Edinburg council member keeps seat

EDINBURG — The ongoing fight between the city and council member Homer Jasso Jr. came to an end Friday morning when a state district judge ruled the council could not force Jasso out of his seat for violating the charter.

State District Judge Mario E. Ramirez determined Jasso did not have an intent of wrongdoing when he began conducting business with the city in 2016 because he approached Edinburg City Manager Richard Hinojosa and then city attorney Rick Palacios for advice.

Neither of them told Jasso he couldn’t conduct business with the city, despite an ordinance forbidding it.

“I think Judge (Richard) Garcia put it plainly,” Ramirez said, referencing the former Edinburg mayor’s words during a public meeting in 2017, when the issue was first discussed. “Where’s the mens rea? Where’s the guilty intent? Where’s the willful act?”

Mens rea refers to the intention or knowledge of wrongdoing that constitutes part of a crime.

Ramirez went further and indicated the council’s attempt to force Jasso out of office was made based on personal whim and not reason.

“The removal is an abuse of official discretion,” he said. “It’s arbitrary and I’m going to void it.”

But even though he ruled in Jasso’s favor, Ramirez had some harsh words for the council member, calling it “ridiculous” that any elected official could believe they can do business with the city.

“It defies logic,” the judge said. “But he sought the advice from the legal counsel and he sought advice from the city manager.”

Ramirez also had some strong words for the city manager.

“He would have given him the PIN to his bank account (had Jasso asked),” Ramirez said.

Edinburg Mayor Richard Molina, who was present at the hearing with council members Gilbert Enriquez and Jorge Salinas, said he was not disappointed in the ruling, but was concerned it would set a dangerous precedent for the city.

“I’m just saying OK, so what happens now, as mayor, if I catch one of my council members doing business with the city?” he asked hypothetically.

Molina compared the issue to the John Feit case, saying the council’s move to reopen the issue mirrored the actions taken by Hidalgo County District Attorney Ricardo Rodriguez shortly after he took office in 2014. Rodriguez reopened a case that had been set aside by his predecessor, and which eventually led to a conviction against Feit.

“I thought that this was very similar because there were a lot of people disappointed in the previous mayor because he did not do a complete investigation,” Molina said about Garcia and the Jasso inquiry. “There were a lot of people that wanted us to proceed with this inquiry to get everything out and I think we did that.”

Jasso did not respond to a request for comment. He was hospitalized earlier this week and his condition remained unknown as of press time Friday.

nlopez@themonitor.com