Accusations of retaliation, misconduct swirled around San Antonio municipal judge’s resignation, records show

Judge Christine D. Lacy submitted resignation in June

San Antonio Municipal Court Presiding Judge Carla Obledo (left) and former San Antonio Municipal Court Judge Christine D. Lacy (right). (Joshua Saunders, KSAT)

SAN ANTONIO – A longtime San Antonio Municipal Court judge said she resigned last summer after the court’s presiding judge targeted and retaliated against her for also applying for the court’s top position, city records obtained by the KSAT 12 Defenders show.

The presiding judge fired back days later, telling top city officials she was concerned her associate was delegating judicial duties to staff.

The hurling of accusations back and forth between Presiding Judge Carla Obledo and then-Judge Christine Lacy, took place over several days in June, as Lacy announced her intentions to resign her seat on the bench and withdraw her application for reappointment.

“My late mother always told me that sometimes fear keeps us in a space that is comfortable but toxic and it is better to be uncomfortable in a healthy space. I am ready to move into a healthy space and use my talents to continue to serve the people of this community with the freedom to live my passion to help those who need a voice to speak for them when they feel no one will listen,” wrote Lacy in her June 22 resignation letter.

Former Municipal Court Judge Christine D. Lacy. (KSAT)

“I no longer feel supported in my mission to serve. My judicial philosophy does not line up with the current administration’s philosophy. The new presiding judge does not appreciate my judicial style. The compassion that I feel goes hand in hand with justice, is no longer valued at the Court. I have recently been stripped of all of the dockets that I have worked so hard on; the staff I’ve worked with for almost a decade, the indigency and youth programs that I have worked with, and the relationships I built with outside agencies and specialty courts have all been systematically taken away from me,” wrote Lacy.

The resignation letter was sent to Mayor Ron Nirenberg, city council and members of the city’s municipal court advisory committee.

It was not sent, however, to Obledo, who responded to the letter three days later in a missive of her own sent to Nirenberg, certain members of council, City Manager Erik Walsh and City Attorney Andy Segovia.

“As the Presiding Judge of San Antonio Municipal Court, I was surprised that I was not a direct recipient of an email sent to you on June 22, 2020 regarding the withdrawal of application for reappointment and resignation of Judge Christine Dauphin Lacy,” wrote Obledo.

She added that Lacy had already been removed from one of her dockets prior to Obledo being appointed presiding judge in late January 2020.

“Judge Lacy was often late for the start of her docket and the court would regularly close and locks it doors at 3:00 p.m.” wrote Obledo, who added that this forced some defendants to be routed to other judges.

“Based on a cursory review of Judge Lacy’s cases by administrative staff and the comments in the case management system, concerns have arisen that she was delegating her judicial duties to her staff which has been an issue in the past,” wrote Obledo.

Obledo added that Lacy had unfairly disparaged her colleagues publicly in her resignation letter.

“Not only are her comments untrue but they demonstrate a lack of professionalism,” wrote Obledo.

Obledo also wrote that Lacy had exhausted her leave hours and was actually in a deficit dating back to 2018, meaning she repeatedly took more than the 160 hours of leave a year that her position allowed.

When asked by the Defenders about her allegations against Lacy, Obledo, through a court spokeswoman, released the following statement Thursday afternoon:

“To answer your question, no further statement will be given regarding this matter. Thank you for your continued interest in SAMC (San Antonio Municipal Court).”

Lacy, who also works as an attorney, had served as a city judge since 2008.

Lacy officially separated from the city Aug. 21, according to a human resources department spokeswoman.

In a June 26 response to Obledo’s letter, Lacy wrote that she had not disparaged her colleagues and that she had worked beyond normal business hours several days a week for years, and had never asked for leave credit.

“One of Judge Obledo’s most devastating allegations in her response is the assertion that I delegated judicial duties to my staff. I have never delegated judicial duties to my staff. Not in recent years and not in the past. I resent the fact that she would imply that I would act in such an unethical manner. This claim is entirely without merit,” wrote Lacy.

Lacy declined a request for an interview for this story and said in an email Wednesday night that Obledo’s accusations were “absolutely false.”

Lacy added that she is at peace with her decision to resign and that she wished Obledo well.

The Defenders requested records pertaining to the dispute Aug. 17, but the city did not release them until earlier this month, citing staffing constraints due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The records show that acrimony between the two judges had been developing since at least last February.

Lacy, in a Feb. 28 email, told Obledo she was surprised to learn that one of her dockets and some of her staff had been reassigned.

“I don’t mean to be a bother, but what’s going on? My world has been turned upside down. Nobody seems to know why,” wrote Lacy, who referred to the impacted personnel as “my staff”.

Obledo responded via email March 2 that she had left an executive retreat the previous week to discuss the docket and staff changes with Lacy only to find out that Lacy had left for the day.

Obledo then delayed returning to the retreat the following day in order to again try to discuss the changes, but was informed that Lacy had taken the morning off, according to the email.

“In all my years at the court, I have known to not refer to anyone as ‘my staff’ or any court as ‘my courtroom.’ As Presiding Judge, this has not changed. For years now, I’ve noticed that judges refer to the staff that has been assigned to them as ‘their staff.’ Clerks are court staff and are assigned to a court just as judges are assigned to a court. I think you would agree with me that our goal as judges should always be to administer justice in a fair, efficient and transparent manner. If it takes courtroom and staff reassignments to accomplish this, then this is what we need to do as a court to serve the San Antonio community,” wrote Obledo.

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.