A judge granted a temporary restraining order against Place 5 San Juan City Commissioner Pete Garcia on Tuesday after his political opponent alleged that Garcia has spread defamatory statements against him in order to affect the outcome of the ongoing runoff election.
Marco “Markie” Villegas is currently involved in the June 8 runoff against Garcia. In a complaint filed in the 206th State District Court Tuesday, Villegas alleges that Garcia knowingly published a flyer — both online and in print — that lists nearly a dozen crimes allegedly committed by Villegas.
However, Villegas argues that the crimes were not committed by him, but by another man of the same name who is approximately 10 years older.
“The Defendant (Garcia) actively did a search for records that would make his political opponent look bad,” the complaint reads. “In his search he found some arrest records of a third person that had the same name as the Plaintiff (Villegas), but that is where the similarities end.”
Reached by phone Tuesday afternoon, Pete Garcia said he was unaware of the TRO, but spoke of making posts on social media.
“I just asked a question. ‘Is this Markie Villegas?’ That’s about it,” Garcia said. “I put something out, but I put, ‘Is this Markie Villegas?’”
The flyer could still be seen on a Facebook page titled “Pete Garcia Campaign” as of Tuesday evening.
A May 24 post on the page bears a photo of Villegas and “Is this Markie Villegas?” next to a numbered list of crimes alleged to have occurred between May 1991 and October 2010.
The crimes range from failure to provide identification, to theft, DUI, engaging in organized crime and more.
The flyer cites Hidalgo and Harris County public records as the source of the list.
At the bottom, it reads “Vote Pete Garcia” in block letters.
Villegas’ attorney, Javier Peña, called the allegations made in the flyer “surprising.”
“You know elections get heated and there’s a high likelihood that mud’s going to get slung at one another, but it’s usually the truth, or it’s usually facts,” Peña said.
“This is completely made up. I haven’t seen something like this before that’s this blatant and this easy to … prove that it’s a lie.”
According to the stipulations of the TRO — which is valid for 14 days — Garcia must “remove such false posts from his social media pages.”
Too, he must not remove any comments or replies left to correct the allegations listed in the flyer, something which Peña said has happened since Villegas and his campaign first became aware of the posts.
“Every time it was posted that this is incorrect, the records are false … Pete would delete those comments — or whoever is running that Facebook page would delete those comments,” Peña said.
The TRO also sets out a June 10 court date when state District Judge Rose Guerra Reyna will decide whether to grant a temporary injunction.
That date comes two days after the Place 5 runoff will be decided. While that is of some concern to Peña, the attorney said he hopes the approval of the TRO will give voters a chance to make a fair decision in the race.
“We’re hoping that with the order to remove this from their Facebook page, at least voters will be able to make their decision without all this misleading information out there,” Peña said.
He added that Villegas intends to pursue a lawsuit against Garcia for damages for “defamation per se,” and that his client has evidence of additional alleged wrongdoing by Garcia and his campaign, including “election finance violations” and voter harvesting.
Those allegations are outlined in the TRO application, which names three people in addition to Garcia whom Villegas claims have engaged in “illegal and desperate actions to stay in power.”
Villegas, via the TRO application, alleges that Garcia has paid politiqueras to “harvest votes, drive voters to the polls and illegally ‘assist’ the voters.” Furthermore, he alleges that Garcia has watched as voters have cast their votes.
“Pete himself is going to the polls and is standing in front of voters as they vote, which is a clear violation of the election code,” Peña said Tuesday.
“I think it’s part of the story and if the judge wants to hear it (June 10), we’ll definitely have it available for the judge at that time,” Peña said.