Associate Municipal Judge Jorge Rivas has endorsed his one-time opponent, attorney Monica Lupita Perez, in the Democratic runoff for El Paso County Court at Law No. 3.
Rivas narrowly lost a three-person race to replace a retiring county judge, earning 30% of the vote compared to Perez’s 33% in the March 2022 primary.
Attorney Melissa Baeza came in first, taking roughly 36% of the total votes cast. With no candidate breaking 50% of the vote, the top two contenders — Baeza and Perez — head to a runoff election on May 24.
“Ms. Perez has the qualities and qualifications that we need for the next Judge of County Court at Law No. 3,” Rivas said in a press release statement provided by Perez. “(She) is a product of the El Paso community. She is a proud UTEP graduate and has proven her commitment to our community.”
Perez said she is “very honored” to receive Rivas’ support. “He understands the significance of me coming from immigrant parents and being the first lawyer in my family,” she said. “It does shape how you’ll treat people, with compassion and respect.”
In the press release, Rivas also noted Perez’s “clear Democratic voting record” — a reminder of a key point of contention between Rivas and Baeza during the primary race.
The race for County Court at Law No. 3, one of El Paso’s few county courts that handles only civil cases, grew heated after Rivas’ campaign circulated a flier questioning the “judgment” and Democratic credentials of Baeza. The mailer characterized Baeza as a “DINO: Democrat in Name Only,” pointing to Baeza’s vote in the Texas Republican primary in March 2016.
Texas is one of just six states where all of its judicial elections are partisan, meaning that a judicial candidate runs on a political party ticket. Other states that host judicial elections often do so without listing candidates’ political affiliations on the ballot, according to a 2020 report from the Public Policy Research Institute at Texas A&M University.
Baeza described her Republican primary vote as a “protest vote” against former President Donald Trump, who was then competing in the Republican primary.
“As a Hispanic female, (Trump’s) character, his words offended me,” Baeza said at a Northeast Democrats candidate forum in early February. “And so it was my way of taking a stand for what I believed in.”
“I don’t buy it,” Rivas said of Baeza’s explanation. He alleged that Baeza has stronger Republican ties than she has let on.
As proof of her Democratic affiliation, Baeza said she had voted in Democratic primary races before and after 2016, and voted for the Democrats in the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections.
She said she was not surprised Rivas had chosen to endorse her opponent, given that “he personally attacked me and attempted to mislead voters despite knowing my voting record and my explanation for my protest vote,” she said.
In an interview, Perez did not follow Rivas’s questioning of Baeza’s Democratic credentials — but she did describe the 2016 vote as a missed opportunity to weigh in on local Democratic primary races.
“When my opponent voted in the Republican primary, we had pretty significant races in the Democratic primaries,” Perez said, pointing to competitive Democratic primary races for judge of the Eighth Court of Appeals and El Paso County District Attorney in March 2016. “As a lawyer, this directly impacts your profession; it impacts your clients. I, at least, would like to have a voice on that as a voter.”
Baeza pointed to other expressions of support for her candidacy, among them, the 50% of votes she received in a poll of judicial candidates by members of the El Paso Bar Association. “If I don’t win, at least I know that I’m doing something right,” she said.
Baeza has also received endorsements from the Black El Paso Democrats, El Paso County Sheriff’s Officers Association, Tejano Democrats of El Paso, El Paso Young Democrats and Eastside Democrats, according to an interview as well as her response to an El Paso Matters questionnaire. In an email, Perez said she has also been endorsed by El Paso Mayor Oscar Leeser, El Paso County Sheriff Richard Wiles and the El Paso Queer Bar Association.
Cover photo: The doorway to El Paso County Court at Law No. 3 in the county courthouse. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)