Appellate court dismisses ex-justice’s lawsuit against Hidalgo County

A South Texas appeals court sided with Hidalgo County and dismissed former justice of the peace Mary Alice Palacios’ lawsuit against it Wednesday, blocking her attempt to seek back pay due to her suspension from the bench.

A Hidalgo County jury convicted Palacios on two counts of official oppression, a Class A misdemeanor, in 2011, but she was acquitted of the charges on appeal in 2014 by the 13th Court of Appeals — the same court that dismissed her lawsuit against the county — because it found there was insufficient evidence to support the jury’s finding that she had wrongfully incarcerated truant teens.

Palacios subsequently sued the county in 2017 in district court for back pay and benefits, arguing she was entitled to hundreds of thousands of dollars because the wrongful conviction resulted in her suspension from the bench and with it, the suspension of her salary.

While she didn’t specify the amount of the lost salary in her lawsuit, a Texas Association of Counties survey shows Hidalgo County justices of the peace earned $80,000 annually in 2014 in addition to a $10,000 car allowance. In 2011, Palacios was just a year into her four-year term, which was set to expire in December 2014.

The county attempted to block the lawsuit by arguing the court didn’t have jurisdiction to hear the case because government immunity protected it from being sued, but then-District Court Judge Rodolfo “Rudy” Delgado sided with Palacios, prompting the county to appeal Delgado’s decision.

In their memorandum opinion, appellate justices Nelva V. Rodriguez, Nora Longoria and Leticia Hinojosa ruled that Palacios “completely failed to meet her burden of showing that the county’s governmental immunity had been waived,” adding “there is no legislative act or statute that waives immunity in this suit.”

On Thursday, Palacios said, “I’m deeply disappointed but I respect the court’s ruling.”

She added that the past eight years since her 2010 arrest were “very hard” years but was ready to move on. When asked whether would she would ever run for justice of the peace again, having won all her elections since her 1999 appointment to the position, she said, “I’m going to wait and see.”

The county, through its attorney, also declined to comment.

In its judgement, the 13th Court of Appeals ordered that Palacios pay the costs of the appeal once the appellate process is finished.

Palacios could file a motion to reconsider or appeal the 13th court’s decision with the Texas Court of Appeals.

This story has been updated with remarks from Mary Alice Palacios.