Court costs questioned

Millions of dollars over a decade unlawfully collected from those who missed jury duty

Court fines questioned

EL PASO, Texas - An investigation into court costs finds that millions of dollars in fines may have been wrongfully collected from El Pasoans who missed jury duty.

ABC-7 spoke to one woman who believes she was wronged.

"I missed my jury duty date and I've never done that before," Jeryl Marcus told ABC-7 on Tuesday.

In 2013, Marcus called the court the same day her jury duty was scheduled. The court clerk told her she'd be summoned to the County Courthouse. Once there, she was escorted to the courthouse basement to pay her fine. She was expecting to pay $25. Instead, she was billed $292.

"I was sort of shocked at the charges, but then again it was the government," said Marcus. "And if it was them who was charging me, I didn't know who to complain to."

Marcus is among several people over the past decade to complain to ABC-7 about the high fees surrounding jury truancy.

In 2005, ABC-7 interviewed Maria Castillo, who said Jury Duty Court Judge Jerry Woodard fined her a total of $400, including court fees and a fine for not being able to pay in full.

"I'm innocent. That's what I told the judge," Castillo said. "I'm paying the fine because I don't want any problems with the law, but it's just not fair."

An investigation by the El Paso Times found that since 2004, El Paso courts unlawfully collected more than $4 million in court costs from those who missed jury duty.

The Times also reported that Judge Woodard issued an order last month to stop collecting the court costs and that the Texas Attorney General's Office told county officials it wasn't legal to charge court costs for jury duty contempt citations.

As for Marcus, she told ABC-7 it's about time something changed.

"I would just like it to be fair for everybody based on logic and not just random charges to pay for the law library fee," she said. "But some of those charges on that receipt didn't have anything to do with me being there. and I don't want to be charged with those things." 

ABC-7 spoke with an official in the Texas Attorney General's Office to confirm whether an opinion on court costs was issued to El Paso County. He said he would email a response, but ABC-7 hasn't received it.

ABC-7 also tried to speak with County Judge Veronica Escobar. She said the Commissioners Court doesn't set court costs and referred us to Judge Patrick Garcia. He leads the Council of Judges and set up the Jury Duty Court in 1999. His clerk told ABC-7 he was in trial and won't be available for days.

ABC-7 left a message with Mike Izquierdo, the executive director of the Council of Judges but he has not responded.

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