Judge halts action against Edinburg councilman

EDINBURG — David Flores, an attorney for Homer Jasso Jr., hand-delivered a temporary restraining order to the city secretary here Thursday — just minutes before the start of a scheduled noon meeting that could have forced the Edinburg council member out of office.

The restraining order effectively stopped council members from taking any action against Jasso, who is accused of violating the city charter by profiting directly from city coffers through a business he owns.

Jasso retained an attorney on Monday after the city formally notified him last week about the inquiry against him, court documents indicate. That same day his attorney asked city officials to reschedule the meeting due to “scheduling conflicts.”

“They denied our request even though they knew Homer would be out of town,” Flores said.

On Wednesday, Jasso and his attorney turned to the courts. If the city went through with the Thursday meeting, Jasso’s due process rights would be violated, the attorney argued in his petition.

District Judge Mario E. Ramirez Jr. agreed with Flores and signed the order just before the close of the business day Wednesday.

On Thursday morning, however, the city informed Flores he had to serve notice to the city secretary, and therefore had to amend his original petition to include her as a party to the case.

Flores said he was surprised to learn about the last-minute developments because Rick Gonzalez, the city’s attorney, was present during discussions with the judge Wednesday afternoon.

“We weren’t able to get it done until the eleventh hour,” Flores said about filing the amended document, which Ramirez ultimately signed with only eight minutes to spare at 11:32 a.m. Thursday. “We were kind of scrambling at the end to accomplish that.”

Flores then hand-delivered the amended order to Edinburg City Secretary Mayra Garza, effectively halting any action against Jasso until after an initial court hearing set for Feb 28.

“The first thing we wanted was that — more time to make sure we had our due process and to prepare a defense,” Flores said. “Mr. Jasso was given six day’s notice.”

The issue, however, initially surfaced almost a year ago. At the time, the council members who wanted to launch an inquiry against Jasso did not have the votes to do so and the issue was subsequently dropped.

“Beyond that, we are seeking from the court a declaration or a ruling on how to interpret the city charter,” Flores continued.

Flores argued in his petition that the city was using the wrong provision of the charter to launch an inquiry against his client. The provision the city used is meant for employees and is not subject to judicial review, Flores said. By contrast, there is another provision that better suits the matter and is subject to review by a judge, he said.

“We’re asking the court, or rather pointing out, the city was relying on the wrong provision to conduct the inquiry,” he said. “We feel that their decision should be subject to review by the court.”

Jasso is also asking the court to define the word “willful” as it appears on the charter. Its definition could have major implications on whether or not Jasso can be removed from office.

“Willful violation and a willful act,” Flores said, “there’s a substantial difference.”

The question regarding the definition of the word is not a new one. The city council previously tried to unravel its meaning last year, with former city attorney Rick Palacios ruling Jasso did not commit a willful violation of the charter when he profited from the city through his tire recycling business.

nlopez@themonitor.com