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Featured: Hidalgo County 464th District Court Judge Ysmael Fonseca, who was appointed to his current judicial position by Gov. Greg Abbott on Wednesday, August 28, 2019, on Wednesday, November 6, 2019, announced he will be seeking election to that court in 2020. District courts have original jurisdiction in felony criminal cases, divorce cases, cases involving title to land, election contest cases, civil matters in which the amount of money or damages involved is $200 or more, and any matters in which jurisdiction is not placed in another trial court.

Photograph Courtesy MARICELA DE LEÓN

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Hidalgo County 464th District Court Judge Ysmael Fonseca, who was appointed by Gov. Abbott, to seek election to that post in 2020

By DAVID A. DÍAZ
Legislativemedia@aol.com

Judge Ysmael Fonseca, the presiding judge of the Hidalgo County 464th District Court, on Wednesday, November 6, 2019, officially announced that he will be seeking election to keep his seat during the Hidalgo County Republican Party primary in March 2020.

If he secures the GOP nomination, he would be on the ballot in Hidalgo County during the November 2020 general election.

In declaring his intention to seek election – filing for the March 2020 party primary election takes place from Saturday, November 9, 2019 through Monday, December 9, 2019 – Fonseca said it has been one of his greatest privileges serving the people of Hidalgo County. 

“I believe I am best suited to continue administering justice in the 464th District Court” said Fonseca. “It is time for the people of Hidalgo County to have a judge that has no connection with the political establishment. As a genuine outsider, I am beholden to no one and can serve justice without regard to the status of those that appear before me.”

District courts have original jurisdiction in felony criminal cases, divorce cases, cases involving title to land, election contest cases, civil matters in which the amount of money or damages involved is $200 or more, and any matters in which jurisdiction is not placed in another trial court. While most district courts try both criminal and civil cases, in the more densely populated counties the courts may specialize in civil, criminal, juvenile, or family law matters.

In trial courts, witnesses are heard, testimony is received, exhibits are offered into evidence, and a verdict is rendered. The trial court structure in Texas has several different levels, each level handling different types of cases, with some overlap.

(https://www.txcourts.gov/media/994672/Court-Overview.pdf)

Prior to his appointment to the bench by Abbott, Fonseca was a Senior Associate at Guerra, Leeds, Sabo & Hernandez, P.L.L.C., which is an AV rated firm that serves the Rio Grande Valley and all of South Texas with fully staffed offices in both Brownsville and McAllen.

According to Martindale-Hubbell, ‘an AV certification mark is a significant rating accomplishment — a testament to the fact that a lawyer’s peers rank him or her at the highest level of professional excellence.

(https://www.martindale.com/ratings-and-reviews/)

“It is in the equal application of the law that justice is truly preserved in our democracy. It is also in the speedy resolution of litigation that we can ensure the people of Hidalgo County can find peace knowing that their courts will work diligently to resolve their cases,” Fonseca said. “As Judge of the 464th District Court I have helped make the judiciary more efficient by disposing of dozens of cases and encouraging lawyers to either resolve disputes quickly or bring them to a final trial for a speedy conclusion. 

“Cases don’t linger without end in sight when they are in the 464th District Court,” he continued. “This is important for the people of Hidalgo County, and what I have worked diligently on prioritizing in my tenure as their Judge of the 464th District Court.”

Fonseca said his judicial priorities include ensuring all cases have frequent settings and that lawyers report continuously to the court with the status of their cases to ensure that they are working to bring a conclusion to litigation without undue delays. 

“I have made sure cases are addressed promptly and that parties have easy access to the court to resolve any issues that may arise,” he said. “I have made accessibility and prompt attention to disputes two of my top priorities on the bench.”

A biographical sketch of Fonseca, provided by Martindale-Hubbell, includes the following information:

Fonseca, a native of South Texas, graduated with honors from the University of Notre Dame in 2003 with a B.A. degree in Political Science and Spanish Literature. He returned to Notre Dame to study law, receiving his J.D. degree with honors from Notre Dame Law School in 2009.

Upon graduation in 2003 and before attending law school, Fonseca served as a Paralegal Specialist of the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division in Washington, D.C. assisting in the prosecution of civil rights cases, with a particular focus on the prosecution of human trafficking offenses. 

He continued in public service while in law school through his work with the United States Attorney’s Office in McAllen after his first year and with U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, in the Judiciary Committee of the United States Senate after his second year.

During his law school years, Fonseca served in the Notre Dame Journal of Law, Ethics & Public Policy as note editor, and had the privilege of having his student note, The Catholic Church’s Obligation to Serve the Stranger in Defiance of State Immigration Laws, published by the Journal in the Spring of 2009. 

Fonseca was also a student-lawyer for the Notre Dame Legal Aid Clinic, representing indigent clients in small estate, guardianship, and other probate matters. While at Notre Dame Law School, he was also selected by his peers to serve as Vice President of the Hispanic Law Students Association and as Assistant Chaplain of the St. Thomas More Society.

Before joining Guerra, Leeds, Sabo & Hernandez, P.L.L.C., Fonseca was a judicial law clerk for Judge Randy Crane of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas. While at the U.S. District Court, Fonseca provided the Court with research, assisted in the drafting of memorandums and opinions, monitored jury trials, and helped in the management of the Court’s docket.

