Judge disqualified from hearing Mission election contest

Thanks to state law, Mission Mayor Armando O’Caña won’t have to worry about filing a motion to recuse the judge presiding over the election contest filed against him last week.

Former Mayor Norberto “Beto” Salinas, who O’Caña unseated in a June 9 runoff election by 157 votes, sued O’Caña on July 18, contesting the election results.

The case was randomly assigned to the 93rd District Court, leading O’Caña to take issue with its judge, Jaime Tijerina, previously serving as deputy city attorney from August 2015 to June 2018, during Salinas’ tenure. This prompted O’Caña to consider filing a motion to remove Tijerina from the case.

The Texas Election Code, however, automatically disqualifies Tijerina from presiding over the election contest not because of his former association with the city, but because the 93rd judicial district includes the “territory covered by a contested election,” per state law.

When that happens, a county’s district clerk “shall promptly call the filing to the attention of the judge,” according to Section 231.004 of the Texas Election Code, so a special judge can be appointed to hear the case.

Hidalgo County District Clerk Laura Hinojosa notified Tijerina of this disqualification July 20, according to Nelda Palacios, the clerk’s chief deputy, two days after the lawsuit’s filing.

The next step was for Tijerina to “promptly request the presiding judge of the administrative judicial region to assign a special judge to preside in the contest,” according to the code.

The Fifth Administrative Judicial Region said it received Salinas’ petition for election contest shortly before 5 p.m. Tuesday from Tijerina’s staff.

Judge Missy Medary, of Nueces County, who serves as the fifth region’s presiding judge, is expected to decide Wednesday which special judge will hear the case.

msmith@themonitor.com