Web Posted: 12/16/2009 12:00 CST Judge Mireles dies with family at his side
By Elaine Ayala - Express-News
Someone else will have to turn on the lights at the Bexar County Courthouse.
At least that’s what many friends and colleagues of District Court Judge Andy Mireles said Tuesday upon hearing of the hard-working jurist’s death from a heart attack suffered Sunday night.
He was 59.
Described as a brilliant legal mind, a fighter for youth headed down wrong paths and the father of the county’s juvenile justice system, Mireles was praised not just as a dedicated judge, but a professional with high ethical standards, who showed no mercy to ill-prepared lawyers and was both tough and compassionate to juvenile offenders.
From former defendants to mayors and former mayors, San Antonians responded with sadness to the news.
“He was a first-rate jurist who gained the respect of the entire community,” said Mayor Julián Castro. “His career was particularly meaningful to San Antonio’s young people.”
“We will miss his leadership,” said state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte. “Andy was dedicated to improving the lives of all children, from his early work on the school board to his constant advocacy in the community."
“While his work from the bench and in our community is immeasurable, his lasting legacy will be as Margaret’s loving husband and Jonathan and Matthew’s devoted father. I will miss his contagious smile and big heart,” Van de Putte said.
“He spent his life literally doing the right thing, no matter how hard it was to do,” said family friend Sylvia Reyna, an associate superintendent at the Edgewood Independent School District. “He was a pioneer in what we do now and how we deal with the justice of our children. It was elevated because of his influence.”
Mireles, born Paul Andrew Mireles in Lockhart, served in the 73rd District Court for more than 20 years and was considered one of the longest-serving judges at the courthouse. Many said he was the first to arrive and sometimes the last to head home.
Mireles planned on becoming a priest, studying at Assumption Seminary. Friends and family, still gathered at the hospital after his death, joked that he changed his mind after meeting Margaret Guzman. They were married for 29 years.
Before becoming a judge, Mireles was a trustee for the San Antonio Independent School District. Several colleagues suggested that’s where he learned of the problems facing teens and the crimes they were committing.
It became a passion and the driving force of his legal career.
Former Mayor Phil Hardberger recalled that Mireles lectured young offenders, sometimes “in tough, unvarnished language,” then expressed hope of attending their graduation.
Hardberger said Mireles ended up attending several graduations a year.
“He wanted to let them know that someone in power and authority cared about them, even though he might be coming down hard on them,” said Hardberger, who said Mireles began working for him the Monday after he graduated from St. Mary’s School of Law, the second in his class.
Hardberger had asked the dean to name the class’ most promising Hispanic law student: It was Mireles. The two became lifelong friends. At the time, Hardberger’s partners were James L. Branton and Frank Herrera, among the city’s most prominent attorneys.
A lot of the juvenile offenders who came before Mireles could have gone “one way or the other,” Hardberger said. “I think Andy saved a lot of lives.”
Albert Gonzales can attest to that. As a teen, he was a biker boosting cars.
Mireles gave the then-17-year-old San Antonian two choices: Go to jail or join the military. The judge also offered to sign off on his age exemption.
Gonzales, 42, who works for Baptist Health Systems and sells antiques on the side, enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard. It changed the course of his life.
“I probably would have ended up like the rest of my uncles,” Gonzales said. “This man intervened and pulled me out of it and into a normal life.”
Gonzales, a member of the Tribe of Judah Motorcycle Ministry, visited Mireles early Tuesday and prayed with his wife.
As a member of the Bexar County Juvenile Board for 20 years and its chairman for the past 12, Mireles created the juvenile courts in Bexar County and worked side by side with David Reilly, the county’s chief juvenile probation officer, who called Mireles “an inspirational mentor to many, many people, not just us who worked in the juvenile justice system.”
“It’s a community loss, not just a personal loss,” he said. “It’s a loss to the system.”
With Reilly, Mireles spoke to neighborhood associations and groups throughout the city. They came loaded with statistics and trends that revealed the neighborhood teen profile.
“He was a very community-oriented kind of guy,” Reilly said. “He loved to be out there. He was a consistent advocate for children.”
But the two most important children in his life were his own, said Reyna.
Son Jonathan Mireles, 27, is an assistant band director at Harris Middle School in SAISD and plays trumpet, guitar and piano. Matthew Mireles, 25, a doctoral student in music at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, plays the euphonium, or concert tuba.
“They are the men they are today because of their father’s influence,” she said. “There isn’t a friend of the Mireleses who didn’t know every step in the boys’ lives because he was so very proud of them.”
Mireles died at the downtown Baptist Medical Center, his family by his side. It was his wife’s birthday.
Hardberger said he was there when the family decided to take Mireles off life support. Repeated tests had shown no brain activity, he said.
Services are pending.
Reporter Craig Kapitan contributed to this report. Judge Mireles dies with family at his side