Just don’t mention age: Why did Judge Cantu draw an opponent?

Maybe someone didn’t get their way

I drove by the Hidalgo County Courthouse several weeks ago and lo and behold, there were hardly any vehicles in the judges’ private parking lot on the west side of the courthouse. No, this wasn’t late on a Friday afternoon when so many judges are out golfing or tossing back a cold one at Clayton’s on SPI. This was in the middle of a Wednesday afternoon, no less, at approximately 3 p.m. I took a picture as proof. This was the middle of the afternoon, in the middle of the week, when the courtrooms should have been filled with cases while judges worked their respective dockets.

Was there a fishing tournament going on somewhere? A few judges’ vehicles were parked there, however, and I’d bet money that one of them belonged to Arnoldo Cantu, Jr., who is currently battling to retain his seat as judge of County Court-at-Law No. 5.

After 15 years on the bench, this is the first election in which he is facing an opponent, Attorney Armando Marroquin, who has said publicly that there is a lack of efficiency in the Hidalgo County Courthouse. Granted, the lack of vehicles in the judges’ private parking lot would attest to that very allegation. The problem is, the judge he’s working to unseat, Arnoldo Cantu, Jr., is one of the most efficient judges in the courthouse. His disposition rate shows that, according to county records. If Marroquin wants to improve courthouse efficiency, something I truly support, then I can point him in the direction of a few judges who are indeed inefficient. To uncover them is simple: just look at the county records. Look at the disposition rates for each Court-at-Law and go after the judge with the lowest case disposition rate.

Cantu continually rates either number one or two among County Court-at-Law judges in the number of cases disposed of each year. So if Marroquin wants to improve efficiency in the county courthouse, please go run against one of the judges who lacks efficiency and deserves to be unseated, because Cantu doesn’t fall into that category.

The Advance has a long history of not endorsing political candidates. Why newspapers ever got into that business, who knows. It’s always been my contention that the decision for whom to vote should be left in the hands of the voters (down with politiqueras), and that the editorial staff at a newspaper should just keep quiet and shut up when it comes to political races. Why should newspaper editorial writers be in a position to declare who is the best candidate in any race, whether it be local, state, or national?

I think I know why Cantu drew an opponent this election, and trust me, I’m not the only one who believes this. In fact, I’ve heard the same thing said repeatedly during the course of this election. Judge Cantu, by the way, won’t speak of it. I’ve had conversations with him, and all he is willing to focus on or discuss “is the positive.” (His words.) Cantu is one of those “annoying people,” (I write this facetiously), who refuses to say anything bad about anyone. There are people like that. I’m just not one of them.

No, the ones who speak of why Cantu drew an opponent are mostly attorneys who believe they are in the know, and they’re people like Fern McClaugherty of the OWLS (grass-roots organization: Objective Watchers of the Legal System).

“I can’t prove it, but it’s what I believe,” she said earlier this week, when referencing the Cantu re-election.

Here is what I think happened and why Judge Cantu now faces his first opponent after 15 years on the court bench. A nasty divorce case involving the daughter of a state district judge landed in his courtroom (oh, boy; oh, joy) approximately two years ago. There were children involved, allegations of domestic violence and alcohol abuse. If you read the court filings, the whole thing is a mess, including protective orders and alcohol monitoring for the husband.

The divorce wasn’t pretty, neither were the child-visitation orders, but it seemed that Judge Cantu was doing his job to the best of his ability. Don’t know what angered the state district judge, if indeed this story is true, but for whatever reason, according to more than a few sources, this is what prompted the District Court judge to find a candidate to run against Cantu this election.

In Hidalgo County, ruled by the Democratic Party, it’s almost unheard of to see a Democrat run in a primary working to unseat an incumbent who is a fellow Democrat. This is especially true in judiciary races, which is why Hidalgo County has the judiciary it has, one could argue. The good ones are there for life, more or less, but so are the bad ones.

Granted, I haven’t interviewed Armando Marroquin, who is 42 years of age and who has been practicing law for approximately 15 years. In private practice, he also serves as a municipal court judge in Edcouch-Elsa. For all I know, he would make a good Court-at-Law judge. It’s just that I believe Arnoldo Cantu Jr., is not only doing a fine job on the bench, but he’s one of the better judges working the courthouse beat.

According to court records, among Court-at-Law judges, who handle misdemeanor cases, divorces, child custody cases, and civil litigation cases that fall beneath the $750k cap, Cantu typically ranks either first or second in the number of cases disposed of each year inside the Hidalgo County Courthouse, which typically ranges between 3,700 and 3,800. One year, may have been two, the number of cases disposed of in Court-at-Law No. 5 reached almost 5,000. So tell me this judge isn’t working a full work week.

Last, but not least, somewhere along the campaign trail, I heard that someone made an issue of Judge Cantu’s age, which is 63. Meaning, we’re close in age. He’s got me beat by a year. The comment made, either by the candidate or one of his supporters, if indeed it’s true, which came to me by way of a third party, was that Court-at-Law No. 5 may need some youth added to it. Seriously? Since when it 63 considered “old?” What happened to “you grow wise with age.”

No, I’m not endorsing Judge Arnoldo Cantu, Jr. I just don’t see any reason to unseat one of the hardest working and honest judges (the view of many attorneys) this county has on the bench. In my opinion, this county’s population could use more like him.

Again, Armando Marroquin may indeed one day make a fine County Court-at-Law judge, or state District Court judge, for that matter, but if he truly wants to get rid of “inefficiency” inside the county courthouse, I can give him some names of some judges who truly fit that model and deserve to lose their elected positions.

They’re the same ones whose vehicles were missing from the judges’ private parking lot on that Wednesday afternoon two weeks ago. Fridays are even worse.

During a courthouse visit recently, I was talking to a sheriff’s deputy, asking him if he really thought the county needed a new courthouse. Said he: “What we need are for more of these judges to do more work.”

Straight from the horse’s mouth.



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