Democrats vie for justice of the peace, Precinct 1

Jessica Priest By Jessica Priest

Feb. 10, 2014 at 3:04 p.m.
Updated Feb. 9, 2014 at 8:10 p.m.

He used to inspect buildings, fight fires, wear a badge and even don a clown nose to put a smile on kids' faces.

She is a mother of five who worked in the Victoria County Jail in the 1990s when it was understaffed and now works in courthouses as an interpreter.

They are both seeking the Democratic Party nomination for justice of the peace, Precinct 1.

Richard Castillo was appointed to the position in April 2012. He was elected to the position months later in an uncontested election.

"It was a big gamble for me, and I didn't think of it that much until afterward," he said of how he gave up a sure thing, being constable of Precinct 1. "But we really believed that we could come in and do something different here."

This time, though, Castillo has a challenger - Mary Ann Estrada Rivera.

"I just thought it was a great opportunity to do it now," Estrada Rivera said of putting her name on the ballot.

Estrada Rivera completes an eight-hour training session every year to maintain her license as an interpreter, and she said she would meet the requirements to be justice of the peace.

Being the ears and mouthpiece for people in criminal, civil and divorce procedures has taught her to be impartial, Estrada Rivera said.

"It's hard," she said. "The attorney is doing the job. . And you're not supposed to favor any side."

Although the Placedo native does not have any specific changes she would make if elected - she'll decide what those need to be later - she wants to get a handle on truancy.

She would welcome a dialogue with the Victoria school district about this issue, she said.

Castillo prefers to place the children on a probationary period rather than hand them or their parents a fine.

If the child can catch up on the hours of instruction he or she missed by staying in school late or even on the weekends, Castillo will waive it.

Castillo has a stack of cases on his desk that backs up his claim that truancy is an "epidemic" that does not discriminate based on a child's economic, social or racial background, he said.

"Now, you got to realize, half of these came back with everything done. A lot of times, it's like everything else. If you give them (children) the opportunity and say 'I believe in you,' it builds self-esteem," Castillo said.

The court has also been fortunate that deputies, troopers and officers from the University of Houston-Victoria dropped off about 1,700 tickets at his office so far this year. Last year, the number hovered around 600, he said.

The fines go a long way to help defray what it costs to operate, Castillo said.

"But courts should never be based on how much revenue you bring in; it should be based on how much work you do," he said. "I'll go fight for the money from commissioners, and we'll worry about that that day."

Castillo's clerks now take their warrants to the sheriff's office so law enforcement can confirm them after the workday ends. He's also lessened the foot traffic in his office by referring people paying a fine to the county's collections department on the third floor of the downtown courthouse.

Emily Means, the civil court coordinator, used to share a small office with Estrada Rivera.

Estrada Rivera was a bailiff for the late 24th District Judge Clarence Stevenson.

She is very conscientious and willing to rearrange her schedule when called to translate a proceeding at the last minute, Means said.

Before she was in the courthouse, Estrada Rivera supervised female inmates at the jail, which had an overall population then of anywhere between 525 to 540 inmates, Capt. Phillip Dennis of the Victoria County Sheriff's Office said.

There were 12 jailers working 12-hour shifts, and everyone had to be a team player. Being bilingual helped her mediate issues between the jailers and inmates. Now, there are 19 jailers working 12-hour shifts, Dennis said.

"She was very good at teaching people and just pleasant to be around," he said. "You have to be calm during the chaos, and she was really good at that."

Dennis supports her bid for justice of the peace.

DeWitt County Sheriff Jode Zavesky said he and Castillo used to be firefighters.

Castillo was the first to take part in a program in which firefighters dressed up as clowns to teach kids fire safety.

"He was able to reach them on a different level," Zavesky said.

Zavesky and Castillo go way back. Castillo visits Zavesky's restaurant, Ruby's Diner, whenever he's in Cuero, and the two have also joined in on the Chisholm Trail ride to San Antonio.

"Anytime someone needed something, he (Castillo) just drops what he's doing and answers the call, whatever that may be," Zavesky said.

He's the same guy in the courtroom as he is in the community, he said.



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