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DWI defense attorneys criticize Bexar County court judge

The Cadena-Reeves Justice Center houses county courts at law.
Brian Kirkpatrick
File photo of police lights

Bexar County Court at Law 12 Judge Yolanda Huff has raised the ire of some DWl defense attorneys for allegedly using blanket policies on fines and punishments on defendants who appear before her.

Assistant Public Defender Steven Gilmore filed a motion in January to have the judge recused from the case of DWI defendant Shawmeon Laird over those alleged concerns.

He argued that Huff implemented a court-wide policy that effectively raised, in all DWI cases, the statutory minimum fine from zero to $500 and used the statutory minimum term of confinement on jail pleas to 180 days. Gilmore also argued Huff would not allow assistant district attorneys to go below 12 months deferred or probation in plea negotiations. He referenced comments from two assistant district attorneys to back up his claims.

Gilmore argued those minimums and Huff's statements to the media concerning DWI offenses indicate a "personal bias or prejudice concerning DWI cases," and her court's "refusal to consider the full range of punishment is an example of demonstrated partiality that violates due process."

He told TPR that a judge granted the motion of recusal but a date for the resumption of Laird's case in another county court at law has not been set.

Matthew Allen, the president of the San Antonio Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, said judges should consider the full range of punishment as part of the due process a defendant is entitled to under the law.

"We want individuals to be judged on their individual facts and details of the case, their past history, as well as the offense that their alleged to have committed," Allen said. "And so, we just want to make sure that the judge is considering the full range of punishment before making a decision."

"DWI cases are a huge problem in Bexar County," Huff said in response to the allegations. "My duty as a judge is to protect the constitutional rights of the defendant while simultaneously protecting the community. I take this duty very seriously."

"I do not have a set policy for the amount of fine or term of probation," she added. "I am shaking things up at the courthouse. I am not following the norm. For that, there has been a lot of pushback."

Huff said she holds accountable those defendants who break the law. "If someone makes the decision to drive while under the influence, they will be held accountable for that crime — or any crime, for that matter." she said. "Some do not like the fact that there are consequences to actions."

Huff said that she also believes in restorative justice and in giving people a second chance to get their lives on track.

She pointed out she presides over the mental health court, a treatment or specialty court to help individuals to do just that.

"People cannot change their lives if they do not know of the programs that the judiciary offers," Huff said.

She added that she created and chairs the Bexar County Specialty Courts Coalition, which has a goal of educating the community about specialty courts.

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