Dallas County probate judge trips raise concerns
July 28, 2010
The Dallas Morning News
It’s another tough budget year for Dallas County.
So naturally, travel expenses are a topic of controversy.
She says the judges shouldn’t be using public money to travel to meetings/conferences when they will be leaving office at the end of the year.
Price, who is retiring at the end of the year after 24 years on the bench, is spending $1,153 to travel to a judicial education conference in Corpus Christi on Sept 21-24.
Peyton, who was defeated in the March 2 Democratic primary, is spending $1,635 for himself and his administrative assistant to attend a three-day annual meeting of probate judges in Fort Worth next month.
Dickey raised her concerns during yesterday’s Commissioners Court meeting. It was the second time she questioned the expenditures.
“Why are they going to these conferences? Is that really in the spirit of all of us tightening our belts?” she asked.
But there’s nothing Dickey or the other commissioners can do about it. The money the judges are tapping comes from a special fund established by state law that the commissioners have no control over, said county budget director Ryan Brown.
It’s one of numerous escrow funds the state Legislature has created over the years. This one is a judicial training fund.
When people file probate cases, a portion of the fees they pay goes into this fund, which currently has a balance of $95,000 and will never run dry, Brown said.
The county’s three probate judges have to notify the Commissioners Court whenever they plan to spend the money, but the commissioners have no legal authority to deny it, Brown said.
Still, Dickey is standing by her opposition.
“I don’t think that sends a good signal to the public,” she said. “That’s just using the system in my opinion.”
Price, of Probate Court No. 2, said he has always attended the annual meeting of the judicial section of the state bar and will continue to do so after he’s retired. He didn’t see what all the fuss was about.
Price, 79, said he’ll still take appointments to hear probate cases in smaller counties that don’t have probate judges after he retires. Price, a Republican, said he has run unopposed the entire time he’s been on the bench and decided it’s time to retire. He said he’ll be turning 80 a couple of weeks after he calls it quits.
“It’s about time to shut it down,” he said.
Peyton, a Democrat, couldn’t be reached for comment. He was appointed to Probate Court No. 1 last year by the commissioners to replace Judge Nikki DeShazo, who retired before her term expired.
Although travel expenses are always singled out during budget crises, in Dallas County about 90 percent of travel is paid for by special funds and grants, Brown said.
All law enforcement training for last decade, for example, has been paid by the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Standards and Education, Brown said.