Two political opponents vying for Justice of the Peace Precinct 1 sparred in a lively debate on Thursday night.
About 75 people, mostly supporters of their respective candidates, attended the standing-room-only forum in the Genecov Room, inside the Tyler Chamber of Commerce.
Republican Flor de Maria Nichols faces incumbent Democrat Quincy Beavers Jr. for the position.
In response to a question about setting bonds for release, Beavers answered that he sets reasonable bonds but "if a community leader comes to me about someone, I don't have a problem with letting them out on a (personal recognizance) bond, just on their word."
Mrs. Nichols jumped at the opportunity to call this favoritism. She said it is unfair for a judge to give low-to-no bonds to friends or people who know an influential community member.
She continued that she would study surrounding counties and set bonds that are comparable to ease jail overcrowding.
Mrs. Nichols, 42, a real estate manager, political newcomer and naturalized citizen born in Guatemala, believes Beavers has been in office long enough and that the growing Hispanic community within Precinct 1 needs a voice and ear on the bench.
Beavers, 72, was elected judge in 1994 and said he has been a fair, neutral judge for two decades and that support from various groups within Precinct 1 reflects his popularity.
The two candidates shared barbs and accusations during the debate.
Mrs. Nichols said Beavers kept inconsistent hours and that she had personally arrived for court proceedings set for 9 a.m. and the judge showed up at 11 to 11:30 a.m. She said the office should be open to the public from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, but that it is not.
Beavers said he takes half a day off on his birthday and that clerks are sometimes out sick but that he keeps up with cases. He said there would be complaints to his office or the state if that were not the case.
In his introduction, Beavers referenced himself as the only candidate who lives in Precinct 1, a jab at Mrs. Nichols' residency, which has been called into question.
As the Election Office and the state of Texas see it, Mrs. Nichols lives at 1526 S. Kennedy Ave. inside Precinct 1.
But Beavers believes Mrs. Nichols lives at 204 Lindsey Lane outside the precinct and uses a rental property address for eligibility purposes.
Smith County Election Administrator Karen Nelson said Mrs. Nichols changed her voter address (to Kennedy Avenue) and name on her voter registration form when she voted on May 3, 2013. She said Mrs. Nichols maintained a mailing address at the Lindsey Lane address.
Beavers was asked whether he provides Spanish-language services in his court due to the growing Hispanic population in his precinct. He said he has a bi-lingual clerk who provides Spanish translation services for his court and other offices in the county.
Mrs. Nichols, who is bilingual, said she could hold proceedings in Spanish and English.
Beavers was questioned about another accusation that he does not respond quickly to death inquests, which is a basic function for judges that are typically handled on a rotating basis with the other four justices of the peace.
He addressed cases of homicides, which he is not the first responder, because investigators are on scene.
Mrs. Nichols said Beavers is regularly two to three hours late to the scenes of deaths, if he answers the call. She said it keeps law enforcement and families waiting and is disrespectful.
When asked about JP 1's budget, which has grown the last five years, Beavers said Tyler is growing and growth means more workload on his office. Mrs. Nichols said growth is not to blame. She said the office could use technology and efficiencies to lower costs.
When asked about receiving money from the county's technology fund and where it was spent, Beavers said he added a speaker system and a big screen television in the new courtroom. Mrs. Nichols said he should have bought new computers, invested in technology for electronic filing and a fax machine.
Though the jurisdictional lines differ slightly, Smith County's Precinct 1 commissioner, constable and justice of the peace represent the lone elected Democrats in a county where Republican voters cast 70 percent of ballots.
Precinct 1 voters cast 3.5 times as many straight-ticket ballots for Democrats, 3,068, in the 2010 gubernatorial election as Republicans, 868, according to Smith County Election Office records.
But during the past decade, the Tyler area's minority population grew about 66 percent with Hispanics representing most of that growth, which Mrs. Nichols hopes works in her favor.
Mrs. Nichols said the judge position is important and that she wants to make positive changes in the office for the whole community.
"He has been in the position for 20 years. We need fresh ideas and it's time for a change," she said.
Beavers said his record of serving the entire community in a fair and impartial way regardless of race or background has not been questioned during his time in office.
"I'm the most qualified person for the position," he said. "I know my community and I love my community."