SAN ANTONIO - Proposed changes to the Bexar County magistrate process are raising concerns about problems with the system that the county wants to implement.
Criminal court district judges are tasked with appointing the county magistrate judges who set the initial bail hearings when a person is arrested and taken to the county jail. County magistrate judges have more judiciary powers than city magistrate judges.
On Tuesday, county commissioners voted to approve a plan that would allow city judges to take over magistrate duties completely. Currently, the city and county have separate systems.
The plan would take effect next week, when 12 county magistrate judges will no longer have an agreement to work under with the county. There is concern, however, about whether or not the county has the legal authority to take that power from the county district judges.
"Imagine the Congress of U.S. saying, ‘We are no longer going to fund the pay of the U.S. Supreme Court justices. We are now going to put our own justice and use this individual to work on the U.S. Supreme Court,’” Administrative Criminal Court District Judge Ron Rangel, who represents 27 district judges in Bexar County.
He said the district judges have no intention to file a lawsuit over the plan, but they want to find a way to work with all parties to ensure there is a system that works properly for the protection of taxpayers and those arrested.
Rangel said there are concerns that the city system is not compatible with the county system, which has been in place since 2007.
Commissioners said the agreement will save money and help better vet those who are booked into jail.
"We definitely don’t want to do anything to compromise the public safety. We don’t want anyone to languish in jail who should not be in jail," Rangel said.
Rangel said there have been meetings with the county for months, trying to find an amicable solution to the problems that have come about during the magistrate process.
The city has not yet approved the plan and is expected to hear it next week.
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