Tuesday, May 30, 2006

It's Getting Better

South Texas' reputation as a "judicial hellhole" may be coming to a close, the Corpus Christi Caller-Times reports.

Citing a nationwide report by the Pacific Research Institute, the article says Texas now ranks No. 1 in the country in lowest tort costs. This comes after voters OK'd Proposition 12, which caps noneconomic damages in medical malpractice lawsuits at $750,000 per claimant.

The Association of Trial Lawyers of America, however, takes issue with the institute's work. ATLA president Ken Suggs slams the study as "just another phony report bought and paid for by CEOs and big corporations* intent on lining their pockets with no regard for its real world impact on people." PRI fires back, calling the ATLA statement "an over-the-top, purple prose press release."

CONFESSION TIME: As opinion editor at The Monitor, I wrote editorials in favor of limiting the amount of noneconomic damages in medical malpractice cases. As a law student, I now see the other side of the argument: What about the victim who's been injured in such cases? As my torts professor points out when talking about the concept of suing for damages in the first place, why should the innocent party have to bear the loss because someone else did something wrong?

(*Freedom Communications, The Monitor's parent company, is one of many corporations that contributes to the think tank. No, the company didn't have anything to with me writing those editorials; I came up with them on my own and the editor and publisher approved them. If you're curious about who else funds PRI, read about it in this SourceWatch entry.)

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Museum Exhibit

Thanks to blogs, anyone with a grudge and Internet access (like me, for example) now has a forum in which to vent. And the Rio Grande Valley has its share of blogs addressing local issues.

There's El Rocinante, the granddaddy of South Texas blogs, in which Dr. G.F. McHale-Scully was railing against Brownsville politicians and the Brownsville Herald before blogging became a verb. A more recent arrival is Edinburg Politics, Joe Ochoa critic Earn My Vote's attempt to hold the newly re-elected Edinburg mayor accountable.

The latest example of a one-issue blog is At The Museum, written by someone going by the screen name Viva la Revolucion. This blogger concentrates on the taxpayer-subsidized International Museum of Art and Science in McAllen. Viva's not too happy with the current leadership at IMAS.

The author cites huge employee turnover as a sign something's not right at the museum, and the comments -- mostly anonymous and some unverifiable -- cite that and more problems with the facility.

IMAS has seen its share of troubles in recent years:
Now IMAS is up for reaccreditation with the American Association of Museums, Viva tells us. Has the facility locked up its problems, or are they still on display? Since McAllen taxpayers are supporting this troubled institution, they might want to take a closer look at what's going on.

Another Brick in the Wall

Reporter Sara Ines Calderon with the Brownsville Herald examines the congressional delusion of building a border fence at an estimated cost of $3.2 million per mile:
A 176-mile line of fencing between Brownsville and Laredo would cut through back yards, farmland, parks and downtown. Brownsville's border, unlike San Diego's, is integrated into city life. People live right on the border, go to parks on the border or work farmland there.

Hope Park, near downtown's Gateway International Bridge, is about 50 yards from the river. The proposed fence would stand inside it.
The Herald also fires off a great editorial on the immigration issue, slamming Texas' senators for not supporting Bush in his efforts to allow illegal immigrants to pursue citizenship:
We regret to say that this state's two senators, Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn, are siding with this extreme slice of their party. ...

What does this say about Hutchison and Cornyn when they choose to put party ideologue and pressure from the talk show crowd and conservative bloggers over a more balanced view of the immigration issue?
The editorial also points out how most of the wall-building hysteria comes from states that don't have a clue as to what border life is like:
It continues to amaze us how politicians from places like Alabama, Wisconsin and Iowa can be such ardent border fence builders when they know nothing about regions like the Rio Grande Valley, and even less about a community such as Brownsville.
If we really want to solve the immigration problem, we should allow free movement of citizens between Mexico, the United States and Canada -- just like NAFTA intended:
Free movement would be more secure than our current system, removing Mexican workers' incentive to swim across the Rio Grande and allowing U.S. Customs and Border Protection to track everybody who's entering the country legitimately, with 100% assurance that anybody who crosses the border in secret is up to no good. ...

