Despite injunction, Edcouch candidate’s place on ballot uncertain

EDINBURG — Though a court granted an Edcouch political hopeful’s request for an injunction against the city, whether or not her name will appear on the November ballot remains uncertain.

Two weeks after receiving a certified letter notifying her that the city had rejected her candidate application and disqualified her from the Nov. 5 municipal election, Alicia Segura filed for a temporary restraining order to halt the city from taking any action against her candidacy.

The TRO was signed by County Court at Law No. 8 Judge Omar Maldonado just hours before a Sept. 5 Edcouch City Council meeting; however, the city was not officially served with the order until the following Monday.

As a result, the council proceeded to direct the city attorney to file for declaratory judgments against Segura and another candidate, Jose Calin Guzman — essentially, asking the courts to affirm the city’s decision to disqualify the candidates by ruling them ineligible to run.

But all that was put on pause once the city was served the TRO the following week. Instead, Edcouch opted to wait until Thursday’s court hearing and offered a novel response to Segura’s request for an injunction: the city would not oppose it, City Attorney Orlando Jimenez said.

“If she wants to continue with the restraining order in effect, then she does that at her own peril and we don’t object to that,” Jimenez told the court at the start of the hearing.

On the other side of the aisle, Segura’s attorney spoke up. But it wasn’t McAllen attorney Eric Jarvis — the attorney of record in the case who drafted Segura’s Sept. 5 TRO application — who stood in court Thursday. Instead, it was Javier Villalobos, who had, until December 2018, served as the Edcouch city attorney.

Villalobos was ousted by the city after a similar election-related legal kerfuffle involving Segura’s half-brother, Joel Segura. Joel Segura emerged victorious in that litigation and has since served on the city council.

Villalobos began by asking the court why not all the defendants named in the TRO were present. Though City Manager Victor Hugo de la Cruz had come to the hearing, no one from the city council was present, nor was Manuel Hernandez, the election administrator who had disqualified Segura.

Jimenez argued their absence was irrelevant since the city was not objecting to Segura’s request for an injunction.

Soon, it was the language in the request for injunction that became the sticking point for both sides.

Jimenez argued that the city was agreeing to the very narrow language in the TRO, which enjoined the city from violating election law and election code, and from disqualifying Segura as a candidate. The city was not violating the law, Jimenez argued.

And as for disqualifying Segura? The horse had already been let out of the barn when Segura received the city’s rejection letter on Aug. 22. The court could not, Jimenez argued, order the city to not do something it had already done, or to do something not originally requested in the TRO.

Judge Maldonado appeared to agree. “That doesn’t force the city from putting her on the ballot because … that requires a final judgment,” Maldonado said.

“It’s like saying, I’m prohibiting you from standing up, not asking you to sit down,” he said.

Villalobos argued that the TRO did indeed ask the court to order the city not to leave Segura’s name off the ballot. “Our understanding, or at the TRO, what it had in there is that she not be precluded from appearing on the ballot,” Villalobos said.

After some back and forth, Jimenez again reiterated that the city would not oppose the request for an injunction, based on the TRO and injunction applications “as is.”

“Is he telling us that the city’s not going to put her on the ballot, is that correct?” Villalobos asked.

“I’m not saying anything,” Jimenez said.

“I think that if you can read between the lines, you know, that’s exactly what they’re saying. Based on the way the language of the TRO is stated,” the judge said.

Before Maldonado could finish his sentence, Villalobos asked for him to make his ruling. “I’ll do whatever I need to do,” Villalobos said, referring to taking the proceeding to a higher court for further review.

After the hearing, Villalobos said Thursday’s ruling was actually a boon for his client, giving her a necessary piece of evidence should she decide to try for a writ of mandamus, wherein the city of Edcouch could be ordered to reinstate Segura as a candidate.

“At least we have that on record,” Villalobos said of the implication that the city will refuse to add Segura’s name to the ballot. “At least we have a little bit of argument and evidence, which is something we needed.”

For his part, Jimenez said the city will not interfere if Segura wants to stop the legal process, including the city’s attempt to have a judge decide her eligibility as a candidate. The city’s efforts to seek that declaratory judgment remain on hold.

“If we don’t go to court and you’re not declared eligible, then, you know, good luck with that,” Jimenez said.