By G. Romero Wendorf
EDINBURG – As anyone knows who’s ever been a politician, life isn’t always easy. Rumors about you are always floating around. Such is the case with Hidalgo County Court-at-Law #6 Judge Albert Garcia. Rumor is, he’s making a ton of money off of marriages and he’s doing it in a way that’s not quite proper.
Here’s how the deal supposedly works: people show up at the county courthouse and go to the county clerk’s office step up to the marriage window, show the required documents to the clerk and get their marriage license. Both applicants must be present with proper ID. To fin out more about the particulars of what’s needed, people may GOOGLE -- requirements to get a marriage license in Hidalgo County Texas, which will direct them to the county clerk’s website – or they may call 318-2100.
If there’s a problem, call a politiquera, and they can help you get around the system for a couple of tacos and a six-pack (I’m joking).
Once the marriage license is in hand, the happy couple has to wait 72 hours to get hitched unless they can finda district judge or a county court-at-law judge who has the authority to waive the time restriction.
Now here’s where it gets interesting and the courthouse rumors start to stack up.
Allegedly, County Court-at-Law #6 Judge Albert Garcia is gaming the system by having one of his bailiffs stand outside the county clerk’s office,and when he sees a couple emerge with marriage license in hand, he approaches them with this alleged come-on:
“I see you two just got your marriage license. If you’d like, I know a judge who can marry you immediately. Right now. And wouldn’t that be nice? You won’t have to wait three days.”
This is the rumor anyway, and please keep in mind, political rumors are as common as bad drivers on the expressway.
Allegedly, if the couple says, sure, Judge Garcia’s bailiff leads them up the stairs to the #6 court where the judge waives the 72-hour waiting period and marries them on the spot.
The cost: $100.
I don’t know if all counties are like this, but in Hidalgo, any judge who performs a wedding, even though it’s on public property (the courthouse, for example), gets to keep the money and put it in the bank.
If the rumor is, Judge Albert Garcia is performing so many more marriages than all the other judges put together, how can it be a rumor and not a simple fact: he’s gaming the system by having his bailiff troll for couples looking to get hitched?
Recently, The Advance News Journal fileda public-information request with the county clerk’s officefor all marriages performed during 2014 and year-to-date for 2015 (thru May).
Here are how the numbers stack up: Judge Garcia performed 924 marriages over the course of 17 months.
The other district and court-at-law judges, combined, performed 1,158 marriages.
Combined, there are, including Judge Albert Garcia, a total of 15 district and court-at-law judges.
Meaning, Judge Garcia performed 924 marriages over the course of 17 months, while his 14 peers performed 1,158 marriages.
One judge, 924, vs. 14 judges, 1,158.
I called Judge Garcia last week to get at the bottom of the rumors. He’s been on the county bench since 2007 and was a municipal judge in Alamo for 12 years prior to that.
Most people know how politics work, right? All elected officialshave people throwing darts at them and so on and so forth, right?
Judge Garcia: “Oh yeah. Mm-hmm.”
Here's where I'm leading. Someone told me the other day…they said that Judge Garcia has a deal going, for lack of a better word, at the county courthouse, whereby you have a bailiff standing near the county clerk’s office who will stand near the stairwell and keep watch for people coming out with a marriage certificate, and then somehow the bailiff corrals them into your court where by you perform the marriage. And they said that if I check with the number of marriages performed by judges, I’ll see that your numbers are way out of sync with all of the other judges. So I actually fileda public-information request, and your numbers are indeed high, relatively speaking. But I'm assuming that there's a valid explanation for that?
Judge Garcia: “Exactly. You can come and check. My bailiff is not there. As a matter of fact, he's been out for a month, and will be out for another month. But, no. I know where that is coming from. It is actually coming from two judges. One in particular. He's the one that's pushing all the buttons and complaining to everybody...how come I'm doing all the weddings and what not.
“Just right now there was a couple that walked into my officeasking if there was a judge available to marry them, and I did.”
But what is the reason for the discrepancy with regard to the number of weddings performed? And at a hundred dollars per wedding, that 924 number equates into an additional $92,400 over the span of 17 months.
Judge Garcia: The reason that that happens, is that (a judge) has got to be in (his or her) officein order for the weddings to be performed. If (the other judges) are not here, how do they expect to get any weddings? (laughs) And by the way, I do claim all that extra money on my tax returns. That was another rumor going around: that I wasn’t (claiming the money and simply pocketing the money).”
Well that's true, to perform a wedding, a judge has to be in the courthouse. So what you're saying is that you're in the county courthouse more than some of the other judges.
udge Garcia: “I'm here. I'm the only one, and you can ask around to all the attorneys, anybody…I'm the only one that's here Monday through Friday from 8 to 5. If you come in on Friday, you'll findthat it's me. Maybe one or two other judges that are here on Fridays.”
You’re including the district judges as well as the court-at-law judges?
Judge Garcia: “That’s correct, yes.”
So your bailiff has been out for a month and so forth, but prior to that, what’s the story? Has he been out there doing that sort of thing? Trolling for weddings outside the county clerk’s office, so to speak?
Judge Garcia: “No, no. There was a ... I think in January or February, one of those months (he did that). And the reason that he was there is because all the bailiffs were down there. Everybody was there. So, what I did was ... I told him, ‘You know what, let them fightover them. You come back up and come over here. Don't be wasting your time (down) there.’ ”
So the other bailiffs were almost starting a fight?
Judge Garcia: “Right. They're the ones that were doing that, and so they brought it to my attention, ‘How come you're doing all the weddings? Is it because (my bailiff) is bringing them up?’ No, as a matter of fact, I already asked him to not even stand down there and come back up. Now that you bring it up ... And the one who was bringing that up was (Garcia names a fellow court-at-law judge). Now that you're bringing it up, what's fair for one ... what's good for the goose is good for the gander. He actually hired somebody from the outside.”
This judge you’re referring to actually hired somebody from the outside?
Judge Garcia: “Yeah. All that started back when René (former DA Guerra) was here, and René put a stop to that. Well, after René left…that's why I said January…after René got (voted out as) DA, and Ricardo Rodriguez came in, he said, ‘I have better things to worry about than policing weddings and things like that.’
“Then everybody started going down there (outside the county clerk’s office),and that's when my bailiff went out there in the month of I think it was January or February. After that I asked him, ‘You know what, it's not worth it.’ Because everybody was complaining, but, people don't realize that the bulk of those weddings are on Fridays.”
And most of your fellow judges are not at the courthouse on Fridays is what you’re saying?
Judge Garcia: “They're not here. The only one here is (Garcia names two judges), but they pretty much keep to themselves. They don't actually do any weddings. They don't want to do them. If somebody comes looking for a wedding they just say, ‘We don't do weddings.’ ”
This particular judge that you mentioned, who you say is spreading these rumors against you, why is he saying these sorts of things?
Judge Garcia: (Note: The judge then speaks off the record, alluding to some internal politics related to matters related to the county’s judicial system.)