Judge Liz Sumter, left, and Hays County Civil Division Attorney Mark Kennedy, right, discuss the legal aspects of how long Anna Martinez Boling could remain as interim Judge in Hays County Court at Law No. 1.

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3 thoughts on “Questions abound after judge selection

  1. let’s not forget how incumbancy factors into elections. by putting someone in who plans to run to keep the seat, possibly for decades, they are giving Boling an endorsement on her relection campaign.

  2. I have to agree with Conley on this one. Without going into Boling’s qualifications, which I don’t really know enough about to speak one way or the other, I can see a bit of political shepherding here, trying to keep a seat in the hands of one party. I’ve always had a problem with partisan elections for judges anyway.

  3. THE DECISION HAS BEEN MADE!!! For God’s sake, why can’t everyone just let Judge Warner rest in peace; let the Court staff of many, many years with him finish their WELL DESERVED grieving process and take this matter up at the proper time, which is DURING THE ELECTION!!! There is plenty of time, so LET IT GO so County Court can attempt to regain some facimile of normalcy.

    Thank you,

    Ed Stapp

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