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Featured, from left: Attorney Omar Ochoa of Edinburg/McAllen, Nereida López-Singleterry, the Associate Judge of the Title IV-D Master Court 1 in Hidalgo County, and former Edinburg Mayor Joe Ochoa on Saturday, September 21, 2019, at Tierra Santa Golf Course in Weslaco.

Photograph By PETER SALINAS

Featured, from left: Attorney Omar Ochoa of Edinburg/McAllen, Nereida López-Singleterry, the Associate Judge of the Title IV-D Master Court 1 in Hidalgo County, and former Edinburg Mayor Joe Ochoa on Saturday, September 21, 2019, at Tierra Santa Golf Course in Weslaco.

Photograph By PETER SALINAS

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Judge Nereida López-Singleterry files for Justice of the 13th Court of Appeals, Place 6, for the Democratic Party primary on March 3, 2020

By BRIAN GODÍNEZ

Nereida López-Singleterry, the Associate Judge of the Title IV-D Master Court 1 in Hidalgo County, on Saturday, November 9, 2019, filed for a place on the Democratic Party primary ballot for the position of Justice of the Thirteenth Court of Appeals, Place 6. 

The primary election will be held on Tuesday, March 3, 2020. 

The bench was left vacant when Justice Dori Contreras was sworn into office as the Chief Justice of the Thirteenth Court of Appeals in January 2019.

“I am so excited to seek election for the Thirteenth Court of Appeals and to have the opportunity to follow in the footsteps and legacy of Justice Contreras,” said López-Singleterry. “Experience matters for this important position and I believe my diverse and vast experience in the legal field, litigating and presiding over thousands of civil and criminal cases, gives me a well-rounded perspective that will serve me well as a Court of Appeals Justice.” 

Since March 1, 2013, she and her husband, Hidalgo County District Judge Luis M. Singleterry – who presides over the 92nd District Court – have been married. The couple has two children: Natalia Larissa Singleterry, age 3 & 1/2 years, and Luis Alexander Singleterry, age 1 year. The family lives in Edinburg.

They are the only married couple in Hidalgo County who are both judges, and prior to that, attorneys.

In March 2017, López-Singleterry was appointed as the Associate Judge of the Title IV-D Master Court 1 in Hidalgo County by 5th Administrative Judicial Region Presiding Judge Missy Medary.

“Nereida López-Singleterry’s care and concern for her community and children shine through everything she has done,” said Medary, who is the first woman to serve as Presiding Judge of the Fifth Administrative Judicial Region. “Nereida will be a wonderful asset to the judiciary as an associate judge, and will continue to make the citizens of South Texas proud as she has in the past.”

In her current role as Associate Judge of the Title IV-D Master Court 1 in Hidalgo County, with jurisdiction also in Starr County and Jim Hogg County, she hears cases that the Texas Attorney General has provided services under Part D, Title IV of the Federal Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 651 et seq., which include locating an absent parent, determining parentage, or the establishment, modification, or enforcement of child support or medical support.

She said that her strength, energy and hard work will be beneficial to the people of Texas. 

“I believe that these core values make me the most qualified candidate to seek this position. I‘ve always respected the power of the court and will use my best judgment with caution and restraint to see that all parties are treated equally with dignity and respect,” said López-Singleterry.

The 13th Court of Appeals hears criminal and civil matters that are appealed from the county and district courts throughout the 20 counties of South Texas and the Coastal Bend. With offices in Edinburg and Corpus Christi, these counties include Aransas, Bee, Calhoun, Cameron, De Witt, Goliad, Gonzáles, Hidalgo, Jackson, Kenedy, Kleberg, Lavaca, Live Oak, Matagorda, Nueces, Refugio, San Patricio, Victoria, Wharton, and Willacy.

“Serving as a judge has fulfilled a lifelong dream of mine, and to sit on the Thirteenth Court of Appeals would allow me to continue to ensure that people’s rights are safeguarded and protected under the law,” said López-Singleterry.  

According to her official biography:

López-Singleterry is the third born of six siblings to two migrant workers, Salvador and Enedelia López, who came to the United States in search of a better life for their children. At a very early age, her parents instilled in her morals, values and the knowledge that working hard and obtaining an education were keys to success. Throughout her childhood, she traveled the country as a migrant farmworker. Her family had to endure many hardships due solely to their socioeconomic status.

She was born in McAllen in 1979 and graduated from La Joya High School in 1997.

López-Singleterry said she learned the value of justice and fairness at a very early age. She dreamt of getting an education, going to law school and becoming an attorney. She carries her father’s last name proudly because she vividly remembers, as a young girl, the day that her father’s employer laughed at his comment that one day she would become an attorney and serve Texas. 

Her father always encouraged her to set high goals and work hard to achieve them. 

She graduated from high school at the top of her class and received the prestigious Valley Alliance of Mentors for Opportunities and Scholarships (VAMOS.) funding that helped make her dream of obtaining a college education a reality. 

The Valley Alliance of Mentors for Opportunities & Scholarships (VAMOS) is a nonprofit organization run primarily by devoted volunteers. Its main function is to raise money for academically accomplished students. 

(https://www.facebook.com/VAMOSRGV/?tn-str=k*F)

López-Singleterry attended the University of Texas-Pan American. She was the first in her family to acquire a postgraduate education. After graduating, she taught elementary education for several years. She subsequently attended Michigan State College of Law where she obtained her Juris Doctorate degree.  

