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Changes to Corpus Christi Municipal Court could eliminate jobs

 2022 Municipal Court Warrant Roundup
Posted at 9:00 PM, Jul 18, 2023
and last updated 2023-07-18 23:25:14-04

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — In January, Corpus Christi City Manager Peter Zanoni and Municipal Court Presiding Judge Jacqueline Del Llano Chapa approached retired Presiding Judge John Bull of San Antonio.

For $25,000, Bull was hired to do an audit looking at the efficiency on the municipal court.

On Tuesday, City Council accepted the report, agreeing with 26 of the 33 recommendations made.

One recommendation in particular that was a divisive topic was the recommendation to eliminate the city's Marshal Unit.

“I want to continue to be a police officer," Deputy Marshal Amanda Guerra said. "If I'm to go apply somewhere it’s going to take me six months to a year to get hired because TCOLE (Texas Commission on Law Enforcement) requires extensive background. Which I appreciate because I want good brothers and sisters out there, with me in the field. And, I'm sorry that I'm getting emotional, but I'm loosing my job."

Guerra is one of five Deputy marshals, which includes their supervisor, the City Marshal.

She expressed her emotions to City Council after she learned the Marshals may be eliminated as a suggestion from the report.

With a budget line of almost $700,000, the report states the Marshals aren’t effective enough. Guerra added that number may be higher than usual because of the purchase of new vehicles for the department.

The Marshals track down people with warrants to help them resolve their open cases. It often involves them going to people's houses, knocking on doors and leaving notes for those people to call them back.

“It’s not about money," she said. "We’re not bringing people in so the city can make revenue or make money. We want them to be able to get theses cases resolved.”

Zanoni said this recommendation came as no surprise. He said the city began evaluating the positions of the Marshals two years ago during the pandemic. He said the position has become outdated.

“People won’t answer the door, so the marshals can’t break the door down and go arrest people," Zanoni said. "What is happening is the police officers, under carrying out other duties, are finding people with warrants and they’re making more arrests than the marshals.”

Chief Financial Officer for Corpus Christi Constance Sanchez broke down the courts latest practices to City Council.

"What we've done on the municipal court admin side is we're sending text messages. We have automatic calls if they're older cases. So, really the business model has changed," she said.

If the Marshals Unit is eliminated, there is a city policy that requires the city to help reassign them to another city job.

“It’s not an automatic placement," Zanoni said. "First, it begins with identification of a vacancy, preparing them for the interview. “

Of the 33 recommendations Bull made to improve the court, several of them focused on dealing with the organization and work flow of the court.

Judge Bull’s report found that as of May 2022, over 100,000 cases had no action taken on them, dating back to 2007.Click here to view his final report.

Bull wrote, “There are too many examples of "lost" cases to include in this report.”

He suggested a system be put in place that will purge cases that are 10 to 15-years-old, that had no action taken and get them closed.

Judge also pointed out what he called, "lacking fundamental fairness as it relates to the presumption of innocence."

The city has been referring cases to an outside collection agency within 60 days of a failure to appear. Bull said this goes against the basis of innocent until proven guilty. He added that fees should only be added by a judge and not an automated system.

City staff will now use this as report as a sort of guide as the prepare to present the city’s budget at the next meeting. Then the Marshals will know their fate.

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