Attorneys on both sides of La Joya ISD’s election contest won and lost battles during a pre-trial hearing Wednesday.
The contest is scheduled for trial in the 398th District Court on Wednesday, Jan. 14.
In the lawsuit, the losing slate of candidates, dubbed the Diamond Pack, allege that a politiquera, on behalf of Team Liberty – consisting of Johnn Alaniz, Juan Jose “J.J.” Garza and Juan Jose “J.J.” Peña – paid two Mission postal workers for lists of residents in the area who receive mail-in ballots. The lawsuit states there is audio of one of the mailmen giving the list to a politiquera as well as video of the same mailman at the Team Liberty headquarters.
Wednesday, Visiting Judge J. Bonner Dorsey denied a motion for continuance requested by Javier Peña, attorney for the Diamond Pack, which includes Victoria Cantu, Irma Linda Villarreal-Veloz and Fernando Torres. The judge already had granted a continuance at the request of Gilberto Hinojosa, who is representing Team Liberty, in December.
Peña argued Wednesday that he needed more time to gather information after he learned the name Sunday of a man Peña said assisted school district employees at the polling location in La Joya who did not meet the qualifications for needing assistance.
Hinojosa argued, “This continuance is a desperate attempt to try and fix something that I believe is not fixable.”
During depositions of his clients, which occurred Monday, Hinojosa said it was clear Peña had no evidence of his allegations. Plus, he said, Diamond Pack candidates received more mail-in ballot votes than Team Liberty candidates. Even if those votes were thrown out, Team Liberty still wins.
“I’m the defendant. I’m the one that should be asking for more time,” said Hinojosa.
When the election contest was filed, Peña should have known how many people were assisted and had numbers stating exactly how many votes should be thrown out, Hinojosa said.
“Voters, citizens need to know that the people they elected were validly elected when they took office, that they have the right to take office, to govern,” said Hinojosa, adding that the allegations of fraud may affect the confidence of voters in his clients. “He doesn’t have anything. He has zero.”
Peña said during depositions it came out that one of Hinojosa’s clients, Garza, is under federal investigation in his position as executive director of La Joya Housing Authority.
“For them to claim that this one case is putting a cloud on their ability to govern is ridiculous. One of his clients has been raided by the feds twice already,” said Peña, adding that the two mailmen involved already have been fired and arrested by federal law enforcement officers.
Peña said there’s also a video of Alaniz thanking a mailman for his efforts, but Hinojosa said the videos he saw involved other people, and the footage involving his clients don’t say anything incriminating.
Dorsey pointed to a similar election contest two years ago after a La Joya ISD election in which improper voter assistance was alleged. He ruled against the contestants, he told Peña. As for the mail-in ballot allegations, the judge emphasized the election contest does not list any numbers or state how many votes should be thrown out.
However, the judge did agree to allow Peña to add the man alleged to have improperly assisted voters as a witness in the Wednesday trial after originally denying the request. Peña believes Jose Gilberto Ruiz went with teachers at the polling site to the voting machines, pulled out a piece of paper with a list of the Team Liberty candidates, and said, “You need to vote for your bosses.”