A visiting judge is expected to rule on a motion to dismiss outgoing Hidalgo County Precinct 3 Commissioner Jose “Joe” Flores’s lawsuit against local businessman Everardo “Ever” Villarreal, who beat Flores in the March 2020 Democratic primary by 92 votes.
Flores filed the lawsuit last March, citing more than 1,000 illegal votes and requested that the March Democratic Party primary election results be declared void and a new election be held.
“Villarreal built his political campaign around a promise of honesty and transparency. The discouraging reality, however, is that Villarreal’s campaign demonstrated the extreme opposite…His campaign paid many voters to vote for him,” according to the lawsuit. “Villarreal’s campaign altogether consciously ignored the law in order to obtain more votes. Victory at the expense of the true will of the voters is not a victory at all but rather a slap in the face to our democracy and the citizens of Hidalgo County Precinct 3. A new election must be ordered to restore trust to the citizens of Hidalgo County Precinct.”
A total of 19,982 votes were cast in the race, with Villarreal earning 10,037 to the incumbent’s 9,945, according to the Hidalgo County Elections Department.
The trial, which is expected to last two weeks, was set for May 11 last April, according to court documents.
However, an amended pre-trial order that was filed Tuesday, April 21 rescheduled the trial to July 6 due to concerns with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Villarreal responded to the lawsuit with a motion to dismiss that was filed June 1, citing a lack of evidence.
“That evidence will not come. It has not been provided in discovery, because it does not exist,” the motion stated. “Contestee has established that this case should be dismissed pursuant to the [Texas Citizens’ Participation Act]. The Contestee demands that Contestant bring forth ‘clear and specific evidence’ that would provide for the relief the requested. Failing that, Contestee prays that this Court dismiss this cause, and for all such other and further relief both general and special, at law or in equity to which Contestee may be justly entitled.”
Carlos Escobar, the lawyer who authored the motion, argued in a virtual hearing Friday in front of visiting Judge Jose Manuel Banales that much of the evidence brought in to testify against Villarreal did not meet the standards of Texas law.
The evidence included affidavits from an individual claiming to personally know that several of the people who voted for Villarreal and required assistance at the voting polls due to a disability they didn’t have, and an individual who admitted to being paid $300 for his testimony.
Escobar also questioned the validity of a poll list that was presented in evidence called the “Hidalgo County Poll List for Illegal Votes” which he said didn’t cite any sources.
“These people are testifying without personal knowledge or facts not in evidence,” Escobar said as he described the exhibits presented as “defective and inadmissible.”
“It violates the law itself,” Escobar said. “It’s predicated on facts not authenticated or submitted to evidence or cited by anyone identified as an expert…If they’re witnesses, we didn’t know about them until this response.”
Attorney Orlando Garcia , who represented Flores, said that as he received the response the evening before the hearing he would brief his responses during the weekend but defended the evidence.
“These come from voters directly stating they voted illegally,” Garcia said. “[Escobar] is attacking my evidence by saying my investigator paid a guy to testify, making it fabricated. I admit it doesn’t look good, but this is a difficult case and getting people to come forward is not simple. If this should be excluded, so should any person subpoenaed and given $10 to give testimony on the stand.”
Visiting Judge Jose Manuel Banales said he would give a ruling before the scheduled July 1 summary judgement hearing.