The 13th Court of Appeals dismissed an appeal on Friday that was filed by an attorney representing Everardo “Ever” Villarreal in a heated election contest marked by bribery allegations over a county seat.
The appeal challenged a motion to dismiss the election contest — filed by Precinct 3 Hidalgo County Commissioner Joe Flores — that was denied.
“They recognized that they treated this as if it was some regular lawsuit and not an election contest,” Orlando Garcia, who represents Flores, said. “They played these games, but they failed to follow some of the rules. They weren’t timely in their appeal. Their TCPA (Texas Citizens Participation Act) motion is not going to be heard. They’re filing frivolous things. They do not want to go to court.”
The dismissal was but one of a series of hurdles that Flores’ attorney has had to overcome, including the COVID-19 pandemic, delaying the contest that’s been filed since March.
A court date has been tentatively set for July 20, but there is a pending motion for summary judgement that has not yet been ruled upon.
With the dismissal, Garcia and his client can now go forward with their election contest, “as the election code requires,” Garcia said. “These guys have been trying to play games for a while.”
“The thing is they’re trying to run out the clock because they’ve got time constraints here,” Garcia said. “I’ll tell you what, even if we couldn’t make it in time to get Mr. Flores back on the ballot, I would’ve had the trial even if it ran past time just so that all the evidence that we gathered and the people can still say what they’re going to say on the record, just to show that the practices of the campaign violated the election code.”
Flores lost the March Democratic Primary to Villarreal by 92 votes. In his petition, filed on March 23, he alleged “illegal votes” being cast.
A total of 19,982 votes were cast in the race, with Villarreal earning 10,037 to the incumbent’s 9,945, according to the Hidalgo County Elections Department.
Although Garcia made voter bribery claims, he stopped short of implicating Villarreal directly.
“There are people that were paid. They were paid to vote for him. Those people that paid them transported them to the polling sites. Then they were assisted by a woman who assisted close to 50 other people, a lot of whom voted for Mr. Villarreal,” Garcia said. “Do I know that Mr. Villarreal had directed them? No. It doesn’t matter. An illegal vote is an illegal vote.”
On the other hand, Villarreal’s attorney continues to allege that Flores and his representatives are paying exuberant sums of money to witnesses to testify against Villarreal.
“I really don’t understand why they want to go to trial so quickly considering all the evidence proves a criminal conspiracy on their side paying people to testify,” Javier Peña, who represents Villarreal said. “Their own investigator admitted to paying up to 80-something people $300 a pop to testify in this case.”
“Running a case on bribed evidence is not good for Joe’s side at all, not just for this case, but for his future and his freedom,” Peña continued. “It doesn’t bode well for them, but I’m sure they’ve got their own strategy.”
Garcia said that he hopes to have the case wrapped up soon so that a new election can take place.
“We’re trying to accomplish a new election at the very least — a new election that is going to be quicker,” Garcia said. “There’s going to be less time to prepare. One maybe with the proper orders and procedures in place to preclude and prevent the type of systematic illegal assistance that went on. Of course, you wouldn’t expect that anybody’s going to get paid to vote, that the court doesn’t have to issue an order saying, ‘please don’t pay anybody to vote.’ At least a new election where after what is determined in this lawsuit, that will be very much discouraged and things will flow more naturally without that type of undue influence. That’s what we hope for.”