By Kathi Bliss
Last year, when Judge Bonn insisted on having a County Administrator, he told us – on the record – that he spent so much time attending meetings of various local, regional and state councils that he felt it was appropriate to have assistance in the administrative duties of the County.
Many of us didn’t quite buy that, because we remember that all of the judges before him, including his 84-year-old (elected) predecessor didn’t seem to need a County Administrator to help them. Heck, the Travis County Judge, the Bastrop County Judge… none of them need a County Administrator; when performing the Salary Survey this year, the Human Resources Director had to go all the way to El Paso County to find a County Administrator with a comparable salary.
While this is not a criticism of Mr. Heggemeier – I like him, and he’s more than qualified to perform the duties assigned to him – I used to question why, exactly, we need him. Or rather, why Judge Bonn thought we needed him.
This week, I may have found my answer. I found that answer when Judge Bonn began hearing legal cases on Monday.
You see, it turns out that a County Judge who presides over cases is eligible for a $15,000 stipend, paid by the State, provided 40 percent or more of that County Judge’s duties are of a “judicial,” rather than the “administrative” nature.
Of course, I’m forced to wonder, if Judge Bonn was so busy attending meetings “for the good of the citizens of Caldwell County” to do the job we elected him to do (to administer county business), then where is he going to find the time to hold court. But apparently, he’s found the time.
I began hearing rumors that it was his intention to sit the bench for several months. I largely wrote those rumors off, because the word began circulating about the same time Judge Bonn’s popularity with the public took a nose-dive, and I simply wasn’t willing to play into it. Perhaps I should have been paying closer attention.
Suddenly, last week, I heard from a friend in the Courthouse that, yes, in fact, Judge Bonn WAS setting up a courtroom, and intended to begin hearing cases this week. Of course, this fact has not been widely discussed with the public (if it has been discussed at all). It just sort of happened.
So I decided to drop in to Judge Bonn’s court on Monday afternoon, simply so I could see it for my own eyes.
I saw two Deputy County Clerks, the County Clerk, and the Judge’s Assistant seated in attendance, keeping the record.
Four staffers. Four. I’ve sat in felony murder trials in Travis County where the Judge had less staff. Which brings me to another question – is this why suddenly, after all these years, the Judge’s Assistant needed backup, and another assistant was added to the County Judge’s Office?
Folks familiar with the County Court at Law, where Judge Jarrett has historically (to my understanding) presided over many of the cases Judge Bonn will now be hearing, tell me that the Caldwell County Court at Law doesn’t have a problem with a backlogged docket. If they did, I could see Judge Bonn stepping in and using the authority given to him by the Texas Constitution to hear cases. If the docket were backlogged, he’d be helping out, seeing to it that the judicial system in Caldwell County flowed smoothly – and that would be commendable.
But given there hasn’t been a reported backlog, I question the need for Judge Bonn to sit the bench. That’s NOT what we elected him for; it’s what we elected Judge Jarrett for.
We elected Judge Bonn to administer county business. But he was too busy meeting to do that, so we bought him a county administrator.
Now, I suppose, he has the time to set up a courtroom and sit the bench.
I emailed Judge Bonn on Monday, giving him the opportunity to answer questions about his decision. At press time, he had not yet responded to that email, nor had he answered telephone messages following up to make sure he had received it.