Monday, April 24, 2006

Vioxx Verdict

As you probably know, the Vioxx lawsuit in Rio Grande City attracted national attention -- especially once jurors rendered a $32 million verdict ($7 million in actual damages and $25 million in punitive damages) against Merck, the maker of the now-recalled painkiller.

Over at, a legal blog, attorney Ted Frank, director of the pro-business American Enterprise Institute's Liability Project, mentions the lack of evidence that the medication even caused the death of the man whose family sued.
Not just that Leonel Garza was a 71-year-old smoker who was overweight, had high cholesterol, and previous had both a heart attack and a quadruple bypass, yet was awarded $7 million in "compensatory" damages.

But the fact of the matter is that there is no documentary evidence that Garza was even taking Vioxx. Garza never had a prescription for Vioxx [but had received samples of the drug from his doctor].
Frank also points out the plaintiff's political and family connections to the Starr County jury pool.
Mr. Garza's family was well-known in Starr County, where the case was tried; a huge percentage of the jury pool indicated they knew his family. But Merck failed in its efforts to remove the case to a federal court where the case could be tried fairly, because the plaintiffs had fraudulently joined the two doctors as defendants [link in the original post], even though they dropped them from the case.
Frank needs to understand that we do things a little bit differently in the Valley. Of course, an appeals court will likely reduce the verdict anyway.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Texas Taliban

Before the United States toppled the Taliban government in Afghanistan, that country had a Ministry of Virtue and Vice to ensure the people didn't do anything immoral (that is, have fun).

Texas has its own version of the fun police, the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (motto: We're like Baptists, but with badges and guns).

The TABC made headlines recently for arresting people who were (horrors!) drunk in bars. Not driving or attempting to drive, mind you; just drunk. These Barney Fife-wannabes even arrested hotel guests at the hotel bar. Guess that allowing them to walk back to their rooms is too dangerous.

As the Austin American-Statesman said in an editorial last month, the operation "makes the agency look lazy and the state look silly." The Dallas Convention and Visitors Bureau rightly fears that this asinine program will drive away tourists and conventions.

And testimony from a recent legislative hearing on the TABC shows just how stupid this agency is. State Sen. John Whitmire -- who usually supports the agency -- called agents a bunch of "cowboys" for wearing combat fatigues in these bar roundups.

Let's go ahead and save the state some money by disbanding this waste of taxpayer dollars. Let local cops enforce drinking laws -- hopefully with a little more discretion and a lot less attitude than these goons at the TABC.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Colonia Enforcement

San Antonio Express-News reporter Jesse Bogan takes a look at colonias in Cameron County. It turns out purchasers can't live on their land because colonia developers don't have the necessary infrastructure -- like water and sewage systems -- on the land they sell. One family bought a parcel of land and couldn't move in for a year because the land didn't have a septic tank.

Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid is helping this family with a lawsuit against the developer, but where are the state and county prosecutors?

The story says neither the Texas Attorney General's office nor the Cameron County District Attorney's office has done anything to enforce compliance with the regulations.
The subdivision is among the largest of 17 in Cameron County in which the seller failed to install water or wastewater utilities, leaving that expense to the buyer. No action has been taken against the sellers despite legal tools at the disposal of both the county and the state — and full awareness by both of what was happening.
"If it would have been enforced, we would have done it," the developer tells the Express-News. In other words, he will continue to get away with noncompliance.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Vote Fraud Cases Dismissed

The day after he wins re-election, Hidalgo County District Attorney Rene Guerra asks the judge to drop the charges against two people indicted in last summer's voter fraud case in McAllen.

One of them is Othal Brand Jr., who managed his dad's 2005 campaign for mayor. The other is Jose "Joey" Eliseo Lopez, a politiquero. According to The Monitor:

Judge Rose Guerra Reyna, of the 206th state District Court, dismissed those charges Wednesday at the request of Hidalgo County’s top prosecutor, longtime District Attorney Rene Guerra, who made an unusual courtroom appearance to personally make the request for dismissal.
Guerra tells KURV 710 Talk Radio the cases had to go
"because I do not have a firm belief that I can prosecute either one on those charges. The recordings that were publicized were of such quality that I could not determine who was the solicitor and who was being solicited."
Big surprise. Guerra's never been slow to offer excuses when it comes to avoiding high-profile cases.

Now I'm glad to see the charge against Brand go away, seeing as how he videotaped the whole thing at the behest of the Texas Rangers. But then Guerra sinks the charges against Lopez, who was caught on that tape promising votes for money. And the DA does this AFTER the election. Now that his job is secure.

Frankly, it's a little insulting. Most politicians would wait at least a month or so, in order to keep it from looking so obvious to voters.

But what does Guerra care? He can coast to retirement now, and if we don't like it, too bad.

Lopez still faces a theft charge in relation to the scandal, and eight others still face charges as well.

Kinky on the Campaign Trail

I get a chance to talk to independent candidate for Texas governor Kinky Friedman about immigration and the Valley (a little bit) during last week's appearance at St. Mary's University.

My interview with him appears in this week's edition of The Paper of South Texas.