She kept her promise to her family by moving back to the Rio Grande Valley and opening her own private law practice. She became very involved with the Hidalgo County Bar Association. She was elected Director, Secretary, and President of the Hidalgo County Young Lawyers Association. She was also one of two attorneys selected to represent Hidalgo County in Austin for the State Bar of Texas Leadership Class.

While in private practice López-Singleterry represented individuals and business entities advocating for them in areas including family law, criminal law, personal injury law, and real estate and business transactions. López-Singleterry also dedicated a portion of her work to pro bono service through the Legal Aid Private Involvement Program representing victims of domestic violence who would otherwise have to resort to representing themselves in court. 

For her continued dedication and high rate of cases taken, she was twice recognized at the Texas Rural Legal Aid’s Annual Domestic Violence Shelter and Sexual Assault Cross Trainings in San Antonio.

In addition to being a successful attorney, López-Singleterry was a well-established mediator appointed by judges and often requested by her own colleagues to settle complex cases. She also worked for the Hidalgo County Public Defender’s Office, where she represented individuals who do not have the financial resources to hire legal counsel. 

Throughout her legal career, López-Singleterry has been committed to following and applying the law fairly and accurately. Litigating and presiding over thousands of cases, she said she has been very effective as an attorney and as a judge in her ability to get to the heart of the legal issues and finding justice for all parties.

“MONICA’S LAW” AIMED AT PREVENTING DOMESTIC VIOLENCE BY CREATING ONLINE PUBLIC DATABASE THAT REVEALS COURT-ISSUED PROTECTIVE ORDERS

“Monica’s Law,” aimed at preventing domestic violence, on Sunday, September 1, 2019, became a state law that will create an online, searchable and public database revealing protective orders issued by Texas courts as a result of domestic violence after a due process hearing.

If an individual in Texas has been a victim of violence, stalking or sexual abuse, that person may apply for a court order to keep away the abuser, according to Texas LawHelp.org. This order is called a Protective Order (PO). There are different kinds of protective orders for victims of domestic abuse, dating violence, sexual assault, stalking, and human trafficking.

(https://texaslawhelp.org/article/protective-order-fact-sheet)

The state law was made possible under Senate Bill 325, authored by Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, and sponsored by Rep. Brooks Landgraf, R-Odessa. Gov. Greg Abbott signed the legislation, which was supported by the entire Valley state legislative delegation, on Tuesday, May 7, 2019.

The author is the legislator who files a bill and guides it through the legislative process (also called the primary author). The Senate allows multiple primary authors for each bill or resolution. The House of Representatives allows only one primary author, the House member whose signature appears on the original measure and on the copies filed with the chief clerk. Both chambers also have coauthors, and the house of representatives has joint authors.

The sponsor is the legislator who guides a bill through the legislative process after the bill has passed the originating chamber. The sponsor is a member of the opposite chamber of the one in which the bill was filed.

Monica Deming, the inspiration behind the legislation, was murdered on November 29, 2015, in an act of domestic violence. Monica, a 32-year-old mother, was shot and killed in her Odessa home by an abusive ex-boyfriend. Two protective orders for domestic violence had previously been issued against him, but he was easily able to keep them secret.

Landgraf began crafting this legislation after being approached by Monica’s father, Jon Nielsen, a former Odessa police officer. Nielsen pleaded that, had a database been available, he and Monica would have been able to know that her abuser had a history of domestic violence. Together Landgraf and Monica’s family have been fighting for this legislation for more than three years. 

Nielsen made multiple trips to the Texas Capitol to testify before legislative committees as the legislation made its way through the legislative process. Landgraf first filed the legislation during the 2017 legislative session and where it was passed by the Texas House, but then became stalled in the Texas Senate.

Two years later, the measure was overwhelmingly passed by the Texas Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott.

“Monica’s Law will save lives and protect countless Texans from domestic abusers,” said Abbott. “Nothing is more important than the safety and security of Texans, and we must do everything we can to protect innocent people from violent individuals.”

“Monica’s Law will save lives, and I’m grateful to Governor Abbott for his leadership in signing this anti-domestic violence legislation into law,” Landgraf said.

According to the Legislative Budget Board’s analysis of the Huffman/Landgraf’s SB 325:

• Monica’s Law amends the Government Code to require the Office of Court Administration (OCA), in consultation with the Department of Public Safety (DPS), to establish and maintain a central, computerized, and Internet-based registry for protective orders;

• Monica’s Law requires the registry to be capable of interfacing with local court case management systems, and to be searchable by county, name, and birth year of the person who is the subject of the order;

• Monica’s Law requires courts to enter protective order information into the registry within 24 hours of filing, issuance, or modification of a protective order. Certain information in the registry will be accessible by the public and certain information would be restricted to authorized users; and

• Monica’s Law requires the registry to be established by Wednesday, January 1, 2020, unless a delay of up to 90 days is authorized by the Texas Judicial Council. The state law requires OCA to establish and supervise a training program for magistrates, court staff, and peace officers by Saturday, June 1, 2020.

According to Ballotpedia:

The Texas Legislative Budget Board is governed by a five-person Board that is co-chaired by the Lieutenant Governor of Texas and the Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives. The Chairman of the Texas House Appropriations and Ways and Means Committees are also on the Board along with the Chairman of the Texas Senate Finance Committee. Two more House members are appointed by the Texas House Speaker while the remaining three Senate members are appointed by the Lieutenant Governor.

There is an Executive Director and four Assistant Directors that oversee a 117 person staff.

The Texas Legislative Budget Board is responsible for producing all fiscal notes that are required for legislation introduced in the Texas Legislature.

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David A. Díaz contributed to this article. For more information, please contact Brian Godínez at   956/867-1313. 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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