By MICHAEL RODRIGUEZ
Attack ads prevalent in the race between 357th State District Judge Oscar X. Garcia and challenger Juan Magallanes continue to intensify as the incumbent alleged libel in an advertisement his opponent purchased for publication in the San Benito News and Port Isabel-South Padre PRESS.
The advertisement in question, paid for by Magallanes, appeared in the Oct. 23 and 26 editions of the PRESS and the News and questioned Garcia’s handling of sexual abuse cases the judge presided over.
Specifically, Magallanes charges that Garcia “did not follow the law” when not requiring defendants convicted of indecency with a child, aggravated assault of a child and continuous sexual abuse of a child under 14 to register as sex offenders. In support of as much, Magallanes provided court records from the 357th that state, “Sex Offender Registration Requirements do not apply to the Defendant,” in Garcia’s cases.
“These defendants are free to operate buses, taxis and amusement rides,” Magallanes’ advertisement reads. “Our children are not safe when sexual predators can operate buses, taxis, and amusements rides. Our community is note safe when a judge refuses to obey the law. Texas law requires these defendants to register as sex offenders. Judge Oscar X. Garcia refused to follow the law, when he didn’t require these defendants to register!”
In response, Garcia faxed a letter, under his campaign letterhead, on Tuesday, Oct. 28 to the News and the Press “requesting” that the publications “cease and desist publishing this libelous ad in the future.”
In his letter, Garcia alleged, “It (Magallanes’ advertisement) is libelous because it is an outright lie that my opponent is aware of. All sex offenders are ordered in open court to register as sex offenders. The judgments referred to in the ad have all been corrected to accurately reflect the court’s ruling.”
Garcia, however, was combative on Friday when asked why he believed Magallanes’ advertisement was libelous. And when attempting to gain comment from Garcia with regard to the nature of his and Magallanes’ attack ads, inquiries were met with avoidance.
“You guys do whatever you want,” Garcia said, disregarding multiple questions seeking his opinion and rationale in alleging that Magallanes’ advertisement was libelous. “I’m just letting you know what my position on that type of ad is. If he (Magallanes) runs it again, then the ball’s back in my court.”
The judge went on to quote information in his attack ads against Magallanes that ties the challenger to disgraced former 404th State District Judge Abel Limas, who is serving a 72-month prison sentence for racketeering. Garcia cites in his advertisements that Magallanes gave Limas a $30,000 loan and is, as a result, “part of the problem.” But Garcia continued to rehash court transcripts from the Limas case – this despite not being in question – when asked to clarify conjecture in his advertisements that was similar to what he deemed libelous in Magallanes’ ad.
After speaking over this reporter’s repeated attempts to gain such clarification, Garcia abruptly ended the telephone interview after quipping, “You’ve already made up your mind. Write the story you wanna write. You’re not being objective at all. You’ve got a certain story you want to write. Well, write it.”
Magallanes responded to Garcia’s accusations of libel by criticizing the judge’s understanding of the law.
“I have all the judgments in my hand to back up my advertisement,” Magallanes said, adding, “(Garcia’s) trying to intimidate everybody by saying not to run the ad again because it’s libelous. It shows his total lack of knowledge of the law. He’s not even on top of that issue. I have seven judgments with his signature, and I have the forms from the administrative office of the state of Texas, which is in charge of promulgating all their forms and everything needed for each court to fill out when they handle a matter – whether it be civil or criminal. If you compare it to the judgment that I have, you’ll see that he didn’t do that right.”
When asked to comment on Garcia’s attack ads charging that Magallanes is a “problem” for loaning Limas $30,000, Magallanes said, “That’s his campaign: Guilt by association – ‘If I can get the voter to believe that because of this loan that (Magallanes) gave (Limas), and that he was part of this corruption, then I’m in like Flynn.’ That’s been the strategy from day one.”
Magallanes added, “My attack is on his performance. I’m not attacking his character. I’m not trying to associate him with any wrongdoing. I’m just attacking his performance. The other thing is that in order to be libeled or slandered, it has to be done maliciously, and I have not done anything malicious. I have just shown what his own records in the courtroom show — public records.”
Furthermore, Magallanes pointed to Garcia’s letter identifying corrections to the judgments that did not require defendants convicted of sexual abuse of children to register as sex offenders as vindication that the former’s advertisement was indeed factual.
“He should know that he cannot correct a judgment on his own,” Magallanes said of his opponent. “Once you enter a judgment a certain way, it’s gotta be corrected by a motion. It’s called a motion for a judgment nunc pro tunc, which says that you’re asking the court to correct a judgment… You’re not asking to re-litigate the whole issue.”
Magallanes said he informed the Cameron County District Attorney’s Office of the judgments in question and sought clarification before running his advertisement.
“What I did, out of abundance of caution, is I informed the District Attorney that this is what I found, this is what I’m doing. Am I right or am I wrong?” Magallanes said. “The DA’s office said that now they have to file a motion for judgment nunc pro tunc to correct all these judgments, and that they’re now concerned and have to go back and see how many there are like that. So (Garcia) can’t correct it on his own; it’s gotta be through a motion by the District Attorneys’ Office to be able to do that…I stand by what I said.”
As of press time, the News was still awaiting response from the DA’s office to confirm Magallanes’ account.