How would you like to enter a courtroom and learn that the judge ruling over your case isn’t a US citizen? Would you be upset and highly confused?
Even worse, imagine you plead ‘not guilty’ to a crime but the judge disagrees, and therefore sentences you to time in jail, or to pay a massive fine. Would you be angered? Would you be outraged to learn the judge sentencing you was not a legal citizen? Well, if you live in Corpus Christi, Texas, it’s a real scenario.
A municipal court judge in Corpus Christi, Texas, who was placed on unpaid leave in May after city officials discovered she was not actually a U.S. citizen, is about to get her job back, after being granted approval for her citizenship application to be expedited. She received her citizenship in just 51 days.
The City Council has now voted to re-instate the judge, and she will be back on the bench August 14, 2017.
Young Min Burkett, 41, is a South Korean native who came to the United States of America in 2001, when she was 25 years old, to study law. Burkett graduated from Texas Tech University School of Law in 2005, and became licensed to practice law in Texas in 2007 – the same year she received a green card and became a lawful permanent resident of the United States.
Burkett started working as a Nueces County prosecutor in 2008, and was hired by the city of Corpus Christi in March 2015 to serve as a municipal court judge. The position is a 2-year appointment, with an annual salary of $97,935. Burkett’s appointment was reportedly renewed in February 2017.
Suddenly after more than two years working as a judge in Corpus Christi, city officials discovered Burkett was neither a U.S. citizen, nor a registered voter – both requirements for the job.
City staff discovered the issue in May during the process of vetting another judge applicant, which caused them to go back and verify that all municipal court judges were qualified voters. They discovered that not only was Burkett not a registered voter, but she was also not a U.S. citizen.
Burkett was promptly put on unpaid leave for 90 days, to allow her time to obtain her U.S. citizenship.
City Councilman Rudy Garza Jr. said it wasn’t Burkett’s fault, but simply an error on the city’s part, as the Corpus Christi application did not ask about citizenship.
Mayor Pro-Tem Lucy Rubio said that city attorneys had determined that “past rulings of this judge are not invalidated by this status.”
Her husband, defense attorney Nathan Burkett, claimed his wife would have told them she wasn’t a citizen if the question had been on the application. Instead, the application simply asked if she was eligible to work in the United States. “The job posting specified only the ability to work in the U.S.,” Nathan Burkett stated. “She has never made a representation that she is a citizen.”
“It was never an issue when she was putting murderers and other violent criminals away for years, and now that it has become an issue, we’re addressing it as soon as we can,” Nathan Burkett said soon after her suspension.
According to the Texas Board of Law Examiners records, the state of Texas does not require attorneys in that state to be U.S. citizens – only that they are “lawfully admitted for permanent residence,” the Caller Times reported.
The reason Burkett had never become a U.S. citizen? She didn’t want to give up her South Korean citizenship, because she still had family there and wanted to keep her South Korean passport. Nathan Burkett explained, “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.”
At her naturalization ceremony Friday, July 7, Burkett said, “It was hard for me to give up my (Korean) citizenship, but I always wanted to be a U.S. citizen. Finally, to serve this community I decided to become a U.S. citizen, and I’m glad I made that decision.”
The U.S. Customs and Immigrations Services offices in San Antonio, where Burkett submitted her citizenship application, pushed the application through with a quick approval, at her request.
“I submitted a request to expedite and it was granted,” Burkett said. “I’m very grateful it was processed in a short period of time, and I’m ready to get back to work.”
After taking questions from the public for an hour, and almost two hours of closed-door discussions, the Corpus Christi City Council voted 7-2 on July 18 to reinstate Burkett as a city municipal judge. Before they voted, Burkett argued her case, reminding them that the application never asked about citizenship, so she assumed she met all the requirements.
Still, it was not a unanimous vote, with councilwomen Lucy Rubio and Carolyn Vaughn voting against reinstating her, as they noted that, in spite of the missing question on the application, the city charter clearly states, “The municipal judge must also be a citizen of the United States and a resident of the State of Texas.”
Vaughn also contested the claim that Burkett’s past rulings still stand, noting that the issue has opened the city up to “hundreds of lawsuits,” although none have reportedly been filed yet.
“I believe your actions, whether you knew the qualifications or not, could end up costing our citizens thousands of dollars,” Vaughn said.
The City Council’s vote will reinstate Burkett as a Municipal Court Judge effective August 9, but she isn’t allowed to return to work until August 14, in compliance with the terms of the original 90-day suspension, and to comply with the requirement to be a registered voter.
Three days after receiving her citizenship, Burkett reportedly registered to vote on July 10 in Nueces County, but Texas law mandates a 30-day waiting period before her voter registration is active.
After practicing law in the United States since 2007, and serving as a judge for over two years, Judge Young Min Burkett will finally be a United States citizen and a registered voter.
The applications for judges have reportedly now been corrected by the city to ask the appropriate questions regarding citizenship and voter registration.
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