Mission election lawsuit set for trial in September

Former Mission Mayor Norberto “Beto” Salinas will take his successor, current Mayor Armando “Doc” O’caña, to trial on Sept. 24.

O’caña beat Beto Salinas by 157 votes during the June runoff — booting him from City Hall after 20 years as mayor.

20180511 MissionRunOffBeto Salinas responded with a lawsuit, claiming the O’caña campaign bribed voters, manipulated mail-in ballots and benefitted from widespread fraud. O’caña denied the allegations and accused Beto Salinas of filing a frivolous lawsuit.

During a hearing on Monday morning, state District Judge J. Bonner Dorsey scheduled a bench trial for Sept. 24.

“We were prepared to go to trial right away,” said Brownsville-based attorney Gilberto Hinojosa, who represents O’caña. “Dr. O’caña is, I think, an outstanding member of the community. He ran this election fair and square. And he won.”

To win the lawsuit, Beto Salinas must prove at least 158 people cast ballots illegally — one more than the margin of victory.

The 17-page lawsuit lists of people who Beto Salinas claims accepted bribes and voted illegally. Attorneys for the former mayor identified many people by their initials.

“If you don’t put their name in there, that raises serious questions about whether you’re making a good-faith claim,” Hinojosa said.

People who claim that campaign workers tampered with their mail-in ballots or offered them bribes must testify in court, Hinojosa said, adding that keeping them semi-anonymous raises questions about whether or not their claims will hold water.

“That’s why we requested sanctions against them,” Hinojosa said.

Attorney Rick Salinas, the former mayor’s son, said he considers the request for sanctions ridiculous.

“He’s saying that we filed a frivolous lawsuit,” Rick Salinas said. “Well, we didn’t make up the stuff that’s in the petition.”

Attorneys will return to court on Aug. 31 for a final pretrial hearing, followed by the bench trial on Sept. 24.

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