KRIS 6 News has learned that the city never asked Municipal Court Judge Young Min Burkett if she was a United States citizen before hiring her in 2015.
As we've reported, Burkett has been removed from the bench because she's not a US citizen. She's currently on unpaid leave and was given 90 days to become a citizen if she wants to keep her job.
The application she filled out didn't ask if she was a US citizen, it simply asked if she was eligible to work in the United States, which she is. She's had a green card for a long time, but according to her husband, defense attorney Nathan Burkett, neither he nor her knew she had to be a citizen to be a judge.
Indeed, to be a municipal court judge in Corpus Christi, you have to be a qualified voter. Judge Burkett is not since she's not a citizen. However, her application didn't ask if she was a qualified voter. Her husband says she would have answered the question had it been on the form.
Judge Burkett was a Nueces County prosecutor before becoming a judge.
Today, her husband, along with friends and colleagues, defended her in a unified effort.
"It was never an issue when she was putting murderers and other violent criminals away for years, and now that it has become an issue, we're addressing it as soon as we can," Nathan Burkett says.
Nathan Burkett says his wife has filed a citizenship application and is using a San Antonio citizenship office to expedite the process. In fact, Judge Burkett, who's from South Korea, will have to give up her South Korean citizenship to become a citizen here. That's partly why she hasn't applied to be a US citizen until now.
Defense attorney RJ Torres is a friend.
"I think she's choosing country and her community over her family right now. I think that's very special and patriotic," he says.
Councilwoman Carolyn Vaughn isn't happy the qualified voter question wasn't on the form.
"You hold a lot of power (as a judge) and you should be a citizen of the United States before you're a judge... It just angers me that we let that pass," Vaughn says.
Despite what's happened, the city legal department says Judge Burkett's ruling still stand.
Councilwoman Lucy Rubio is chairman of the Municipal Court Committee.
"Everybody that's worked with her says that she's very pleasant. She's a hard working individual and would rule very fairly," Rubio says.
As we’ve reported, the qualified voter requirement recently came up while the city was vetting a judge applicant. After that, every judge's citizenship was checked.
The judge application has been changed to verify citizenship.