updated 6/12/2008 8:41:11 AM ET 2008-06-12T12:41:11

A justice of the peace can no longer give parents the choice of paying a fine or paddling their children in open court for now, a judge ruled Wednesday.

Los Fresnos Justice of the Peace Gustavo Garza was sued by three families who say Garza left them with no real option when he told them they must pay a fine for their children's transgressions or paddle them in open court.

Until District Judge Abel Limas can resolve that case, he ordered Garza to halt the paddling. A trial date has not been set.

The lawsuit was initially brought by the parents of a 15-year-old Los Fresnos girl who appeared in Garza's court in April for skipping school.

Daniel Zurita paddled his stepdaughter with one of the two wooden paddles Garza displays in his courtroom after the justice said it was either that or pay a $500 fine.

Paddling defended
Last week, Garza said offering paddling as an option was lawful and that 98 percent of parents took that choice.

Garza was represented by Cameron County attorney Richard Burst at a hearing Wednesday. A woman in the county attorney's office who did not identify herself declined comment and hung up.

A message left for Garza at his office was not immediately returned.

Plaintiff attorney Mark Rossi said Burst rejected his offer to stop the case if Garza would halt the paddling in his courtroom and apologize.

Garza is "basically turning the courtroom into something more resembling the Jerry Springer Show than a court of law," Rossi said.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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