There were dirty postmen, illegal votes and employees intimidated to “vote for your bosses” during La Joya ISD’s November election, if everything alleged during an election contest hearing last week is proven true.
Javier Peña, representing members of The Diamond Pack slate, which opposed the three incumbents that compose the Team Liberty slate, filed the election contest days after the votes were tallied, citing audio and video of campaign workers for Team Liberty paying two postmen to give them addresses of residents with mail-in ballots. The lawsuit also alleges voters were improperly assisted at the voting booths.
At the end of the two-day hearing on the election contest in which The Diamond Pack asked for a new election, Gilberto Hinojosa, attorney for Team Liberty said he hadn’t heard enough evidence to overturn a single vote. Earlier in the hearing, Hinojosa objected to allowing one of the postal carriers accused of helping Team Liberty to take the stand.
Peña did not give Hinojosa an address for the mailman prior to the hearing, Hinojosa argued. Peña stated they’d been trying to find the mailman and only found an address for him that week.
The judge sided with Hinojosa, barring the postal worker from testifying.
“At the very beginning, he pled that there should be a new election because the mail-in ballots were illegally obtained through the dirty postmen that he claimed occurred,” Hinojosa later argued. “Golly, if that guy was going to testify to that, I sure … would have gone out there and put the right address and found him from day one because he was going to prove my case in a very big way.”
In his closing argument, Hinojosa repeatedly asked for sanctions against Peña.
“At the end of the day, this whole explosion of corruption that he represented was going to be shown to you in this trial petered away into nothing,” Hinojosa said.
But Peña countered that he offered plenty of evidence, only the court didn’t accept all of it. On the first day of court, Judge J. Bonner Dorsey would not allow Peña’s key witness, Yolanda Hidrogo to testify. Hinojosa had objected to Hidrogo’s testimony, stating he wasn’t given Hidrogo’s address prior to the hearing, so he couldn’t talk to the witness prior to Wednesday. Peña argued that Hidrogo was paid by Team Liberty, so they should know how to find her.
According to an affidavit obtained by Peña, Hidrogo saw a member of Team Liberty give cash to a mailman.
When Hidrogo was barred from testifying, so was a statement outlining what she said she saw as a worker under Team Liberty. The judge’s decision also kept Peña from submitting the video and audio he said Hidrogo gathered.
Repeatedly throughout the two-day trial, Peña expressed frustration at not being able to submit certain documents or put a witness on the stand. Dorsey also rejected Peña’s request for testimony by Robert Caples, a private investigator for Peña who interviewed Hidrogo and Jose Gilberto (Ruiz) Hernandez (who Peña alleged improperly assisted voters at the poll).
Caples wasn’t on the witness list Peña submitted prior to the trial.
At another point, Peña asked the judge permission to issue a subpoena for Hidalgo County Elections Administrator Yvonne Ramon to bring in envelopes from the mail-in ballots. Dorsey denied the request, and he also told Peña he could not offer an explanation as to why the envelopes were important to the case.
“You’re not allowing us to make an offer of proof? Just so we’re clear on the record,” Peña asked. “I just want to make sure on the appellate record that the ruling is clear.”
Peña asked the judge several times over the hearing to repeat a denial “for the appellate record,” and Hinojosa repeatedly told Dorsey that Peña didn’t respect his rulings.
As the hearing drew to a close, Hinojosa said Peña wasted the court’s time, and to prove his point, he submitted much of the evidence Peña earlier had been told he could not submit, including the Hidrogo’s audio and video recordings and an unsigned statement.
“He got up and he made these beautifully passionate arguments,” Hinojosa said. “You would have thought, ‘Boy, we’ve got a bunch of crooks in La Joya doing all sorts of nasty stuff and we need to sick the Texas Rangers on them right away.”
Hinojosa asked for attorney fees and that, specifically, attorneys for The Diamond Pack pay them. A reasonable fee, he testified, is $300 an hour.
Before Hinojosa left the witness stand after testifying about his request for fees, Peña sat back in his chair and pulled up photos he’d received of Hinojosa and Dorsey talking outside of the courtroom after the lunch break.
“For the record, were you talking to the judge outside of the courtroom earlier today?” Peña asked.
“I was,” Hinojosa said.
“Was this outside the presence of me, your opposing counsel?” Peña asked.
“Yes,” Hinojosa responded, and when prompted, Hinojosa said he and the judge were talking about the death of a mutual friend in Corpus Christi.
“He asked me about a funeral that I intended to attend tomorrow. He had not heard the name. I told him what the name was. That was the extent of our conversation,” Hinojosa said.
Dorsey told the attorneys he’d read over the evidence submitted and contact them with his decision.