Judge Ordered to Stop Courtroom Paddling

By: Gerri L. Elder

A justice of the peace joined the ranks of judges known for unusual courtroom antics and sentencings when he began having parents choose between paying a fine and hitting their children with heavy wooden paddles in open court. Although Los Fresnos Justice of the Peace Gustavo Garza says that striking the children with the paddles is a lawful option and 98 percent of parents that were offered this option took it, for now the courtroom paddlings will stop.

Three families have filed Texas personal injury lawsuits against Garza claiming that he left them no real option other than paddling their children in court. The families were told to either hit their children or be subject to a hefty fine and therefore chose to paddle the children.

The parents of a 15-year-old girl who had gotten caught skipping school were the first to file a personal injury lawsuit against Garza. The Los Fresnos girl appeared in Garza's court in April to answer for the truancy charges against her. Garza informed the girl's stepfather that he would either have to paddle his stepdaughter with one of the two large wooden paddles that are displayed in the courtroom or pay a $500 fine. The Associated Press reported that Daniel Zurita struck his stepdaughter several times with the paddle and was told by Garza that he did not hit her hard enough.

Although some judges are known for handing down unusual sentences to inflict humiliation, few, if any, resort to punishments that cause physical pain or injury. The New York Times reported that back in 1899, five boys ranging in age from 10 to 12 years old were whipped in court for stealing. Their parents were given the option of letting them be whipped or having them sent to reform school and chose the public whippings. In modern times, such physical beatings in the judicial system are unheard of although some public schools still allow children to be paddled at school.

District Judge Abel Limas has ordered Garzas to halt the courtroom paddlings until the personal injury lawsuits are resolved. No trial date has been set, but the personal injury lawyer for the plaintiffs in the lawsuits offered to drop the case if Garza would voluntarily stop the courtroom paddlings and apologize. Garzas rejected that offer.

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