HOUSTON — Amidst claims of illegal signature gathering and improper mailers in an East End justice of the peace race, a visiting senior judge ruled against a Houston Independent School Board trustee in her suit against the county Democratic Party for rejecting her application to be on the primary ballot.
HISD Trustee’s Diana Davila’s lawsuit, filed last week, stated that she had submitted a petition to the Harris County Democratic Party containing 310 signatures that would qualify her to be on the ballot, but had omitted printing the name of the person circulating the petitions in an affidavit on a single line at the bottom of each petition.
The Democratic Party chairwoman rejected many of the signatures on that count. She said that she could not decipher the names registered as those collecting the signatures and said Davila could not be on the ballot.
Judge J.D. Langley conceded in a Thursday court hearing that may be a technicality, but said he was hesitant to upend the election process or reverse the Democratic Party chairwoman.
“The court should stay away from it,” Langley said.
He also cited state statute that he interpreted as Davila having passed the deadline to amend her forms.
Langley was sympathetic to Davila, he said.
“There’s nothing fair in politics is what I’ve learned,” Langley said.
The court fight was over the race for justice of the peace Precinct 6, Place 2.
With no chance for Davila to be on the ballot, that leaves Angela Rodriguez — daughter of Armando Rodriguez, who is retiring from that justice of the peace seat — as the sole choice on the March ballot.
In heavily Democratic Harris County Precinct 6, the March primary generally serves as the de facto general election.
Davila’s attorney, Keith Gross, contended throughout the trial that his client’s signature pages were notarized and legal. He stated the collector’s name were on the pages, simply not on the bottom of the page. There is no law, he said, that states the name needs to be on the bottom of the page.
“Are they trying to win an election by circumventing the election code?” Gross asked the court. “They are trying to prevail on a technicality so [Rodriguez] can win an election without a vote of the people. That’s just wrong.”
Rodriguez’s attorney, Joe Matta, argued that Davila knew the rules of collecting signatures and should have followed them.
Indeed, he said, Davila had run for this position in the past and should have doubled down on knowing the election rules.
“This was not her first rodeo,” Matta said. “It’s mind boggling to see all these pages and and blank spaces in the space where it was required.”
Matta also found an individual on one of Davila’s signature pages who said he never signed it and said that the signature on Davila’s form was not his.
He is Rodriguez’s uncle, Carlos Rodriguez.
“I’ve never seen her in all my life,” Carlos Rodriguez said when Davila was pointed out to him. “Never.”
He turned to the judge and added: “My mother always told me, ‘Always respect the flag; always respect the law.’ I’m trying to be as honest as I can, judge.”
Matta also presented a Feliz Navidad mailer that Davila had sent to voters that he said broke election law rules. He said the mailer suggested that Davila was already a justice of the peace.
The judge did not rule on any of those claims.
Gross said that Davila was unlikely to appeal.
Trent Seibert can be reached at [email protected] or at 832-258-6119.