RGC judge’s contract renewed despite state reprimand

The municipal judge for Rio Grande City who received a public reprimand by state will stay on for another two years after the city commissioners unanimously voted to renew his contract.

Leonel “Leo” Lopez Jr., the city’s municipal judge, had his contract renewed just two weeks after the State Commission on Judicial Conduct issued a public reprimand against the judge for violating the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct.

Lopez’s contract remains the same as the previous one, Mayor Joel Villarreal said. That contract, approved in June 2016 for two years, included a reimbursement of $4,333.33 per month for his services, which include jail arraignments.

His other duties include at least one court session per month, necessary jury trials, jail hearings, including required weekend probable cause hearings and administrative work, according to the contract.

Lopez, who did not return several calls requesting comment, was found to have lent the prestige of his office in support of certain candidates in 2016, through Facebook posts and by sitting under the campaign tent for one group of candidates.

Villarreal said his Lopez’ public reprimand was taken into consideration when deciding whether to renew his contract but noted that those incidents occurred two years ago.

“Plus, of course, what’s taken into consideration is the job that he’s done in the municipal court as far as the efficiency,” Villarreal said. “The commission felt strongly, unanimously, that he’s done such a great job within the municipal court as far as running it efficiently and making sure that fines are collected and making sure that people are adjudicated within a certain amount of time, as well as holding court three days out of the week and so on.”

According to Villarreal, Lopez had also taken steps to address those issues for which he was reprimanded. Those steps included Lopez no longer holding a joint Facebook account with his spouse.

“That’s a lesson learned too about Facebook and of course, taking precautionary measures that make sure it doesn’t affect our professional careers as well,” Villarreal said. “That goes across the board for anyone, in general: how Facebook can sometimes come back and a post or sharing of a post can have implications in our professional careers as well.”

The mayor reiterated that Lopez had the full support of the city commissioners.

“Everybody felt comfortable and confident that he’s doing a great job as far as the municipal court,” he said. “So yes, it is something that we looked into and made sure that it has been addressed considering that, again, it occurred two years ago and everybody felt strongly about keeping him on board.”