JP has immunity in spanking case

August 21, 2008 3:46:48 PM PDT
A judge ruled Thursday that a Cameron County justice of the peace is protected from liability in a lawsuit filed by Los Fresnos families seeking to recover damages.State District Judge Abel Limas issued the ruling after a one-hour hearing involving Los Fresnos families complaining of spankings in Justice of the Peace Gustavo "Gus" Garza's courtroom. Limas said they cannot recover damages in a civil suit filed against Garza.

The lawsuit alleges that Garza told a 14-year-old girl's stepfather that she would be found guilty of a criminal offense and fined $500 for truancy unless the stepfather spanked her in the courtroom. The lawsuit filed by Mary Vasquez and her husband, Daniel Zurita, described the paddle provided by Garza as large and heavy and fashioned from a thick piece of lumber.

"The freedom of decision is part of the judicial system," said Limas, who presides over the 404th state District Court, The Brownsville Herald reported Friday in an online edition.

"Any performance in his capacity as a judge is certainly protected by absolute immunity," Limas said.

The families' attorney Mark Sossi argued that Garza was not protected from liability because he acted without jurisdiction and outside his judicial capacity in considering the cases involving truancy and the use of profanity.

Sossi pointed out that complaints filed against the youths were invalid because they were not signed or notarized. He also said some of the spankings occurred after the cases had come to a close.

Sossi didn't immediately know if the families would appeal Limas' ruling, but said that the lawsuit was filed to stop the spankings.

"That's really what we wanted," Sossi said. "The case is not about money."

Pending the resolution of the lawsuit, a temporary injunction is still in effect that prevents Garza from having spankings in his courtroom as an alternative to $500 fines, Sossi said.

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