Judge candidate in signature controversy forces runoff against candidate who tried to get her removed from ballot

SAN ANTONIO – A candidate for Bexar County state district court judge who listed herself as gathering signatures from voters on the same days she was on a cruise has forced a runoff against the opponent who unsuccessfully attempted to have her removed from the ballot.

San Antonio attorney Ana Laura Ramirez received 35.49% of the vote Tuesday night, good enough for second place on the ballot for judge of the 73rd District Court.

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Elizabeth Martinez, a fellow Democrat who filed a complaint with the county’s Democratic party in January seeking Ramirez’s removal from the ballot, received 42.67% of the vote.

Since Martinez did not reach the threshold of 50% plus one vote, she and Ramirez will move on to a May 28 runoff.

The third candidate in the primary, attorney Dannick Villaseñor-Hernandez, finished third with 21.84% of the vote and will not be part of the runoff.

The candidates are attempting to fill the seat vacated by Judge David Canales, who stepped down last month, leaving office 11 months before the end of his term.

Governor Greg Abbott last month appointed former Bexar County Commissioner Marialyn Barnard to serve as judge of the court for the remainder of the year.

Gathering signatures while on a cruise?

Ramirez listed herself as the circulator on all 82 signature pages she turned in late last year as part of her application to get on the primary ballot.

Ramirez, however, was on the West Coast in early November, when close to 100 of her signatures were gathered, application records and social media posts confirm.

Her application drew a formal protest from Martinez, who described Ramirez’s application as invalid, noting that her opponent listed herself as the circulator for 99 signatures gathered on dates she was on the cruise.

Judicial candidate Ana Laura Ramirez was posted on social media as being on a cruise the same days she listed herself as gathering signatures to get on the ballot. (KSAT)

The Jan. 9 letter from Martinez to the chairwoman of the Bexar County Democratic Party listed what were described as other defects in Ramirez’s application.

Martinez included a long list of signatures she was challenging, including those she said came from people who had already signed her petition or were not registered to vote in Bexar County.

“Rules are rules. Laws are laws, and we have to lead by example. I noticed some glaring inconsistencies that did need to be pointed out,” said Martinez, staff attorney for the Bexar County civil district courts and a part-time city magistrate who was appointed in June 2022.

Bexar County Democratic Party Chairwoman Monica Ramirez Alcántara later informed Martinez that the party would not remove Ramirez from the ballot, but that she could file a lawsuit in civil district court asking for the signatures to be invalidated.

“All I can state in that regard is that Mrs. Martinez at the time absolutely could have gone into the court system and could have found a remedy,” Alcántara told KSAT earlier this year, pointing out that several deadlines to certify the ballot had already passed by the time Martinez filed her complaint.

Alcántara and Martinez both confirmed to KSAT that Martinez ultimately decided not to challenge Ramirez’s application with a formal lawsuit.

“I trust the voters. I trust the voters, and I don’t take any of this lightly, and I’m not about to take a choice away from the voters,” Martinez told KSAT earlier this year.

Ramirez released a statement earlier this year stating that the issue had no legal basis.

Candidates regroup for the runoff

Reached for comment about Tuesday’s election, Martinez directed KSAT to a social media post, in which she wrote, “SA town – keep up the energy, keep up the momentum, keep up the love – I will need your vote again so we can close this out for good – and put the BEST candidate on that bench!!”

Ramirez released the following statement to KSAT about the upcoming runoff election:

“My supporters and I are incredibly excited to have made it to the Democratic runoff election for Judge of the 73rd District Court. I am profoundly grateful to the voters who believed in our vision for delivering justice with fairness, compassion, and understanding for all who come before the court. With nearly three decades dedicated to the practice of law, particularly in family law, it’s clear that our voters value experienced leadership in the courtroom. Making it to the runoff is just the beginning. My campaign is already hard at work, reaching out to more voters with our positive message of electing family law experience to the 73rd District Court and I look forward to continue talking with voters about how my thirty years of legal experience make me the best choice for Judge of the 73rd District Court.”

Read more reporting on the KSAT Investigates page.

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