SAN ANTONIO - The city's smoking ordinance is clear - You can't smoke in public places like banks, hospitals, museums, and restaurants.
But if you're inside the Bexar County Justice Center, feel free to light up in their smoke room.
County leaders say, plain and simple, the city's no-smoking ordinance does not apply to them. They are a separate arm of the state government and that's what gives them the right to keep this smoking room open.
The smoking room is found steps away from the central jury room. It’s found on the basement floor and was built back in 1988 when the justice center first opened its doors.
"Bexar County has always provided amenities for jurors. And that's at the request of the central jury bailiff and the board of judges that controls the central jury room,” Betty Bueche, Bexar County’s Director of Parks and Facilities, explained.
Betty Bueche says the smoking room is a perk for jurors. She compares it to free WI-FI, low-cost parking, or the food selection inside the cafeteria.
"The room was built with a separate ventilation system,” she noted. “It has an exhaust fan and the exhaust system goes through the roof of this building, which is six stories above us."
Most smokers tell us they'd probably prefer to go outside and smoke. But they can't just walk outside and smoke because the closest courtyard is considered non-smoking. So, you either smoke inside or walk all the way around the building.
"I'm really serious about stopping the problem of second hand smoke where we can to save lives,” Jacque Petterson, Founder of Smoke –Free Housing and Travel, LLC, told us.
Petterson has been fighting to get this room shut down since 2005. That's when she was called for jury duty, but couldn't serve because of a medical condition that's aggravated by tobacco smoke.
"Smoke does not stay in a room no matter how closed it is. You cannot close off the air completely. It doesn't happen,” Petterson says. “And it travels great distances; from the smoking room, into the jury room, down the hallways. It doesn't stay anywhere close to the smoking room."
Jacque says she’s met with just about anyone who will hear her out; building managers, the county judge’s assistant, and the city manager’s office. Despite fighting for the last seven years, she feels like she hasn’t gotten anywhere.
"The fact that they're choosing not to abide by our San Antonio city ordinance within the city limits, I think that's frustrating,” Petterson added.
News 4 WOAI’s Mireya Villarreal reached out to the Bexar County’s Central Jury Bailiff Julieta Schulze, but never heard back from her. She also spoke with Bexar County’s Administrative Judge Raymond Angelini, who said he’d look into the matter.
Late Friday, City Manager Sheryl Sculley released this statement to us:
“Per the City’s Smoking Ordinance, the City has continued to work with Bexar County to communicate the significance of providing a smoke free environment in County buildings.”