Fonseca’s practice dealt with all aspects of civil defense work.

SEN. HINOJOSA APPOINTED TO THE TEXAS COMMISSION ON JUDICIAL SELECTION BY LT. GOV. DAN PATRICK

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, on Monday, October 28, 2019, appointed Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, to the Texas Commission on Judicial Selection to conduct an interim study on how the state should select its judges in the future. 

The 15-member Commission will review the method by which appellate court judges and trial court judges having county-wide jurisdiction are selected for office in Texas. The study must consider the fairness, effectiveness, and desirability of selecting the judges through partisan elections, as well as judicial selection methods proposed or adopted by other states.

Hinojosa emphasized the importance of this study and the need for a non-partisan, consistent, fair, and highly qualified judiciary.

“I appreciate the appointment to the Texas Commission on Judicial Selection,” said Hinojosa. “Texas is one of only six states that uses partisan elections to select all of its judges. The judiciary is an equal branch of our government. Judges undertake an essential role in our society that requires their consistency and objectivity to the rule of law and resolution of disputes.”

To maintain trust in the Texas courts, judges must apply the law in an impartial and competent manner to achieve the fair dispensation of justice, he said. 

“I look forward to working with the members of the Commission to study this issue and make recommendations for the next legislative session (which begins in January 2021).”

Based on the findings of study, the Commission will prepare a report with recommendations on methods for selecting judges that ensure a fair, impartial, qualified, competent, and stable judiciary. The Commission must report its findings and recommendations by December 31, 2020. Any major reform resulting from the recommendations would require a constitutional amendment, which can only be passed with two-thirds support of each chamber of the legislature and majority approval of the voters.

In addition to Patrick’s appointment of Hinojosa, the Lt. Governor, Gov. Greg Abbott, and Speaker of the House Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton also named other Texas leaders to the newly-formed commission.

House Bill 3040 (Hunter/Huffman) created the 15-member Texas Commission on Judicial Selection and charged it with evaluating the merits of alternative methods of judicial selection, to produce findings and recommendations for reform to the Legislature by December 31, 2020.

Abbott appointed Charles “Chip” Babcock, David Beck, Martha Hill Jamison, and David Oliveira to the Texas Commission on Judicial Selection with Beck serving as chairman. 

Oliveira of McAllen is a partner with Roerig, Oliveira & Fisher, LLP. He is a member of the State Bar of Texas, Cameron County Bar Association, and the Lone Star National Bank Advisory Board. He is a member and former chair of the Valley Initiative Development and Advancement and a member of The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) Development Board and the UT Chancellors Council Executive Committee. Additionally, he is a former director for the Texas Association of Defense Counsel, former chair of the Texas Southmost College Board of Trustees, and a former member of UTRGV Medical School Advisory Board and the UTRGV President Search Committee. Oliveira received a Bachelor of Arts from UT Austin and a Juris Doctor degree from Texas Tech University Law School.

Patrick also appointed Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, and Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, to the Commission. 

Bonnen named Rep. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi, Rep. Brooks Landgraf, R-Odessa, Rep. Ina Minijarez, D-San Antonio, and Rep. Carl Sherman, D-DeSoto.

Wallace B. Jefferson, Thomas R. Phillips and Lynne Liberato have already been appointed by the Texas Supreme Court, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and the State Bar of Texas, respectively.

Babcock of Houston is a partner at Jackson Walker. He is a member of the State Bar of Texas, American Law Institute, and the Brown University Advisory Board. He is a fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers, the International Academy of Trial Lawyers, American Board of Trial Advocates, Litigation Counsel of America, The Center for American and International Law, and The Texas Philosophical Society. Babcock received an A.B. from Brown University and a Juris Doctor degree from Boston University School of Law.

Beck of Houston is a senior partner at Beck Redden. He is a member of the State Bar of Texas, Warren E. Burger Society National Center for State Courts, the Center for American and International Law Board of Trustees, and the National Judicial College Advisory Board and a fellow of the Texas Supreme Court Historical Society and the American College of Trial Lawyers. He is a gubernatorial appointee to the University of Texas System Board of Regents, where he is chairman of the Audit, Compliance, and Risk Management Committee and chairman of the Facilities Planning and Construction Committee. He serves as a member of the Finance and Planning Committee and the Health Affairs Committee and the University Lands Advisory Board, and as an Athletics Liaison. Beck received a Bachelor of Science from Lamar University and a LL.B. degree from The University of Texas School of Law.

Jamison of Houston is retired, and previously served on the Fourteenth Court of Appeals for nine years, and as judge of the 164th Civil District Court for nine years. Prior to her service with the Texas judiciary, she worked in both public and private sectors. She is board certified in Civil Trial Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. Additionally, she is a member of the State Bar of Texas and the American Law Institute and former president of the American Judicature Society. She is a senior fellow for the American Leadership Forum and a former board member of Young Life Region. Jamison received a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from The University of Texas at Austin and a Juris Doctor degree from The University of Texas School of Law.

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Maricela De León and Dariel Ramírezcontributed to this article. For more on this and other Texas legislative news stories that affect the Rio Grande Valley metropolitan region, please log on to Titans of the Texas Legislature (TitansoftheTexasLegislature.com).

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