STATEMENT: Civil Rights groups urge White Settlement City Council to hold Judge accountable for routinely breaking law in court
For Immediate Release
Tuesday February 13, 2018
The White Settlement City Council is scheduled to discuss Judge Gary Ritchie’s violations of state and federal law, Texas Code of Judicial Conduct, after whistleblowing by civil rights groups
Dallas, Texas — Tonight, the White Settlement City Council will discuss civil rights violations by Judge Gary Ritchie in the municipal court, two weeks after blowing through a deadline to meet with the Texas Civil Rights Project (‘TCRP”) and the Texas Fair Defense Project (TFDP”) about the violations observed by attorneys with the organizations.
While attending the White Settlement Municipal Court’s monthly plea docket for Class C misdemeanors during September, October, and November of 2017, the attorneys observed Judge Ritchie disregarding state and federal law as well as the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct, including:
- Failure to inform defendants of the consequences of accepting a plea bargain.
- Refusal to ask if defendants have sufficient resources to pay fines and costs to determine whether alternatives to payment should be considered if full payment is impossible.
- Jailing defendants without determining if they are unable to pay fines and costs and therefore eligible to participate in community service instead.
- Engaging in verbal abuse against defendants with disabilities or of lower socioeconomic status.
Subsequently, the civil rights groups sent a letter on January 9, 2018 to the City of White Settlement documenting the violations and abuses by Judge Ritchie and requested that city officials schedule a meeting with TCRP and TFDP by January 29, 2018, to resolve the civil rights violations cooperatively.
After reports of misconduct, the entire White Settlement City Council and Mayor took action and observed Judge Ritchie’s court docket on February 10. While Judge Ritchie’s behavior was different when he was observed – he was generally polite to the individuals in the court, he asked people whether they had the ability to pay their fines and fees, and he made community service available to satisfy fines and fees – there were still violations that impacted the civil rights of defendants in the court. It also remains to be seen whether the improvements demonstrated by Judge Ritchie on February 10th are permanent. We encourage the White Settlement City Council to meet with advocates from TFDP and TCRP to discuss how they can ensure that Judge Ritchie and the municipal court do not further violate people’s rights in the future.
Hani Mirza, North Texas Regional Legal Director at the Texas Civil Rights Project, said:
“Our justice system is only fair if everyone is treated justly and equitably in court. Judge Gary Ritchie, who administers the municipal court in the City of White Settlement, broke that basic promise of fairness by verbally abusing defendants, failing to inform defendants of the consequences of their guilty or no contest pleas, and sending defendants to jail without inquiring about their ability to pay fines. We have proactively tried to work with the City of White Settlement but have found the response to be reactive instead of cooperative. While we are glad to see some movement by the City to look into the Judge’s behavior, we are adamant that the City take substantial action on correcting these civil rights violations.”
Karly Jo Dixon, Staff Attorney at the Texas Fair Defense Project, said:
“Most people see traffic tickets as a minor inconvenience and if they can afford to pay them, do. But for individuals who cannot afford to pay their tickets, the consequences can be devastating. The “pay or stay” mentality of the White Settlement Municipal Court results in suspended driver licenses, lost wages and the inability to find work due to not being able to drive. For individuals already experiencing poverty, the constant threat of being incarcerated or actually going to jail, even for a couple of days, decreases economic viability, separates families, and causes health problems, in addition to the escalating cycle of inescapable debt and fear from living under warrants that they cannot afford to clear.”