Daily Record file photo
Commissioners fill county court-at-law vacancy
The Hays County Commissioners Court filled the county Court-at-Law No. 3 vacancy during Tuesday’s meeting.
The court selected Daniel O’Brien in a 3-2 vote, with County Judge Ruben Becerra and Commissioner Debbie Ingalsbe voting against his nomination. The move to appoint O’Brien came despite overwhelming support through public comment and favor from members of the commissioners court for Judge Linda Rodriguez.
“I want to say that I am a big personal fan of Judge Linda Rodriguez,” said Commissioner Walt Smith, who made the motion to nominate O’Brien to the position. “I anticipate bringing back another agenda item, after discussion, more prolonged discussions with members of the county court-at-law, to possibly create an associate position there … or provide some additional funding relative to a visiting judgeship because I think that folks like Judge Rodriguez, with her expertise, would be helpful to have additional bodies to try to assess the backlog that we have over the next 18 months as well given covid.”
The commissioners court was obligated to fill the vacancy for the unexpired term for county Court-at-Law No. 3 judge, which ends following the November 2022 election, after it accepted the resignation of Millie Thompson.
After the court accepted Thompson’s resignation during its May 18 meeting, Ingalsbe motioned to nominate Rodriguez to fill the vacancy.
Each member of the court supported Rodriguez during the previous discussion but the motion ultimately failed 3-2 with commissioners Lon Shell, Mark Jones and Smith voting against her appointment.
Smith and Shell both expressed concerns that the process was moving too quickly, asking for there to be a chance for additional applicants to apply to fill the vacancy on the bench.
The commissioners asked for those interested in filling the position to submit their resume to the commissioners court members. The deadline to apply to fill the opening closed on May 28.
Tuesday’s discussion regarding the opening on the bench occurred in executive session. After the court reconvened in open session, Ingalsbe, again, voiced her support for Rodriguez.
“I still feel that Judge Linda Rodriguez would do a wonderful job,” Ingalsbe said. “I can’t say much more than was stated today. She is there currently serving in that capacity. She knows the ropes and would be able to just get in there what she’s doing now and do the job until someone was elected to fill that position.”
The court voted in favor of O’Brien — a Dripping Springs attorney with an office in Austin who currently serves as the board president of the Hays County Bar Association.
The commissioners court’s decision drew the ire of State Rep. Erin Zwiener (D-Driftwood), who argued that the “will of the voters was disrespected.”
“The Hays County Commissioners Court effectively overturned that by filling a vacancy on that court with a Republican,” Zwiener said in a Facebook post. “I like and respect Dan O’Brien and wish him the best in his service, but that does not excuse the Republican majority on the court from essentially seizing a seat they just lost six months ago.”
Prior to the vote, Shell said he was impressed with the “amazing” applicant pool but the court needed to make a hard decision that would get a majority vote.
“There were some really great applicants, great friends,” Shell said. “I just wanted everybody to know that I really appreciated the interest from such qualified individuals, including Judge Rodriguez who is a good friend and a great judge.”