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Concerned about Mission politics, local attorney asks judge to recuse herself

A newly elected judge from Mission recused herself from all cases involving a prominent Mission attorney last week — avoiding a potentially messy fight over impartiality.

Attorney Rick Salinas of Mission filed a motion to recuse Hidalgo County Court-at-Law #9 Judge Patricia “Patty” O’Caña-Olivarez from his cases, concerned that bad blood between the Salinas and O’Caña families could create the appearance of bias.

“I would have no issue hearing the case,” O’Caña-Olivarez said on Feb. 25. “But I’m going to grant your request so it does not hold up any of your cases for any of your defendants or your litigants.”

Rick Salinas prepares for closing arguments during the Mission election trial on Oct. 5, 2018. Photo by Dave Hendricks

Rick Salinas responded with a backhanded compliment.

“Well, your honor, I want to thank you. And I know that we haven’t always seen eye-to-eye,” Rick Salinas said. “I do appreciate your intellectual honesty. I didn’t anticipate that, but I respect it. And we will move forward.”

Rick Salinas and O’Caña-Olivarez faced off in 2018, when the Mission election contest went to trial.

Rick Salinas represented his father, former Mayor Norberto “Beto” Salinas, who claimed that O’Caña-Olivarez’s uncle, Mayor Armando “Doc” O’caña, won the 2018 election because his campaign bribed voters and manipulated mail-in ballots. O’Caña-Olivarez joined her uncle’s legal team.

At trial, Rick Salinas alleged that members of the O’caña family orchestrated the scheme. He also claimed that O’Caña-Olivarez discouraged witnesses from coming forward.

“Her mom and her sister were primary targets, along with her,” Rick Salinas said.

The O’caña legal team strenuously denied any wrongdoing by O’Caña-Olivarez or her uncle.

Beto Salinas won at trial, but the 13th Court of Appeals sided with O’caña, who remained mayor.

Hard feelings between the Salinas and O’caña families, however, apparently didn’t fade with time.

“I would never be fair to her,” Rick Salinas said. “And I was running the risk that I didn’t want to run of being disrespectful.”

Rick Salinas said he was prepared to submit affidavits from at least four people who claimed that O’Caña-Olivarez made disparaging remarks about him and wanted to recruit a candidate to run against his ex-wife, 275th state District Judge Marla Cuellar.

O’Caña-Olivarez ran against Cuellar in the March 2018 Democratic Party primary.

After she lost, O’Caña-Olivarez mounted a campaign for Court-at-Law #9 in March 2020. Rick Salinas backed her opponent, former Mission City Attorney Abiel Flores.

O’Caña-Olivarez demolished Flores, winning nearly 62% of the vote.

Regardless of whether or not O’Caña-Olivarez actually treated him fairly, Rick Salinas said the appearance of bias could be just as problematic for his clients.

Patricia “Patty” O’Caña-Olivarez, left, and her uncle, Mission Mayor Armando “Doc” O’caña, watch closing arguments in the Mission election trial on Oct. 5, 2018. Photo by Dave Hendricks

“There’s just no need to fight that battle in County Court #9,” Rick Salinas said. “It makes no sense.”

On Feb. 25, though, O’Caña-Olivarez was unfailingly polite to Rick Salinas.
O’Caña-Olivarez calmly explained that his cases had been automatically transferred to her newly created court and swiftly approved his motion.

“I wish you the best, sir, and best of luck to your defendants,” O’Caña-Olivarez said. “And we should be getting back to you, hopefully, within the next day or so.”

Asked about the motion to recuse, O’Caña-Olivarez declined to comment.

4 Comments

  1. Armando Rodriguez on March 5, 2021 at 6:11 pm

    Yes, Salinas expects O’Caña Olivarez to recuse herself from cases he will be representing but if things would have been the other way he would not have recused himself. He’s just another trumper republican. Always negative.

    • Anita Ramirez on March 8, 2021 at 1:15 pm

      Way to go Rick Salinas. Everyone knows that Ocana judge is not fair at anything in life.

  2. Carlos R. Garcia on March 8, 2021 at 8:28 pm

    Lawyers and politicians…when you thought it was safe to go back in the water.

  3. Rogelio on March 12, 2021 at 11:15 am

    So sad that valley politics has gotten this bad, but then again they all want to eat out of the same bucket. $$$$

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