The State Commission on Judicial Conduct suspended 13th Court of Appeals Justice Rodolfo “Rudy” Delgado without pay Wednesday — about two hours after he was sworn-in to office while under federal indictment.
The suspension prohibits Delgado, charged with bribery while a state district court judge, from executing appellate justice duties, but allows him to retain the 13th Court of Appeals Place 4 seat without pay for now.
In February 2018, a federal grand jury in Houston indicted Delgado, then-93rd state District Court judge, on three counts of bribery and three counts of violating the Travel Act connected to cash bribes he allegedly accepted from an attorney working as a federal informant. The attorney paid Delgado $6,020 in exchange for personal recognizance bonds favoring his clients, who were subsequently released from jail as a result of the bribes, according to the indictment.
He pleaded not guilty to the six counts and additional conspiracy and obstruction of justice charges, in which federal prosecutors allege Delgado sent a text message to the informant — after he had accepted an envelope containing 75 bills — in an attempt to divert the investigation. In the text, Delgado claimed he was unaware the envelope contained $5,500 in cash instead of a check made to his appeals court campaign.
Delgado, whose term as an appellate justice began Jan. 1, took the oath of office in Edinburg at a ceremony held at noon Wednesday in the 13th Court of Appeals chamber, according to information provided by the court’s clerk. The commission’s chair then signed the suspension at 2:27 p.m. that day, saying the commission had again reviewed “facts and circumstances relating to the indictment.”
Delgado, who could not be reached for comment, has not indicated whether or not he plans to resign from the 13th Court of Appeals following the suspension.
In April 2018, Delgado resigned from presiding over the 93rd state District Court during the middle of his fourth term, following a separate commission suspension related to the federal indictment. He indicated the departure was “in the public’s best interest,” not an admission of guilt.
Though under federal indictment, Delgado, a Democrat, continued his bid for appellate justice and secured the position in November, when a majority of voters elected him to the 13th Court of Appeals, a 20-county district encompassing Hidalgo, Cameron and Willacy counties.
Jaime Tijerina, an attorney who sought the 13th Court of Appeals seat as a Republican in November, has since filed paperwork necessary for Gov. Greg Abbott to consider him for the appellate court position, should Delgado be finally convicted, removed or resign.
The two sought the Place 4 seat held by longtime Justice Nelda V. Rodriguez, who retired from the bench.
Abbott in June appointed Tijerina as 93rd state District Court judge to fill the vacancy left by Delgado’s resignation.
Asked if he believed Delgado should resign from the appeals court, Tijerina said it’s a “personal choice” needed to be made by Delgado.
“This is not a good situation for our community and the reputation that the community has,” Tijerina said, adding, “They can’t afford to have the case load moved around to five justices instead of six.”
Tijerina also applied to be considered for the seat left vacant by Dori Contreras, who vacated her seat after securing the 13th Court of Appeals Chief Justice position.
Currently, the 13th Court of Appeals is headed by Contreras and justices Gina Benavidez, Leticia Hinojosa and Nora Longoria — all Democrats. The Texas Constitution allows the governor to appoint an appellate justice in the event of a vacancy.
Delgado’s trial date is scheduled for Feb. 25 in Houston.