Judge requests more evidence in McAllen schools election contest

EDINBURG — After about two hours of oral arguments, District Judge Romeo Flores on Wednesday requested that more evidence be presented with regard to a McAllen school district election contest before making a decision.

This allows for the attorneys to move forward with finding evidence.

Gina Karam Millin filed a petition for an election contest in June against school board member Tony Forina, following a closely contested race in May in which he defeated her by 12 votes in the race for Place 4.

Forina had received 2,759 votes to her 2,747.

Allegations Karam Millin levied in her petition include a “very damaging” curriculum audit that was presented to school administration in early 2019 but not publicly released until after the May election, improper notice of polling locations and the district allocating resources to promote Forina, while excluding the challenger.

All of the board members were present for the hearing, with the exception of board President Marco Suarez.

The Hidalgo County Elections Department, which the school district contracts for elections, is also accused of improper action, according to the petition.

Forina’s attorney, Gilberto Hinojosa, argued the district court lacked jurisdiction as per the Texas Election Code.

“I think the judge just … wants to hear everything at one time, see what they have and then he’ll make a decision,” Hinojosa said. “What I was trying to do is show the judge that there’s certain claims that are not proper in an election contest.”

This includes the allegations surrounding the election day bomb threat, improper notice of polling locations and improper conduct of Hidalgo County.

Karam Millin’s attorney, Ronald Hole, said the court does have jurisdiction to hear and make a decision on the case and he will need to substantiate the allegations with proper evidence in a future hearing.

“We felt that he (the judge) had jurisdiction. This isn’t the time to litigate whether we’re right or wrong, it’s just whether the court had jurisdiction to hear it, basically the judge said he did,” Hole said after the hearing.

Hole’s arguments ultimately carried the day, as the case will move to its next stage.

“We’re finally going to be able to take some dispositions, get some discovery and find out about the allegations. Basically the judge said we could go forward with our allegations, so that’s what we’re going to try to prove,” Hole said.

Despite filing open records requests, he was getting “stonewalled” in finding the evidence for the claims made in the petition, Hole said during the hearing.

The “improper notice of polling locations” became a major source of discussion on Wednesday.

According to the petition filed, there were three early voting locations, while a publication posted listed six locations on Election Day. Karam Millin alleges that the voters who voted in unlisted polling locations outside the school district boundaries were “not legally authorized” or “were not qualified” to engage in that election.

Karam Millin’s attorney also requested Hidalgo County Elections Administrator Yvonne Ramón through a subpoena, but another employee acted as a witness.

Debated was whether terminology on some of the notices, which read “districtwide,” could have been misleading, were “fraudulently” posted or an error. Other examples show “countywide” polling locations.

Whereas Hinojosa argued on Forina’s behalf that any polling location in Hidalgo County is “fair game” as in accordance with the Hidalgo County Elections Department, he also said they did properly publicize the locations and that no one was prevented from voting.

After both attorneys questioned the witness, the judge asked the attorneys to bring more evidence before making a decision.

“These kinds of claims are not to be brought in an election contest… it has to be an election matter before you can make it affect the election,” Hinojosa said after the meeting. Someone being prevented from voting is an example of this, he added.

Hole also filed a subpoena for trustee Daniel Vela to testify in court but he did not take the stand on Wednesday despite his presence at the courthouse.

The judge can declare the winner of the race, call for the results to be void or uphold the current result in a following hearing, Hole said.

According to the docket, a merit trial is scheduled for Dec. 4.

jhoang@themonitor.com