He's got his act down pat. My favorite quip from the Kinkster: "How can you look at the Texas Legislature and still believe in intelligent design?"

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Another Four Years of Indifference

24-year incumbent Rene Guerra easily holds off challenger Alma Garza in Tuesday's Democratic primary runoff for district attorney. On election night, a musical tune drifts through the air in Hidalgo County along with ... another sound.

According to the county elections office, Guerra snagged 55.15 percent of the vote -- 12,461 ballots to Garza's 10,135 votes in a race that saw a whopping 8.31 percent voter turnout.

In a serious refusal to accept reality, Garza tells The Monitor she won't concede and is thinking about a recount. The newspaper also reports the Guerra campaign is "celebrating, dancing the evening away at The Echo Hotel in Edinburg." That would explain the music.

That other noise you hear? Irene Garza spinning in her grave.

Hidalgo County DA Election

The runoff between Hidalgo County District Attorney Rene Guerra, an incumbent holding more baggage than the carousel at McAllen Miller International Airport, and challenger Alma Garza, a cadidate with enough issues of her own to fill the newsstand at the terminal, concludes today.

Some in Hidalgo County trot out the cliche, "Better the devil you know," as a reason to vote for Guerra. But after 24 years, maybe it's time for a new tormentor.

The Monitor reports some 10,000 voters cast ballots during the early voting period, while Hidalgo County Elections Administrator Teresa Navarro expects another 8-10K to show up at the polls today.

The McAllen newspaper also chimes in with an editorial on "Election Day Mud Slinging" with way too understated a conclusion:
Democracy in Hidalgo County has been noted for its occasional bad odor in the past, and the recent indictments of local politiqueras for alleged past misdeeds have done nothing to freshen the smell. But the actions of [County Sheriff Lupe] Treviño and Navarro are a hopeful sign that dirty tricks will not be tolerated this Election Day.
Politics in South Texas doesn't have an "occasional bad odor;" it stinks to high heaven. And we need more than just a sign that dirty tricks won't be tolerated. We need action. But that's not likely to come from within the county.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Maybe They Didn't Get the Memo

Despite a report that Monday's immigration protest was canceled, some students in McAllen hit the streets today anyway.

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of people rally all over the U.S. to voice their disapproval of current immigration policies.

And for all the haters whining that illegal immigrants don't pay taxes and sponge off government social programs, talk show host Tony Snow shows how they actually help the economy:
Princeton University sociologist Douglas S. Massey reports that 62 percent of illegal immigrants pay income taxes (via withholding) and 66 percent contribute to Social Security. Forbes magazine notes that Mexican illegals aren't clogging up the social-services system: only 5 percent receive food stamps or unemployment assistance; 10 percent send kids to public schools.
So there.

See the blog South Texas Chisme for more about the immigration protests.

Local Protest Canceled

Immigrant rights supporters across the country take to the streets today -- but not in McAllen. The organizer of the local event cancels the demonstration because he's worried that high school students might ditch class to join the protest. Sounds like another civics lesson to me.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Migrant Series Wins Award

I know it's been a long time since my last post, but I've been kinda busy recently with school. But enough about me.

The Texas Associated Press Managing Editors announces its 2006 award winners, and some Rio Grande Valley journalists take home prizes. (The Texas APME awards are like the print version of the Texas Emmy awards.)

Most significantly, Victoria Hirschberg and Joel Martinez of The Monitor land top honors in the Class AAA Feature Series category for P'al Norte, their series of stories following migrant farmworkers from the Valley to Wisconsin. Congratulations to Joel and Victoria, who worked long and hard to bring us this story.

In addition, Juan Carlos Sanchez of El Nuevo Heraldo in Brownsville was a finalist for Star Designer of the Year and wins News Page Design by an Individual in Class A; the Brownsville Herald's Kevin Garcia earns top honors in the Short Feature category for Class AA; and the Herald's Kris Holland takes first in Feature Photography for that division.

Way to go, people!

ADDENDUM: I can't find anything about The Monitor online, but several other Herald staffers receive APME awards, including talented investigative journalists Sergio Chapa (second place for Star Investigative Report of the Year) and Emma Perez-Treviño (honorable mention in the same category). Also, Daniella Mugica of La Frontera (The Monitor's Spanish-language sister newspaper) earns first place for Feature Page Design by an Individual in Class A.

ADDENDUM 2: The Valley Morning Star brings home some prizes as well. Photo editor Joe Hermosa (spot news photo), reporter Fernando del Valle (short features) and graphics artist Albert Saldana (infographic) earn second-place honors, and regional health and environment reporter Melissa McEver garners honorable mention in Features.

ADDENDUM 3: The Monitor finally has a story in Monday's paper mentioning its staff members winning awards. In addition to Hirschberg and Martinez, graphics editor Eddie Mirza earns second place in infographics; book critic Martin Winchester takes second in commentary and criticism; Jason McDaniel gets honorable mention for spot sports story; Matt Whittaker earns HM in business reporting and La Frontera's Edgardo Gonzalez gets honorable mention for news page design.