Hanging the Judge

Lupe Salinas made a lot of friends on his journey from a Rio Grande Valley childhood to becoming a dogged prosecutor and respected state district judge. Until he was tapped for a federal judgeship, he never knew how many enemies he had.

"You can't unring the bell," Stricklin says. "If you did it, you did, and there's no putting it back."

Adds Holmes: "Once you hijack the store, giving it back doesn't make it any less of a crime."

Still, the upshot is that Salinas personally profited not a penny by the alleged infraction.

In the second perjury charge, Salinas is accused of signing off on a campaign finance report showing that he was owed $400 on a tax overpayment on interest from a campaign account -- when in fact the figure was approximately $180. Salinas contends the misstatement, which resulted in the misuse of little more than $200, was nothing more than sloppy bookkeeping.

The grand jury also indicted attorney Arnold Govella on a misdemeanor charge for accepting an illegal $500 cash contribution on behalf of the Mexican American Bar Association from Salinas in 1992. Although Govella apparently did not keep the money for himself and turned it over to MABA, Holmes says that also is a clear violation of state law he is obliged to enforce. At least one grand juror disagreed. The indictment of Govella provoked a protest letter from Idalia Skates to Holmes on the lawyer's behalf. She argued that since neither Govella nor the donation were the object of the investigation, he should not have been indicted.

Salinas' lawyer recently raised a new line of argument by challenging the impartiality of the grand jury that indicted the judge. Parnham claims a block of jurors on the panel whose names were submitted by Doris Hubbard, an Acres Home political activist and grand jury commissioner, was hostile to Salinas from the start. In Texas, a district judge appoints grand jury commissioners, who then submit from 15 to 20 names of people they know to serve on a grand jury. The commissioners caucus and select the final 12 to be impaneled. Although Hubbard did not attend the meeting of commissioners, four names off her list were selected for the grand jury that indicted Salinas, including her daughter, Kqisha, and her friend and political associate Etta Crockett.

Hubbard, whose political organization's records were subpoenaed last year by a federal grand jury in an investigation of alleged fraudulent early voting that did not result in charges, denied that she had discussed Salinas' case with jurors while the indictments were deliberated or that she was prejudiced against Salinas. In fact, says Hubbard, she doesn't believe the case against Salinas should have been taken to the grand jury that she helped pick.

"One of the people that I did appoint told the foreman, 'You need to tell [the D.A.] to take this somewhere else,' 'cause they didn't really want to be involved with it. But they were kind of overruled on that and the case came anyway."

Hubbard doesn't mince words when expressing her displeasure at being dragged into the Salinas case. "I'm really pissed," she says, "with whoever's trying to fuck with me like this."

Stricklin says he's unaware of any problems with the composition of the grand jury Hubbard helped select.

The district attorney's office later sought felony perjury indictments against Salinas from a second grand jury for unspecified statements he made in his testimony to the first grand jury. The second panel refused to accept the district attorney's recommendation and no-billed Salinas. The setback did not please Holmes, who tersely labeled that grand jury "negligent."

Rose Salas, an administrative assistant to County Attorney Mike Driscoll, was a juror on the second panel. By law, she cannot discuss the grand jury's deliberations, but asked after the panel declined to indict Salinas whether she believes he is honest and qualified to sit on the federal judiciary, she answered:

"Yes I do. Knowing what I do know, yes
I do."

Rising Up, Throwing Down
"You're not going to let them get you for a lousy $400?," a mechanic at Itzy's on Hillcroft calls to the judge as Salinas drops his sedan off for a tune-up prior to a Thanksgiving trip to the Rio Grande Valley. Salinas has a free day because the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct has temporarily suspended him with pay pending a hearing this week on whether he can resume his duties in his court without prejudice to pending cases. It's a time to run errands, consult with his lawyer and plan a fundraiser that will be held this week for his legal defense.

Because of the TV and newspaper coverage of the indictments, Salinas, a short, stocky and somewhat shy man, finds himself a recognizable figure on the streets. Given the reason for his newfound celebrity, it's somewhat unsettling.

"Innumerable people who see me greet me, know they've seen me somewhere. And many of them may know more," he says.

"Obviously, the day the indictment came down, it was the most horrible experience to go down and get booked. The worst experience of my life. It was things that we obviously always expected for the criminal accused, [not us]."

The charges strike not only at Salinas' professional future but at his long string of accomplishments stretching from dirt-poor beginnings in South Texas.

His mother, Benita, was born in a small northern Mexican village. His father, Arnulfo, grew up in Robstown, Texas, after his parents migrated from Mexico in the 1920s. During the Depression the family temporarily retreated to the support of village life in Mexico when jobs vanished in Texas.

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