This is Part 2 of a three-part series. Read Part 1.
Three years ago, Bexar Couny attorney Veronica Vasquez was on the brink of a new chapter in her career. She was a first-time judicial candidate and she won her race to be a probate judge. Vasquez was exited to work in probate because she argues it’s the court that touches most people’s lives.
“You may never end up in a criminal court or know somebody you love that ends up in a criminal court. Or perhaps you never have a civil issue and you never have to be sued or sue someone, but somebody you know and love will die,” Vasquez said.
Her friend from law school, Jo Anne Garcia, was also running for probate judge hundreds of miles away in Hidalgo County.
Both women won their races and were sworn in in January 2019.
But just when they were getting the hang of the job, the pandemic hit Texas. Suddenly, the two rookie judges had to recreate their courts virtually. On top of that, their caseloads skyrocketed because of mounting coronavirus deaths.
Then, the emotional toll began to set in.
“We’ve been seeing a lot of husband-and-wife deaths; those are very, very sad because they die within a couple of days of each other because husband will get it and then wife will get it, and they die within a couple of days,” Vazquez said. “There are times when I do cry on the bench.”
In Hidalgo County, probate cases rose by as much as 300% in a month during the fall of 2020. Garcia remembers one case that was particularly troubling.
“We had a father that had died of COVID, and the daughter had applied to probate father’s will. And before she could come to the hearing, she passed of COVID and her brother had to take over her spot,” she said.