Judge again resets Willacy game room hearing

BROWNSVILLE — Another delay.

For the second time in 10 days, a judge reset the case of four Sebastian game room owners requesting to continue operating their businesses despite a tough new Willacy County ordinance that shut them down.

Yesterday, state District Judge Migdalia Lopez reset the hearing for Sept. 4 in 197th state District Court after attorney Ricardo Morado, representing the county, requested time to review game room owners’ amended arguments filed late Wednesday.

Lopez has said she will hear the merits, or facts, of the case.

The game rooms are demanding the county pay damages of $50,000 to $2 million.

Game rooms’ arguments

During yesterday’s hearing, Robert Flores, an attorney representing the Silver Star Game Room, Silver Express Game Room, La Victoria Game Room and the Silver Outpost, argued the new county ordinance denied his clients “due process.”

In court documents, Flores argued the game rooms were lawfully operating when they were shut down after the county approved the ordinance last February.

The ordinance, which allows game rooms to re-apply for permits to operate eight-liner machines, failed to fairly administer the process with which to re-apply for those permits, Flores argued.

As part of that process, the Sheriff’s Department reviewed game room applications to determine whether to grant permits.

Factors leading to denials included game rooms’ code violations, any owners’ or employees’ criminal histories and failure to properly complete the applications.

After the Sheriff’s Department review, the county allowed three game rooms to reopen while denying 11 applications.

Of those 11, six game rooms appealed the decisions before a hearing examiner appointed as part of the ordinance.

In June, hearing examiner Richard Solis, a retired justice of the peace, denied the six appeals.

Flores is arguing the county failed to give his clients notice of any “deficiencies” that may have led their applications to be denied.

“Plaintiffs received no notice of any kind of the technical deficiency in their application as required under the ordinance,” the La Victoria Game Room argued in a document filed Wednesday.

Flores also argued Solis “blocked” his clients’ amended applications.

County’s response

Meanwhile, the county accused the game owners of “a false representation or concealment of material facts,” arguing they have “no viable claim for damages.”

The county plans to “show it is immune to any action for intentional torts, including business disparagement,” Morado wrote in a response to the game owners’ arguments filed Wednesday.

How we got here

On Aug. 13, the four game room owners requested Lopez grant their request for temporary restraining orders.

In response, Lopez allowed the game rooms to reopen until she hands down her ruling.

In Willacy County, the court battle is blazing new legal territory.

For years, many residents have called for an ordinance to control the spread of eight-liner arcades across the county’s vast unincorporated areas.

With the new ordinance, law enforcement has the authority to inspect game rooms for violations.

Under the ordinance, game rooms cited for violations will be required to shut down.

Sheriff Larry Spence said even building code violations might be enough to force some to close.

Under the ordinance, game rooms face $10,000 fines for each violation.

The ordinance requires game rooms to limit operations between 10 a.m. and 11 p.m. Sundays through Thursday and from 10 a.m. to 1 a.m. on Fridays and Sunday mornings.

Meanwhile, the ordinance requires new eight-liner arcades to be located at least 5,000 feet from other game rooms, on frontage property with direct access to highways.