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Judge Slams Attempt at Removing Her

February 19, 1999

LUBBOCK, Texas (AP) _ Judge Susan Scolaro laughed when she heard that her opponent in last year’s primary was questioning her eligibility to run for office.

Her rival, Bob Jones, claimed that a leave of absence she took to spend time with her two children left her 15 days short of the required four continuous years of legal practice.

Ms. Scolaro won the Republican primary anyway and was elected unopposed. But she isn’t laughing anymore.

Judge Bill McCoy ruled this month that Ms. Scolaro was ineligible when she was elected Nov. 3 and should step down.

Ms. Scolaro sees her case as part of something larger, and she isn’t leaving _ despite a prosecutor’s threat to jail her.

``This is an issue that has never been presented to the Texas Supreme Court,″ Ms. Scolaro said. ``For the sake of any other female attorney that might ever want to take a leave of absence, I’m going to see this through.″

While lawyers don’t necessarily have to be working cases to be considered active, they must be registered with the state bar.

The check Ms. Scolaro sent to the bar to return to active status shows that she had been reinstated three years and 350 days at the time of the election _ 15 days short of four years.

Ms. Scolaro argues that the law shouldn’t be interpreted to include leaves of absence.

``When it comes to running for a judgeship, their argument is that if you stop practicing law to stay home with children, when you come back you will be viewed as a brand-new attorney,″ Ms. Scolaro said.

``To say four continuous years just doesn’t make much sense. I could have been sick for 15 days. Does that mean I wouldn’t be eligible?″ she said. ``What if I missed two days ... would I then be ineligible?″

Ector County District Attorney John Smith, serving as an independent prosecutor in the case, argues that what Ms. Scolaro was doing or how long she was inactive doesn’t matter.

Smith has filed a motion to find Ms. Scolaro in contempt for continuing to preside in the Lubbock County Court, where she typically hears divorce and custody cases. Smith also wants Ms. Scolaro to be fined and jailed.

McCoy has yet to rule on the motion.

``The people have a right to have the laws upheld strictly when it comes to their elected officials,″ Smith said.

Jan Kennady, president of the Texas Federation of Women, said laws should be more accommodating for mothers’ leaves of absence, but Ms. Scolaro should step down if her check wasn’t received by the right time.

If Ms. Scolaro is removed, it would be up to Lubbock County commissioners to appoint a replacement to serve the rest of her term.

Jones isn’t commenting on the matter these days, but in October he said he was unsure whether he would seek the possible vacancy. ``The important thing isn’t who gets the seat, but that the law is upheld,″ he said.

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