Mayor Jeffery Jones’ appointment of J. Kevin McDuffie (pictured), municipal court judge, as the chief judge at the city’s court, came under question on Tuesday evening.
“I think we should put this appointment aside for now, and let either, if the mayor wins again or somebody else comes in, allow that person to make the appointment,” said Julio Tavarez, 5th Ward councilman.
Tavarez pointed to a precedent set by the council last month. Erik Lowe, the chairman of the Municipal Utilities Authority, was not confirmed for a new five-year term at the authority after council members noted that the political year is coming to its conclusion: allowing the present administration to stack its creatures in positions of power is inherently unfair to the incoming administration.
“If you compare and contrast this to the MUA situation, I think it’s totally different,” said William McKoy, 3rd Ward councilman. “Our process of justice requires that we do not make that strict line connection between the judiciary and the executive branch.”
McKoy drew an allusion to keeping the two branches of government: judicial and executive separate, barring one from entirely controlling the other. “I don’t think it’s good public policy to link the political process with our system of justice,” McKoy said. “The connection undermines our judicial process.”
Tavarez said the process is inherently political and the two are linked by virtue of the mayor making the appointment as dictated by the city’s form of government promulgated by the state.
“Nothing against Judge McDuffie,” Tavarez said, stating that it makes more sense to allow whomever wins office in May to pick their own chief judge.
McDuffie, a long time judge was appointed in 2004 by then mayor Jose “Joey” Torres, to serve as a municipal court judge. Prior to that McDuffie spent two years serving in the role of assistant corporation council at the city’s law department.
In 2011, Jones elevated the judge to acting chief judge at the city’s court; however, the mayor did not appoint McDuffie to a permanent position.
“It’s interesting, for four years he was a holdover,” said Tavarez. “Why are we in a hurry now?”
Charles Thomas, city’s business administration, responded saying, “All of our judges are holdovers.” Thomas said whomever comes in office can appoint their own judges as a result of the large number of holdovers.
“I don’t think it’s fair to put someone at this moment in time at that position,” said Tavarez.
McDuffie, who is to be appointed to a three-year term, has been serving in the chief role as a stand in.
Thomas said a municipal court chief judge is basically a manager of the court who ensures smooth and efficient operation of the city’s court by ensuring proper collection process are being followed in fine collection.
“It’s been our past practice, whenever we appoint a judge, that they come before the council to have an opportunity to talk about how they see things,” said Kenneth Morris, councilman at-large.
Morris wants McDuffie to come before the council to share his philosophy of justice. Tavarez too said he would like the judge to make an appearance during the next workshop meeting of the council. “I really don’t have much information about judge McDuffie, I’d like to do some research to make an informed decision.”
“We should invite the judge,” said Thomas.