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County looking into refunding jury duty court costs

By Darren Hunt, DHuntabc7@yahoo.com
Published On: Jul 02 2014 07:32:35 PM CDT
Updated On: Jul 21 2014 09:37:28 PM CDT
EL PASO, Texas -

Are millions in refunds from the County of El Paso due to those charged hundreds of dollars in court costs for missing jury duty?

That's the question many are asking after an El Paso Times investigation found fines may have been wrongfully collected.

On Wednesday, ABC-7 spoke by phone to former jury duty court visiting judge Jerry Woodard. Last month Woodard issued a court order to stop collecting nearly $300 in court costs from those found in contempt of the jury duty court.

"I was sort of shocked at the charges," said West El Pasoan Jeryl Marcus, who missed jury duty in May of 2013.

For her mistake, she was fined $25, plus nearly $300 in court costs.

This week an El Paso Times investigation found those fines may not have been warranted and Marcus says she wants her money back.

Woodard gave ABC-7 a copy of an opinion he wrote last month for the Council of Judges on jury court costs. In it he writes that back in 1999, "I proposed to (former District Clerk Gilbert Sanchez) that there be no court costs. (Sanchez's) opinion was that criminal court costs should be assessed. I was not, and am not sure he was incorrect."

The County is looking into the situation.

"We're looking at what options are available," said Mike Izquierdo, executive director of the Council of Judges. "There is a whole lot of different opinions between the attorneys and judges as to whether or not the judges have the power to assess the court costs. I don't know what the answer is."

ABC-7 asked Izquierdo if the fines seemed excessive.

"It is steep, OK, it is steep," he said. "It all depends on your excuse."

Izquierdo and Woodard pointed to administrative Judge Patrick Garcia for answers, since he oversees the jury duty court. ABC-7 attempted to get an interview with him, but were told he is in trial and unavailable.

Izquierdo said if millions in refunds are allowed, it could hit the county hard.

"It's roughly a 40-60 split," he said. "Sixty-percent roughly stays here and the other goes to the state and it goes to the general fund so it funds the general budget of the County."

Izquierdo said now that Woodard has retired, there is a 30-day hiatus on jury contempt cases, unless individual judges want to handle them themselves. He added that until a ruling is made on these court cost fees, the county has stopped charging them for the time being.

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