Legal Ethics

Muncipal Judge's Claimed Efforts to Help Others Led to Recommended 90-Day Unpaid Suspension

A Texas municipal judge said he was just trying to help a dysfunctional couple when he agreed to help a husband married to a former co-worker of the judge’s locate his wife, calling a domestic violence shelter at the man’s suggestion to see if she was there.

But in doing so, Española Municipal Judge Stephen Salazar violated ethical rules for jurists, the state Judicial Standards Commission later determined, finding that he “attempted to use his judicial office to the benefit of a private party.” A little over two years ago, Salazar agreed to one year of supervised probation and a mentorship, and promised to complete a judicial ethics class and domestic violence training, at his own expense, reports the Rio Grande Sun.

During his probation, however, Salazar got into hot water again by allegedly issuing an ex parte order to help the son of a member of his church obtain a motorcycle that had been seized by a towing service. Last month, the commission recommended that the municipal judge be suspended for 90 days without pay, noting that he was already on probation concerning the domestic violence shelter contact at the time of the motorcycle incident, the newspaper recounts.

That disciplinary matter is now before the state supreme court, which hasn’t yet decided whether to accept the disciplinary recommendation.

Pastor Danny Espinosa of El Buen Pastor Assembly of God, where Salazar formerly served as a deacon, said the judge has helped many community members. “As a follower of Jesus Christ, he’s not ashamed that something is held against him when he’s doing his job,” said Espinosa.

Carol Merriweather, who is executive director of the shelter that Salazar contacted to try to help a husband find his wife, said she couldn’t comment on the specific matter, because all client information is confidential.

“The real issue is how we as a community don’t understand domestic violence well enough to make decisions about it,” she told the newspaper. “It affects us as a community. We take confidentiality very seriously. It’s serious business, something that we all have to be aware of.”

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