Judge: Socorro annexation plans null and void
POSTED: Thursday, April 25, 2013 - 2:11pm
UPDATED: Thursday, April 25, 2013 - 9:21pm
Socorro, TX (KTSM) — Visiting Judge Stephen Ables ruled Thursday that Socorro's annexation plans are null and void because he found that two Socorro city representatives were holding office illegally when Socorro City Council voted on the annexation plans.
Judge Ables also ruled to remove Jesse Gandara Jr. and Willie Madrid Jr. from Socorro City Council, prohibiting them from making any further decisions involving the City of Socorro. Gandara and Madrid resigned their seats in February, but continued to serve on council.
Thursday's hearing stems from a lawsuit filed against Socorro City Council by the office of El Paso County Attorney Jo Anne Bernal in February, 2013. The lawsuit questioned the legality of the council's decision to extend their own term lengths without voter approval.
Judge Ables ruled that the council misapplied Senate Bill 100 when it extended council members' terms. Therefore, Gandara and Madrid were in office illegally when annexation plans were decided.
The judge ruled that all annexation proceedings are null and void. The courtroom at Thursday's hearing was filled with many members of the San Elizario Incorporation Effort group. Leticia Miranda, the finance chairperson for the group, said the group is happy about the ruling, but also said their work is not over.
"We're very happy with the outcome. That gives us an opportunity to move forward with the incorporation. We are not safe. Incorporation is the only way we are going to be safe from any annexation from any surrounding city," said Miranda.
Socorro will have to start the process from the beginning if the city is interested in pursuing any annexation plans.
The ruling also means that the seats for Districts 1, 2 and 3 in Socorro, which are currently filled by Maria Reyes, Gloria Rodriguez and Mary Garcia, will be up for election in November 2013. Under the previous term extensions, those seats would not have been up for election until November 2014.
Former Mayor Trini Lopez also attended Thursday's hearing. He said he faced tremendous challenges during the 10 months he was in office.
"I resigned from office because I knew that I was there after my term was over. I found out, so I got out on my own decision," said Lopez.
Socorro Spokesperson David Garcia said he does not know if Socorro has any plans to continue with annexation plans.
Court documents for the final order are attached to this story in PDF form.