The Texas Supreme Court on Friday rejected a petition to review the 2018 Mission mayoral election.
Armando “Doc” O’caña, a school district administrator, defeated Norberto “Beto” Salinas, a land developer who served as mayor of Mission for two decades, in June 2018. After the election, Beto Salinas claimed the O’caña campaign bribed voters and manipulated mail-in ballots.
A trial judge sided with Beto Salinas, but the 13th Court of Appeals reversed the decision. The Supreme Court rejected a petition to review the case on Friday — a win for O’caña, who faced not just a civil lawsuit but a threat to his legitimacy.
“The rule of law prevails,” said attorney Gilberto Hinojosa of Brownsville, who represented O’caña.
Attorneys who represented Beto Salinas transformed the trial into a circus, Hinojosa said, but they couldn’t prove the number of problematic ballots exceeded the margin of victory.
“When you don’t have the law on your side, you argue the facts. When you don’t have the facts on your side, you argue the law. When you don’t have either on your side, you muddy the water. And you yell and scream,” Hinojosa said. “And that’s what they did from the beginning to end.”
Attorney Rick Salinas of Mission, who represented his father, said the O’caña campaign participated in a criminal conspiracy. At trial, Rick Salinas said he exposed how the conspiracy tainted the election.
Witnesses claimed O’caña campaign workers crisscrossed Mission, paying cash to anyone who voted. Elderly voters said campaign workers manipulated their mail-in ballots. And a politiquera with a checkered past testified about a secret deal to switch sides during the runoff.
Attorneys, though, typically win election contests by proving the number of tainted ballots exceeded the margin of victory.
Rick Salinas, an accomplished criminal defense attorney, didn’t. He highlighted individual cases of bribery and illegal activity.
To pull the case together, Rick Salinas hired an expert witness, George J. Korbel, to analyze mail-in ballots and records that showed voter assistance.
Based on a theory about postage stamps, Korbel estimated that as many as 303 mail-in ballots had been “harvested” by campaign workers. He also claimed that campaign workers linked to allegations of bribery had assisted 124 voters.
The unorthodox strategy worked. State District Judge J. Bonner Dorsey ordered a new election.
“I find the evidence is clear that there was a combination or conspiracy by the campaign of Dr. O’caña to do this. And I say that because the evidence is that several members of the campaign were working together in concert to bribe voters, to take the mail-in ballots and mail them separately,” Dorsey said on Oct. 5, 2018. “I find by clear and convincing evidence that the number of illegal votes was in excess of 158 — somewhere in excess of 158. There’s no way to possibly determine.”
The 13th Court of Appeals reversed the decision nearly six months later, but complaints about bribery and the manipulation of mail-in ballots sparked an investigation by the Texas Attorney General’s Office.
“The criminal case is still proceeding,” Rick Salinas said. “It’s still under investigation. I’m telling you, they were here Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.”
Attorneys for Beto Salinas may file a motion for rehearing within 15 days.