53ºF

City blunder on judge's criminal history forces him off bench

Judge Kenneth Bell has not heard cases since Jan. 19

SAN ANTONIO – A San Antonio Municipal Court judge was removed from the bench and has not heard a case since January after the city failed to apply to get him a waiver to access a state criminal history database.

Kenneth Bell, a longtime attorney in the area, was appointed as a part-time judge in December after applying for the position last summer.

Bell was convicted of driving while intoxicated in 2012, disqualifying him from accessing the state's Criminal Justice Information System for 10 years.

He is eligible for a waiver that would allow him to access the system and thus hear cases, since the misdemeanor conviction took place more than five years ago.

However, city sources told the KSAT 12 Defenders that Bell heard cases for several weeks before court administrators made any attempt to file a waiver request.

"We just have some administrative things that we are dealing with," said Bell when reached by telephone this week.

"Just making sure that we are in full compliance, that's all," said Bell, who declined a request for an on-camera interview.

District 8 Councilman Manny Pelaez, the recently appointed chair of the Municipal Court Advisory Committee, said Bell has all the necessary qualities to be a judge.

"What led to Mr. Bell's appointment was that candor and that up-front offering of information," said Pelaez.

"We are always looking for opportunities to improve process. This appears to be one of those opportunities."

Municipal Court Presiding Judge John Bull denied responsibility for the lapse when asked about Bell's status as he walked into a committee meeting earlier this week.

"I mean, I didn't appoint him, so," said Bull.

An official with the city's human resources department said the city is now in the process of seeking a waiver from the state that would allow Bell to resume hearing cases.

The oversight is not the first questionable action involving municipal court officials in recent months.

After the Defenders last month asked for copies of interview questions and candidate responses from interviews for vacant court coordinator positions, officials responded that they had no responsive records, even though nine people were interviewed.

"Why you stopping me?"

Bell disclosed the DWI arrest and subsequent conviction in his application for the judge position in June.

He wrote that he did not contest the stop.

However, San Antonio police records contradict that narrative.

After Bell pulled over in the parking lot of a tool yard off Wurzbach Parkway around 1:30 a.m. on July 19, 2012, an officer requested that he take part in a field sobriety test, according to an SAPD incident report.

Bell then stepped in the direction of the officer in an "aggressive manner" and repeatedly asked, "Why you stopping me?" according to the report.

The officer then moved away from Bell and called for cover officers, the report states.

The same arrest report states that Bell was cooperative and polite.

"I don't believe he was actually concerned for his well-being," said Bell, when asked about the officer's statements.

As part of a plea agreement, Bell was sentenced to 90 days probation and ordered to pay $1,062 in fines and court costs, according to Bexar County court records.

Among the cases heard by Bell before he was removed from the bench was the Jan. 5 bond hearing of Christopher Davila, father of King Jay Davila, who at that time faced a felony charge of endangering a child.

Bell assessed bond at $800 and told Davila to go out and find his son, allowing Davila to walk free after paying less than $100.

Days later Davila led San Antonio police to a backpack containing his son's body buried in a field, according to SAPD records.

"Speculation doesn't help when you are setting a bond," said Bell, who defended making the comment even though SAPD officials questioned Davila's story before he was booked on the felony charge.

An indictment charging Davila this week with concealing a human corpse indicates that King Jay's body was buried Jan. 4.

 


About the Authors: