Texas judge on unpaid leave pending U.S. citizenship

A municipal court judge has been placed on unpaid leave after city officials in Texas learned she is not a U.S. citizen.

A question about citizenship wasn't on the application for appointment, Corpus Christi City Councilman Rudy Garza Jr. said Wednesday. The documents instead had a question about whether the applicant was eligible for legal employment in the state.

Young Min Burkett is a permanent resident and eligible for lawful employment, he added.

But U.S. citizenship is a requirement to be a municipal court judge, according to the city’s ordinance.

“The error was a city error and we don’t feel Judge Burkett was insincere or did anything in her application or interview that led to any dishonesty on her part,” Garza said.

Burkett did not return phone calls Wednesday requesting comment. Her husband, Nathan Burkett, sent a message to the Caller-Times late Wednesday.

In it, he said his wife has been a lawful permanent resident since 2007.

"The job posting specified only the ability to work in the U.S.," Nathan Burkett wrote. "She has never made a representation that she is a citizen."

 

Burkett is on unpaid leave for 90 days to give her time to obtain citizenship, said Mayor pro-tem Lucy Rubio, after a closed-door session of the City Council on Tuesday.

City attorneys had "determined that past rulings of this judge are not invalidated by this status," she added.

Generally, the city includes on applications for appointees a question about whether the appointee is a qualified voter, Garza said.

However, that question was not included on the applications of some of the recent municipal court judge appointments. The discrepancy was noticed by city staff during the process of appointing a different judge, said Garza, who serves on the municipal court committee.

The staff went back to verify that current municipal court judges were qualified voters and found Burkett was not, he said.

The application has been changed to address the issue, Garza said.

Garza said he would like to have the opportunity to consider Burkett again for the bench if the issue can be addressed within 90 days.

Nathan Burkett, in the message to the Caller-Times, wrote that his wife's application for citizenship is pending.

"South Korea (her country of birth) doesn’t allow dual nationals like many other countries, so that’s why we hadn’t applied before now,” he wrote.

A municipal court judge appointment carries a two-year term and an annual salary of $97,935, according to city records.

Burkett was most recently appointed by the City Council to serve in that position in February, and previously, in 2015.

She is a South Korean native who came to the United States to study law, according to a letter she wrote to the council in February 2015.

Burkett graduated from Texas Tech University School of Law in 2005, and later worked as a Nueces County prosecutor, starting in 2008, according to her resume.

She has been licensed to practice law in Texas since 2007, according to state bar records.

Attorneys in Texas are not required to be U.S. citizens, according to Texas Board of Law Examiners records — eligibility to practice law includes those who are "lawfully admitted for permanent residence," for example.

In a December letter to the City Council requesting reappointment, Burkett wrote about playing a part in curbing domestic violence.

"One of the most rewarding functions of my position is to serve individuals accused of family violence with emergency protective orders," she wrote. "I am glad that I can be one of the first links in the chain trying to stop the cycle of violence in our community's homes."

Contributing: Krista Torralva of the Caller-Times

© 2017 USATODAY.COM


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