State District Judge Guy Williams has been off the bench for more than a year. During that time the state paid more than $66,000 to keep the court in session.
State tax dollars have paid for six different visiting judges who heard a variety of cases assigned to the 148th District Court, according to payroll records from the Texas Comptroller’s Office.
Also during the past year, Williams received his full state salary of $140,000 – despite a state order to suspend him without pay during an 8-month period.
The Texas Comptroller’s Office handles payroll for all state employees. It never received a copy of the suspension order, so has continued to pay Williams, said Kevin Lyons, spokesman for Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts.
It’s unclear whether Williams received the usual $18,000 salary from Nueces County during that time. The Nueces County Auditor’s Office has not responded to emails and calls about that topic.
A felony indictment on Nov. 3, 2017, is what prompted Williams to be suspended from the bench without pay at the order of the State Judicial Commission. That order was lifted July 10 after a Nueces County jury acquitted Williams of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon in connection with a road rage incident.
Also, the Texas Attorney General’s office dismissed another count of that same charge after the jury couldn’t agree whether Williams was guilty or innocent.
At that point, Williams could have gone back to work. But he decided not to because his focus was a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder, said Terry Shamsie, his attorney.
“You don’t cure PTSD, right? So you have to be very careful about exposing that individual to additional stress that can aggravate the situation,” Shamsie said.
In May, Williams was arrested for public intoxication and resisting arrest. Those charges are still pending. On Nov. 8, Williams was arrested again. Corpus Christi Police charged him with DWI and unlawful carrying of a weapon.
That prompted his bond for the May charges to be revoked. As of Monday night, Williams remains in jail without bond.
“He’s in jail for his own safety because it’s around the holidays and a lot of veterans get depressed and we wanted him secure, so we get kind of a little bridge before treatment,” Shamsie said. “He’s suffering because of that but I think it’s the safest place for him.”
He added that Williams made the right choice by not resigning because the voters elected him to the entire term. If Williams had resigned, Shamsie pointed out that the decision for his replacement would have been up to the governor, not voters, and that appointment would have happened a few months shy of the mid-term elections.
Although the state has paid six visiting judges to handle Williams’ full-time vacancy while gone, payroll records show the 148th court was in session on a part-time basis.
On average, those visiting judges worked only 10 business days out of the month during the past year, according to state payroll records. That’s because there wasn’t a full-time docket to justify spending those additional tax dollars, said State District Judge Melissa “Missy” Medary, who presides over the 347th district court in Nueces County. Medary also is the presiding judge of the Fifth Administrative Judicial Region of Texas, which means she decides assignments for visiting judges in Nueces County.
“After speaking to the court coordinator for that court, and in order to save taxpayer money, the decision was made by me to allow a visiting judge every other week and to have that docket set at full capacity by the coordinator for the 148th,” Medary said in a written statement.
Visiting judges are expected to continue hearing cases in the 148th court through the end of the year. In January, Judge-Elect Carlos Valdez will be sworn into office and will take the bench.