Dan Sanchez, the holdover Pct. 4 commissioner and candidate for county judge, feels he has done his best to adhere to electoral procedures.
But the photos on Sanchez’s Facebook page show the commissioner with his brother David, judge of the 444th state District Court, who is wearing a “Dan Sanchez for County Judge” shirt.
And the large billboard sign just outside of San Benito says the same thing, but the word “for” may not be easy to notice.
But how do these elements stand up against Texas electoral codes?
The Texas Code of Judicial Conduct Canon 5 states: “a judge or judicial candidate shall not authorize the public use of his or her name endorsing another candidate for any public office, except that either may indicate support for a political party.”
According to Election Code Title 15 Chapter 255.006, “a person commits an offense if the person knowingly represents in a campaign communication that a candidate holds a public office that the candidate does not hold at the time the representation is made.”
Chapter 255.006 further specifies that false representation includes when “the political advertising or campaign communication states the public office sought but does not include the word ‘for’ in a type size that is at least one-half the type size used for the name of the office to clarify that the candidate does not hold that office.”
Before the election began, however, David Sanchez called the executive director of the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, Seana Willing, specifically asking if he could wear a shirt supporting Sanchez, Dan Sanchez said.
Willing pointed David Sanchez to a Supreme Court case ruling in which Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Hecht was involved in, Dan Sanchez said.
“Based on his conversation with her, Hecht had a complaint filed on him for doing a similar thing, supporting a candidate, and through the process appealed it, where they made a finding that the first amendment trumped the conduct of judicial canons,” Dan Sanchez said.
Hecht had publically expressed his support for Harriet Miers, a former White House counsel to ex-president George W. Bush, when she had received a nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Judicial Conduct Commission ruled that by voicing support for Miers’ nomination, Hecht misused his office. Hecht challenged the ruling and the reprimand was dismissed after a Special Review Court agreed with him.
Willing said the judicial commission does offer itself as a resource to judges if they have ethical concerns or questions, and when considering if a judge has violated judicial code, the commission has to take into account free speech rights.
“Certainly when it comes to political activities, you have to look at whether or not the judge’s free speech rights outweigh the states’ interest in regulating conduct to ensure a fair and impartial judiciary,” Willing said.
Dan Sanchez said he was unaware of whether his signage’s font type was potentially smaller than it should be. Nobody had approached him about it, he said.
“With the person I hire for my campaign and signage and everything, I expect that they’re complying with the law. I’ll have them check it. I wasn’t aware (that anything might be wrong). If it’s not correct, we’ll fix it, not a problem,” Sanchez said.
The billboard sign outside San Benito was not designed by the Sanchez campaign. It was done by friends of Sanchez that wished to help him on the campaign, he said.
Commissioner Sanchez was also wearing a campaign badge during the commission meeting held Jan. 12.
“Normally, I’d take it off. I got in a little late, and didn’t realize I still had it on. That was unintentional and accidental. I always try to take it off before I go in,” the commissioner said.
Dan Sanchez announced his run at a veteran’s celebration he and his brother, David, put together in front of the Cameron County Courthouse on Nov. 10.
Pct. 2 Commissioner Alex Dominguez said the event was not approved beforehand by the commissioners’ court.
“The commissioners’ court never approved it. It would’ve been great for the county to put on an event with everyone present, but in my opinion, that was more of a campaign stunt,” Dominguez said.
Dominguez did not consider the event to be an abuse of official capacity, which as defined by penal code title 8 chapter 39.02 is when a public servant “misuses government property, services, personnel, or any other thing of value belonging to the government.”
But he did say it was in “poor taste.”
“I think better judgment could have been taken,” he said.
However, Sanchez is not the first to announce in front of the courthouse, said Pct. 3 Commissioner David A. Garza.
“It’s a very common occurrence. Many have done that in front of the courthouse, and that’s me speaking from my 15 years in county government and previous 12 in school elections,” Garza said. “It’s a public property at the end of the day. People use different backdrops to announce their candidacies.”
Opinions are a dime a dozen, Garza added.
“I try to do things my way, others do it their way. Whether it’s right or wrong or indifferent, it’s a matter of what opinions a person has on the issue. Many people will say it’s right, many will say it’s wrong, but you make a decision and live with that,” Garza said.
County Judge Pete Sepulveda Jr. said the announcement walked a fine line on whether it was appropriate. But he did not consider it to be an official announcement.