Former county commissioner entangled in JP’s preferential treatment case

A former Hidalgo County commissioner’s traffic citation case was reviewed as part of a State Commission on Judicial Conduct investigation that led to an April 26 public reprimand of a La Feria justice of the peace accused of dismissing traffic citations for family, friends and constituents.

Joseph Palacios, a former Precinct 4 county commissioner, was one of three people whose cases were reviewed by the judicial conduct commission. The review came after two former clerks of Precinct 5 Cameron County Justice of the Peace Mike Trejo, of Place 3, filed a complaint sometime last year.

The complaint alleged Trejo “would regularly recommend dismissal traffic citations as favors for family, friends and other local constituents that would be accompanied to his court by a local musician named Fruity Villarreal,” a political supporter of the judge.

Palacios was cited for speeding in May 2017 for allegedly driving 71 mph in a 55 mph zone, according to court documents the judicial conduct commission reviewed, and in June of that year, the Cameron County District Attorney’s Office filed a motion to dismiss the case in the interest of justice.

Reached Tuesday, Palacios said he had no recollection of being cited for speeding that year in the La Feria area.

“I don’t know how that could be,” he said of his name appearing in the reprimand.

Palacios denied knowing Trejo or Villarreal and said had he received a traffic citation he would have contacted the court “immediately” in order to pay the citation, but that he doesn’t recall doing so.

Cameron County court records, however, indicate a class C misdemeanor was filed against a Joseph Palacios of Edinburg in May 2017 for going 71 mph in a 55 mph zone. The address listed for the defendant corresponds to the address on Palacios’ previous campaign finance reports, and the date of dismissal by a prosecutor is listed as June 8, 2017, the same date noted in the reprimand.

The original citation the judicial conduct commission reviewed, which was issued by a Cameron County constable, also lists the same cell phone number The Monitor used to contact Palacios Tuesday.

The State Commission on Judicial Conduct ordered Trejo complete 20 hours of instruction with a mentor, finding he “failed to follow the law and exhibited incompetence in the law when he knowingly pulled traffic citations that were pending in his court for the purpose of having ADA Rene Garza file a motion to dismiss the case and/or provide other preferential treatment,” according to the reprimand.

Garza, a Cameron County assistant district attorney who reported to the justice of the peace courts, testified before the commission that Trejo’s court personnel would give him a folder of cases that the judge had pulled for Garza’s “consideration.” Garza would then review the files and take what he believed to be the appropriate action, writing the judge’s initial, “mt,” next to the reason for dismissal on the cases he recommended be dismissed.

The state’s motion to dismiss Palacios’ misdemeanor case notes the cause for dismissal as: “Interest of Justice/MT.”

Cameron County District Attorney Luis Saenz said in a statement that “a review of the dismissals filed by ADA Rene Garza revealed that said dismissals were proper and within Mr. Garza’s discretion.”

Trejo denied the allegations against him in a statement released Monday, which read, “I have never given ‘special consideration’ to any friend or family member. The opinion did not identify any alleged friend or family member.”

The statement also noted that because he is not an attorney it is not “unreasonable for (him) to rely on the county’s legal authorities.”

Trejo, however, said he would comply with “whatever procedures are decided upon by the proper authorities” and that he welcomes the additional educational hours required by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct as he remains “dedicated to dispensing justice in a fair and equitable manner.”