In fact, an open borders policy encourages almost as many immigrants to go back home as to stay. Without the risk of being unable to reenter the United States, millions of undocumented workers would be free to return to Mexico.
However, don't expect a commonsense argument like this to convince the ideologues, fearmongers and racists. To them, the more we become like a police state, the better.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Safe -- For Now

Remember that family the feds wanted to break up by deporting the father, mother and two oldest siblings? Well, it looks like they get a reprieve for the time being. Monitor reporter Travis Whitehead reports:
They were scheduled for a hearing Friday morning at the U.S. Department of Justice’s Immigration Court in Harlingen. But when Ruben and Maricela Gloria and their two older children, Ruben Jr. 15, and Blanca, 17, showed up, they learned the court had no documents on their case.
The feds, however, can still file the immigration charges, so the Glorias aren't out of the woods yet.

The couple brought their two kids to the U.S. 14 years ago and overstayed their visa. In the meantime, they had four more children and built a life for the family in Rio Grande City -- until an overzealous sheriff''s deputy accused the two oldest siblings of smuggling illegal immigrants. Starr County deputies called the Border Patrol, and pretty soon the two kids and their parents were looking at deportation.

On a related note, Hidalgo County Sheriff Lupe Treviño says deputies won't question anyone about their citizenship:
"Deputies shall not make inquiries as to the citizenship status of any person, nor will deputies detain or arrest persons solely on the belief that they are in this country illegally," the policy states.
This policy makes sense for several reasons:
  1. If someone who's here illegally has to worry about local cops questioning their citizenship, they will be reluctant to talk to police if they're a crime victim, or even a witness.
  2. Besides, immigration enforcement is a job for the feds, not local law enforcement. They're busy enough handling other crimes.
  3. Local law enforcement asking people for identification papers is something that the former Soviet Union did. It shouldn't happen in the (supposedly) Land of the Free.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Futuro McAllen Founder Dies

Rick De Julio, a longtime McAllen history buff and community advocate, died on Wednesday. De Julio, among other things, helped found the community watchdog group Futuro McAllen.

He was very interested in the history of McAllen and Hidalgo County. I met him when I was opinion editor at The Monitor; he wrote a guest column that I published.

As radio station KURV (where he once worked) notes:
Rick De Julio was the chairman of the McAllen Historical Center and the motivating force behind the creation of the McAllen Historical Commission. He was a founder of the community development group Futuro McAllen and worked tirelessly to preserve local building as historic sites. ...

Nedra Kinerk with Futuro McAllen credits De Julio's tenacity for ensuring that McAllen celebrated its Centennial on time ....

Among De Julio's achievements to preserve local history, he was able to list the Sam and Margerie Miller house on 15th St. in McAllen as a Texas Historic Landmark.
One thing that strikes me: I read his newspaper obituary (second from the top) and discovered he was almost 59 years old. But when we met, his appearance and personality led me to believe he was at least 15 years younger than that. My condolences to his family and friends.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Church Fraud in the Valley?

A Brownsville lawyer investigates "alleged mishandling" of money for starting up Baptist churches in the Rio Grande Valley.

The Baptist General Convention of Texas hires business attorney Diane Dillard, who teaches business law at UT-Brownsville, to see whether the funds were "misapplied in the Valley either in a significant number of isolated instances or as a part of a more coordinated process," The Baptist Standard reports:

Suspicions surround the large number of cell-group missions reported as church-starts in the lower Rio Grande Valley from 1996 to 2003. Critics allege some church-starts that received financial assistance from the BGCT never existed, and some individuals profited by claiming to start multiple, nonexistent “mystery missions.”

In 1996, the BGCT Annual listed 92 churches and 38 missions in Rio Grande Valley Baptist Association. By 2003, the annual reported 105 churches and 240 missions in the association. Of those 240 missions, 151 listed as their sponsors six of the 10 churches that formed The Borderlands Baptist Association the following year. Listing as a mission in the BGCT Annual does not necessarily mean a congregation received BGCT funding.

