Judge issues temporary restraining order in Hidalgo city judge dispute

HIDALGO — A dispute between the two factions on the city council over the municipal judge position landed in court this week.

State District Judge Noe Gonzalez stepped in Friday to issue a temporary restraining order against council members Noe Reyes, Sergio Coronado Jr. and Gustavo “Gus” Sanchez after they voted Monday to hire Ivan Perez as an interim municipal judge.

Hidalgo Mayor Martin Cepeda filed the petition on behalf of the city because he believes they violated the charter, which states the mayor appoints the municipal judge.

“ The judge of the municipal court shall be nominated by the mayor and approved by the city council for a term of four years to run concurrently with the term of office of the mayor,” the petition stated.

Cepeda nominated Juan Pimentel shortly after taking office in June 2014, and Pimentel has been serving in that capacity ever since. But on Monday, Coronado nominated Perez to “help at the municipal court” with votes of support from Reyes and Sanchez — despite the objections of Cepeda.

There is a provision in the charter that addresses the need for an interim judge, but only when the presiding judge is absent or disabled.

“ The present municipal judge is not absent nor is he disabled and is fully capable of presiding and conducting the duties of the Hidalgo Municipal Court judge,” the court document stated.

Cepeda submitted an affidavit to the court which also indicated Pimentel “has not been absent from work.”

The mayor believes the trio — Reyes, Coronado and Sanchez — also violated the charter when they reduced Pimentel’s compensation.

The city’s governing document states the municipal judge’s compensation may not be reduced during his term of service.

However, the council, through City Manager Julian Gonzalez, reduced Pimentel’s pay, according to court documents. While the reduction in pay was mentioned in the petition, no figures were provided.

The mayor is asking the court to declare the appointment of Perez null and void and to find Reyes, Sanchez and Coronado in violation of the city charter.

If a violation occurred, it could cost the council members their seats, according to language in the petition that indicates “A council member … shall forfeit that office if the council member … violates any express prohibition of this charter.”

Cepeda also requested the defendant pay all court costs and attorney fees incurred during the case. An initial hearing is set for Sept. 29.

nlopez@themonitor.com