City's top judge reappointed despite telling mayor he no longer wanted the job

Presiding Judge John Bull in talks to step down at end of current term

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SAN ANTONIO – The presiding judge of the San Antonio Municipal Court was reappointed to another term by the City Council last year, despite telling then-Mayor Ivy Taylor he was no longer inclined to serve in the position.

The revelation comes from a letter written by Judge John Bull that was hand-delivered to Taylor in early February 2017.

In the letter, Bull said he had not made a final decision but that he preferred to instead stay on as an associate judge.

"My frustration is evidenced by objectively reviewing and comparing the Presiding Judge position to other 'Department Directors' and City Council Appointees like the City Auditor and City Clerk, to wit; City Council expectations, number and complexity of responsibilities, breadth of subject matter knowledge required, work hours, volume of work, citizen contact and corresponding case resolution, total budget, number of employees, salary, constantly adjusting processes to meet legislative changes and legal guidelines, etc.," wrote Bull.

Judge John Bull hand-delivered letter to Mayor Ivy Taylor - Feb. 2017

City Manager Sheryl Sculley and City Attorney Andy Segovia were copied in the letter, according to city records.

The letter was originally not included in the city's response to a KSAT 12 Defenders' open records request for emails sent to and from Bull during a period of time that included when the letter was written.

A city spokesman said it was not included because the letter itself was hand-delivered and not sent via email.

The spokesman conceded that Bull had sent at least one previous version via email to several members of municipal court administration.

The Defenders obtained a copy of a draft of the letter from a source who asked to remain anonymous.

In that version, Bull was much more pointed about his dissatisfaction with how the court operates.

"The court doesn't have a problem with audits per se, but we do question having an accountant come in to give pointers to the Presiding Judge on how a court should run and operate," wrote Bull.

"...under the current climate I only want the responsibility of being a full-time judge, I am older than I was when I assumed the role of Presiding Judge and simply do not have the energy to re-fight old battles."

Bull broke down his frustration with how the court was operating into four numbered sections.

The first section laid out his belief that the city should follow a consultant's recommendation that municipal court should be an independent branch of city government answering only to the City Council.

Bull's second complaint related to the organization and supervision of the city's detention facility.

"Oversight of the detention center should not be treated as a hot potato among intergovernmental agencies," wrote Bull.

In Bull's third section, he pointed out that in 2016, the court was ordered to go through an audit, but that the mayor and City Council were not included in the notice.

"The Mayor and City Council oversee the Court, not the City Manager," wrote Bull.

In the fourth section, Bull wrote that the presiding judge was the lowest paid department director in the city, even though the person in his position is "accountable for everything that happens at the court, including areas that have nothing to do with the court."

Mayor Taylor, when reached by phone last month, said, "I'm not interested in discussing anything with you," before hanging up.

Bull was reappointed by council as part of consent agenda in late March 2017, about seven weeks after the letter was written, according to city records.

Bull was also given a "salary adjustment" during the same council meeting, records show.

Current city officials have been tight-lipped about what, if any, conversations took place with Bull during the seven weeks between him writing the letter and his reappointment.

Bull is currently about halfway through his current term in the position, which oversees one of the busiest courts in the country based on case volume.

Bull refused a request from the Defenders for an on-camera interview for this story.

The judge instead released the following written statement:

"I have been a Judge with the City of San Antonio since 1999 and have served as Presiding Judge since 2004. The time commitment has been a burden on my family, and I have discussed transitioning out of the Presiding Judge position with both Mayor Taylor and Mayor Nirenberg. I believe there are a number of well-qualified Judges at the Court who could assume the position when my current term expires in 2019. However, any decisions about my successor are up to the Mayor and City Council. Until then, I continue to serve as Presiding Judge, and there are a number of initiatives that I want to see through."

Mayor Ron Nirenberg also declined a request for interview and instead released the following statement:

"Judge Bull and I have discussed succession planning in preparation for the day he steps down as presiding judge of Municipal Court. That is a natural process for leadership positions in complex organizations, such as Municipal Court. These discussions demonstrate Judge Bull's commitment to the well-being of San Antonio's municipal court system over the long run. A full year remains on Judge Bull's term. He is an able and dedicated public servant who continues to provide excellent leadership. We will be well prepared when the time for transition arrives."

"The judge has plans throughout the rest of his term to work hard on issues that are very core to his beliefs as a judge," said District 6 Councilman Greg Brockhouse.

"I couldn't imagine serving seven terms in the position I have. We cannot replace that overnight."

The release of Bull's letter comes as the court's nine associate judges are up for reappointment.

The terms of the judges expired Monday, and they are now in a "holdover" period as city officials examine the applications of outside candidates.

Full-time associate judges are paid $105,392.56 a year, according to city records.

As Bull pointed out in his letter to Taylor, his replacement can only be selected from the pool of existing full-time city court judges.

About the Author:

Emmy-award winning reporter Dillon Collier joined the KSAT 12 Defenders in 2016. Dillon's investigative stories air weeknights on the Nightbeat. He provides restaurant health reports for KSAT's "Behind the Kitchen Door." Dillon is a two-time Houston Press Club Journalist of the Year and a Texas Associated Press Broadcasters Reporter of the Year.