Dillard has the help of another BrownTown lawyer, former U.S. prosecutor Michael Rodriguez, a partner in the law firm Rodriguez & Nicholas. The BGCT board OKs spending up to a hundred grand on the investigation, which a former pastor in Donna Donna has been requesting for years.

Well, at least the Diocese of Brownsville can point at another denomination and say, "See, Catholics aren't the only ones who are screwed up!"

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

No Vacancy

San Juan City Commissioners reject the plan to buy the San Juan Hotel at Tuesday night's meeting, Hector Gomez at RGV Politics reports.

Both RGV Politics and the San Juanistas noted from the beginning how this deal stunk:
  • PSJA school board member Roy Rodriguez bought the structure. The hotel was appraised at less than $275,000.
  • Once Rodriguez couldn't get rid of the building, he wanted San Juan taxpayers to take the bad investment off his hands for $575,000.
  • The two then-commissioners who pushed his plan at meetings, Rick Rodriguez and Pete Contreras, work for the PSJA school district (that is, the hotel owner is the two commissioners' boss).
The community activists played a big role in holding their elected officials accountable by protesting the purchase. They made the hotel an election issue, causing a shift in power with the May 13 election.

As Hector Gomez wrote, "This is one case where if we're promised more of the same after tonight's meeting, it's definitely a step in the right direction."

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

He Knew Jack Kennedy

Mission native Lloyd Bentsen, who fought in World War II and went on to make a name for himself in politics, has died, the Houston Chronicle reports:
Bentsen was a member of a prosperous Rio Grande Valley family, and almost everything he touched seemed to turn to gold, be it far-flung personal investments, the insurance company he founded in the 1950s or his political career, which stretched from being Hidalgo County judge immediately after World War II to taking a seat in the Cabinet during President Clinton's first administration in 1993.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who started out as a Democrat before switching to the GOP, orders flags lowered to half-staff to honor the Texas politician. Meanwhile, Republicans, Democrats and independents alike praise the former senator.

As Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis' running mate, Bentson uttered the immortal smackdown against Republican VP candidate Dan Quayle, "Senator, you are no Jack Kennedy," during the 1988 vice-presidential debate.

Interestingly, Bentsen served as Hidalgo County judge from 1946-48 before getting elected to Congress. He became a senator in 1970 before resigning to serve as Clinton's Treasury secretary.

Frankly, he had been out of the public spotlight for so long that I thought he died some time ago.

Monday, May 22, 2006

This Part

When members of the anti-immigrant crowd can't use facts or logic to back up their arguments, they trot out the snotty-sounding quip, "What part of 'illegal' do you not understand?"

Well, this part: How the federal government can tear apart a family of eight.
Maricela Gloria and her husband, Ruben Sr., immigrated here 14 years ago without getting legal paperwork. Four of their six children, Litzy; Daiyanara, 3; Keven, 6; and Larry, 11, are American citizens because they were born in the United States. They’ve never known any other life. Ruben Jr., 15, and Blanca, 17, although born in Mexico, were so young when they immigrated with their parents that they have no memory of that country. ...

Blanca Gloria, a junior at Rio Grande City High School, says they were driving home from a nearby store when they passed a Starr County sheriff’s deputy. Blanca Gloria says the deputy, who had caught several undocumented immigrants, stopped the two teenagers and accused them of being part of the smuggling operation. The youths didn’t have any identification; they were taken to their home just a few yards down the road, and the Border Patrol was called. Agents questioned them for several hours and learned the family was not part of the smuggling operation but were in the country illegally.
So now the feds want to deport Mom, Dad, Junior and Sis. These folks lived in Rio Grande City for years, working hard and paying taxes, not causing any trouble. If anyone thinks kicking two parents and two kids out of the country will make this nation safer or more prosperous, they're sadly mistaken.

Kudos to reporter Travis Whitehead of The Monitor for putting a human face on the immigration issue. (The Associated Press takes a look at the bigger picture today as well.)

ADDENDUM: The Washington Post mentions McAllen and Reynosa in a story on individuals and families whose lives straddle the border.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Just Like You Like It

Here's a new way to buy votes: with Whataburger gift certificates.

