Public safety concerns arise over new city-run magistration process

SAN ANTONIO – Recent changes in the city magistrate process are causing some in Bexar County to request emergency funding to return to the 24/7 county magistrate system. 

A memo sent by Ana Amici, general administrative counsel for the Criminal District Courts, asked for “critical funding,” saying the removal of the county magistrate has launched the criminal justice system “into chaos and has left the county exposed without a magistrate available 24/7 to handle the various legal issues that cannot be covered by the existing city magistration system.”

Judge Ron Rangel, with the 379th Criminal District Court, said there are numerous problems that could arise following the change.

“The state versus the city are two completely (different) type of jurisdictions, so there’s an infinite amount of issues that are going to pop up,” he said. “We’ve only been going through this process for 15 days. This is an eight-month contract.”

The memo indicates the city has stopped handling post-indictment cases, leaving the county judges to handle those cases.

In the following statement, Fred Garcia, the city’s Municipal Court clerk, said, legally, they are following state law but have been able to magistrate all cases in the past:

“Per state law the criminal county and district court judges retain jurisdiction on motion to revoke probation, preexisting warrants and post-indictment fugitive cases filed in and issued by their respective courts. As such, pursuant (to) Texas Code of Criminal Procedure Art. 42A.751, the arresting officer or sheriff’s office is required without unnecessary delay, but not later than 48 hours to take the arrested person before the judge who ordered the arrest. The criminal county and district judges must act within the 48 hours on these arrests. Additionally, only the judge who ordered the arrest for the alleged probation violation may authorize the defendant’s release on bail.  Legally, City judges do not have the authority to act on these matters.”

Mike Lozito, judicial services director for Bexar County, said county and district judges can give the authority for city magistrates to handle all cases. He pointed to Travis and Galveston counties and hundreds of other counties that have a similar city-county agreement in which county judges have relinquished the authority.

“The [Bexar] county district judges have said you don’t have authority over certain cases. They have the ability to allow the city (magistrate) to do that,” Lozito said.

The memo also addressed concerns over individuals who fall under those specific cases, having to wait longer than 48 hours to be processed because a county magistrate is not available or because they were arrested over the weekend or a long holiday weekend.

In a reply memo to Amici, County Manager David Smith denied the request for funding. Instead, he asked the judges to relinquish jurisdiction to the city of post-indictment cases, including motions to revoke probation and preexisting warrants cases. If they declined, he suggested county and district judges develop a rotating shift to cover the weekends. 

“Any of these options would be more cost-effective than funding additional, duplicative magistrate positions,” Smith’s memo said.

County administrators said only about 16 out of roughly 160 cases magistrated daily fall under the specific post-indictment cases that cannot be handled by the city.

County commissioners voted on an eight-month contract with the city to allow city magistrate to handle all bond hearings. Commissioners said it will save the county money.

“If funding isn’t provided and nothing's done, somebody’s going to get hurt,” Rangel said. “And because of how bureaucracy works, no one’s going to want to take the blame. The city is going to point the finger at the county and the county is going to point the finger at the city.”

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