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Fort Bend County, At Large
By Cheryl Skinner

This column expresses the personal opinions/views of the writer. If you would like to express your opinions/views regarding the column, write a SIGNED letter to the editor. Name can be withheld by request with a valid day time phone number.


The judge and the clerks

Last week Fort Bend County District Clerk Glory Hopkins fired out a letter to the State District Judges saying she would no longer supply clerks in the courtroom of Associate Judge Pedro Ruiz. Judge Ruiz, she said, acted rudely, was demeaning to a court clerk and she would not subject her employees to his arrogant behavior. Sounds like a reasonable thing to do, if that happened.

Judge Ruiz said he heard about the letter but had not seen it. He denied being rude or insulting the clerks mentioned by Hopkins. He acknowledged there was an “incident” that Thursday prior to the issuance of the letter. The incident in question is kind of bazaar. Ruiz said he asked the deputy district clerk who was in his courtroom to put the court files in numerical order. Sounds like a reasonable request and probably a pretty simple task requiring no advanced skills or training, right?

Well, according to Ruiz, the clerk said in order for her to do that mundane little task, Judge Ruiz would have to fire off an e-mail to her supervisor at the District Clerk’s Office and get written permission for her to put the files in numerical order. What, you say, or at least I said. Ruiz said when the clerk said this “Did I laugh, yes I did. If that is unprofessional then I apologize.”

He also noted that he chose to take the files and put them in numerical order himself rather than taking the same amount of time to send an e-mail, wait for approval and then have the clerk comply with his request. He says, and others in the court system substantiate, that every time he starts a court session the files are out of order, at times pertinent information in the files is missing and other similar problems. Court watchers say the judges have all been known to get a bit “testy” at one time or another because it delays the back to back proceedings. Ruiz still denies he was rude or testy when the request was made.

Ruiz said he arrived in court that day at 8:15 a.m., took a 15 minute lunch break, and left the court at 11:30 p.m. He said the clerk was there during normal working hours. And, he said a clerk arrived in his court on Friday as usual and he was not contacted personally by Hopkins or any of the district clerk supervisors on Thursday, Friday or ever, about his alleged attitude. And, despite the written notice that a clerk would not be supplied to his court, one did appear on Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday—well you get the picture. And, at the time I interviewed him, Ruiz had still not been contacted personally.

Hopkins also asked that State District Judge Brady Elliott check out the allegations and rein his associate judge (Ruiz) in. Elliott said that he checked out the situation after receiving the letter from Hopkins and here is his official response: “There was and have been clerks in Judge Ruiz Court as required by law. The reports I have received this week have been that Judge Ruiz is conducting himself professionally as is expected.”

Now we all know the judges stick together like glue, and we pretty much all know that most of them have been accused of being somewhat arrogant, strong-willed and occasionally when in the midst of a heavy docket with everything on earth going wrong have been known to react with what could only be construed as a full-fledged temper tantrum. Now that may not be considered professional by any means but those in the know say it might be somewhat justified (and this information doesn’t come from a judge) because the District Clerk has traditionally been at war with the fellows on the bench.

I don’t know about the day to day working relationship that Hopkins has with the judges, but that allegation kind of holds water, buckets of it in fact, since she fought those robed fellows tooth and toenail on the judicial software and has in the past supplied clerks to the court that have come ill-prepared due to some pretty dumb rules apparently set forth by their boss.

It wasn’t long ago I wrote a news story about one of the judges getting so angry that a clerk wouldn’t go get a file at his request, because she wasn’t authorized to do so without permission, that he stormed out of the courtroom and marched over to the clerk’s office to get the file himself, all the while adding tons of fodder to the courthouse gossips as he apparently voiced his frustrations for all the world to hear on the trip to Hopkin’s office.

Now granted, the judges should conduct themselves in a professional manner and should treat everyone in their court with respect—as much so as can be put forth given the sometimes circus atmosphere of a courtroom—but they are human too, although some would dispute that statement.

The story is that Hopkins, who is a lame-duck district clerk who flubbed up by not timely filing the paperwork that would allow her to run for re-election to the office she has had for 20 years, lost a court battle to get on the ballot, and has killed hundreds of trees writing diatribes saying the judges are dumber than dirt, has an attitude right now. Heck, she’s always had an attitude.

Anyhow, court-watchers say she uses “temp” employees for court clerks and simply “provides warm bodies to the court.” Needless to say, if this is true, the employees are more likely to be intimidated by one of the judges because they aren’t seasoned and aren’t aware that sometimes these guys bark doesn’t mean they will bite. The courthouse bunch says that is Glory’s way of “getting even” with those dastardly judges. I’m not saying that’s true, I’m just passing along what everyone in the whole wide world is saying.

I guess the bottom line is why in the world would a clerk be required to get permission to put a stack of files in numerical order? Why would a clerk be sent to a courtroom and be unable to go get a file that was missing? Why would a clerk show up in court with missing files or incomplete files? Something is amiss if this is true and the poor employees are being set up for ridicule and disdain which is totally unfair.

While there is no excuse for rude behavior, sometimes behavior is in the eye of the beholder. What may seem rude to one person, can appear humorous to another. Based on typical courthouse talk from a number of very reliable sources, it appears maybe, just maybe, someone is trying to push the buttons of the Fort Bend County judiciary.

If that is true, it is unfair to the employees who are subjected to those stringent rules, not to mention the resulting ire of a frenzied judge; it is unfair to the attorneys in the courtroom; it is unfair to the defendants (although, in the case of criminal cases, that doesn’t break my heart); and it is unfair to the taxpayers of Fort Bend County who foot the bills for all of the people on the payroll of the court system who have to come to a screeching halt and wait for someone to get permission to carry out a requested task or for a not so happy judge to shut down the proceedings while he marches out of the courtroom with black robes billowing in the blustery breeze and probably more closely resembles Dracula rather than a dignified judge.

Too bad someone can’t control the situation. And just why can’t they, you ask? Well, elected officials are kind of anointed by virtue of the election process. Once they get in office, they run the show and there is not a dad-burn thing another elected official can do to control an adversarial elected official. The only people with the slightest bit of control are the four commissioners and the county judge, but they admit their only method of control revolves around the budget of an elected official. In other words they can cut off the money supply for certain requests, but they can’t tell another elected official how to run their office.

Unless the warring factions declare a two-month long cease fire, expect to hear more volleys fired between now and Dec. 31 when terms end and new faces appear. I expect there will be a few more minor temper outbursts and a whole bunch more trees downed between now and then. Stay tuned—


Contact skinnerc1@ev1.net, if you would like to express your opinions/views regarding the column. Write a SIGNED letter to the editor with valid day time phone number--name can be withheld by request.

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   Last Update:  November 29, 2006