An unsuccessful Weslaco school board candidate claims his opponent gave $5 restaurant gift certificates to voters, NewsChannel 5 reports:
The certificates were inside envelopes. "You can see it reads: To Supporter, From Committee to re-elect Raymond Givilancz," said [Emilio] de los Santos.
Givilancz, however, tells the TV station he didn't do it:
"I didn't purchase anything. I didn't give any out. If somebody was doing that on their own, that's up to them," he said.
Right. The candidate of a small-scale school board campaign had no idea what was going on. The complaints go to the Hidalgo County District Attorney's Office, so don't expect much to come of this.

In other voter fraud news, a jury acquits two San Juan women, buying the defense attorney's claim that "They're not all there, and these politiqueras took advantage of them."
The mother and daughter were taken to vote on Election Day after already casting ballots during the early voting period by Cindy Rodriguez, the wife of San Juan City Commissioner Bobby Rodriguez, and Vicki Loredo, the wife of former mayor and PSJA school district Assistant Superintendent Robert Loredo.
Of course, the politiqueras themselves never faced charges.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Your World. Delivered (to the NSA).

The phone companies that violated customers' privacy -- and the law -- by giving phone records to the National Security Agency face a slew of lawsuits, including a couple of note here in Texas.

As the Nueces County-centric blog South Texas Chisme notes, high-powered Corpus Christi trial lawyer Mikal Watts (whose firm has branches in McAllen and Brownsville) takes on telecom giant AT&T (the company formerly known as Southwestern Bell), suing Ma Bell for turning our phone records over to the feds without a warrant. Two other Corpus firms and a Houston firm sign on to litigate the class-action claim against the San Antonio-based corporation, filed in a Corpus Christi federal court.

In another class action, out of Austin, Texas Civil Rights Project director Jim Harrington joins another lawyer, a financial advisor and the alternative weekly Austin Chronicle to take on AT&T.

For anyone naive enough to think that it's OK for the government to spy on everyone because they're looking for terrorists, think about this: Not only is this a gross intrusion on our privacy, but I guaran-goddam-tee that sooner or later the government will use this spying to track down and punish anyone who disagrees with it.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

But How Will His Store Remain in Business?

PSJA schools superintendent Arturo Guajardo says he'll retire this summer.** The six-year head of the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District says he wants to spend more time with his wife and family.

Considering the FBI raided his home and office** -- along with those of several school board members -- Guajardo's smart to get in that quality time while he still can. After all, one board member, Guadalupe Jaime Santa Maria, already pleaded guilty to conspiring to receive bribes from contractor Alonso Cardenas in exchange for votes.

Of course, Guajardo still needs income. If he longer runs the district, he could rely on his hardware store, Screw & Bolt (wait ... it's San Juan Bolt & Supply -- screw & bolt is what he does to taxpayers), which somehow seemed to land all sorts of contracts** with the PSJA school district, sometimes coming in just pennies under competing bids.

The school board allowed Guajardo to profit from the district (and taxpayers) even though he had a clear conflict of interest. Meanwhile, PSJA voters give these chuckleheads $70 million more in tax money to piss away.

Now to see if PSJA board members actually look outside the district for a qualified replacement, or if they will follow McAllen ISD's example and appoint an unqualified crony as superintendent.

**WARNING: This Monitor article may contain an annoying Obra Homes video advertisement with obnoxious voiceover.

I'm Ba-aack!

Sorry to go three weeks without an update to this blog, but law school finals tend to keep one busy. Yeah, I finished on Friday, but after five exams in two weeks I needed a few days of doing nothing.

I actually caught a movie in the theater for the first time since January. I saw Thank You For Smoking, a pretty funny satire about a guy who's the spokesman for Big Tobacco.

One thing I noticed that kind of bothered me: the movie's about the cigarette industry, but nowhere in the film does it depict people lighting up. In fact, the protagonist is supposed to be a smoker, but I couldn't even tell until the almost end of the movie. Considering that the movie makes a big statement about personal choice, it's kind of depressing that Thank You For Smoking bends to calls for self-censorship when it comes to showing smoking on screen.

Anyway, it's great to be back!