It is a tricky situation and one that looks questionable from almost any standpoint. On Monday evening just hours before the start of early voting in Nueces County and across the state an email was sent showing that Nueces County Judge Barbara Canales was asking for votes on behalf of John Martinez who is running for Corpus Christi City Council At Large.
It doesn’t seem like that big of a deal because we are all used to elected officials making endorsements for political candidates. But where it becomes an issue is that in the email stated clearly that “This is Nueces County Judge Barbara Canales,” and in the eyes of many that in and of itself would likely be a problem for anybody else—and it has been.
County Judges in Texas serve a few different roles depending on where they are located and what powers are given to them in their county. For the most part county judges serve as county administrators and emergency managers within the county that they are elected. They also have judicial duties, such as presiding over misdemeanor criminal and small civil cases, probate matters and appeals from the Justice of the Peace Court when it is called for. There lies the problem.
At first glance many thought this to be an ethics violation—it isn’t. There isn’t much that suggests that a political ethics issue was at stake. But there could likely be enough to call into question judicial canons.
The Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct has in fact already addressed the issue at least once in recent years where a County Judge has been admonished for endorsing a political candidate in a race.
Back in 2019 the Commission found that Burnet County Judge James Oakley, who has had a very long record of misconduct before the commission, was found to have lent his name and the “prestige” of his office to a political candidate for public office.
In what appears to be similar fashion, Oakley lent his name, likeness and prestige of his public office to help advance the private interests of the candidate. The Commission said clearly that he violated Canon 2B of the Texas Code of Judical Conduct.
Already on Tuesday there had been reports that several citizens of Nueces County had made similar complaints regarding the email that had the name of Judge Canales tied to it. Most of those that we spoke with had already taken issue with Canales over other issues but they feel that this gives them their best chance yet.
But the outcome is likely far less than what most of the people complaining will like.
It seems that in Oakley, the reprimand equaled a warning to the judge about the consequences of his conduct and that should he be guilty of the same fault for which he has been admonished, he will be punished with greater severity. The overall outcome equaled a slap on the wrist for misconduct.
But that was misconduct nonetheless from a person who also indicated publicly several times that she wasn’t going to become involved in political races. Earlier this year, Judge Canales made reference on several occasions that she had no intention of becoming involved in political contests. Once again, a change of course on the eve of early voting.
While both seemingly minor infringements, it is something that voters are concerned with. Canales has often seemed to enjoy being the center of controversy and has often yielded her before both the court and the people just as many South Texas County Judges have done in the not-so recent past history. It is that track record that has some local Republicans and Democrats concerned.