I practiced law here during the late Judge Fred V. Garza’s 14-year tenure as the municipal court judge, and knew him for many years before that. I represented numerous defendants in his courtroom. Judge Garza personified high principle and integrity, as stated in the proclamation by Mayor Kenneth Chesshir recognizing Dec. 4, 2008, as Fred V. Garza Day.
Therefore, I was surprised, at first, that people who admired Judge Garza had a strong negative reaction to the proclamation. It became apparent from conversations and the letters in your newspaper that a number of citizens think the proclamation failed to properly honor Judge Garza because Mayor Chesshir and Councilman John Fulghum, who promoted the proclamation, also backed terminating Judge Garza from the judgeship. That termination not only deprived him of a job that he was performing admirably, but besmirched his reputation.
The Bee-Picayune article about the proclamation states that Judge Garza “retired as municipal court judge in 2003” and quotes Mayor Chesshir as saying that “Garza was the perfect person to serve as municipal court judge.” These statements in the article are mistaken and misleading. It was 2004, not 2003; the judge didn’t resign, but was fired; and although the mayor may have said what you report, what he said and did in 2004 was exactly the opposite of saying he was the perfect person for the job.
Consideration of Judge Garza’s position was on the March 1, 2004, city council agenda. He asked me to accompany him to the meeting. Before the meeting, we asked that it be held in open session. As I recall, when the matter came up, Mayor Chesshir invited comments from the council members.
A group of Judge Garza’s supporters was in the audience and one of them asked to speak. Mayor Chesshir sternly ordered that no one would be allowed to speak from the audience.
Councilman Arnold Medina asked what the agenda item was about. Councilman Gilbert Herrera stated that there had been “problems” in the municipal court department and moved to terminate Judge Garza. The motion carried, with only Arnold Medina voting against.
Mayor Chesshir immediately adjourned the meeting. Judge Garza asked to speak but Mayor Chesshir said the meeting was over. The city attorney told the visibly upset audience that the council’s action was legal.
Judge Garza and his supporters were shocked that the action was taken at all, let alone without explanation. A demonstration for justice in the matter occurred the next day at city hall.
Judge Garza asked me to represent him in an attempt to persuade the council to reinstate him. Councilman Medina placed the matter on the agenda for March 9, 2004. At that meeting, as I recall, I was allowed to speak on Judge Garza’s behalf, along with members of the audience and the judge himself. The council voted not to reinstate the judge and refused to state any reasons for the termination or the decision not to reinstate him.
To this day, the reason Judge Garza was terminated has not been explained. No one responsible has come forward to admit that a mistake was made.
Judge Garza could only speculate about the reasons for his termination, and he suffered because of it. Speaking as a citizen, not Judge Garza’s attorney, I see this as an example of the toxicity of small town politics, an example that Beeville should learn from. It seems to me that Judge Garza should be properly honored in some way, such as by naming a municipal building after him.