Well, well, well. The fight for the 28th CD Democratic nomination is not over yet.
U.S. Rep. Ciro Rodriguez was brought back from the brink of political extinction Wednesday when a 4th Court of Appeals' panel overturned a lower court's ruling that prevented him from presenting evidence of illegal votes for Laredo lawyer Henry Cuellar.
The ruling breathed new life into Rodriguez's quest to overturn Cuellar's 58-vote victory.
The justices ordered a new trial, and Cuellar pledged to seek a ruling from the full 4th Court of Appeals.
"We feel good about it," Rodriguez said from Washington. "We are elated. We just want to be sure the true winner of the 28th Congressional District is elected."
The 22-page majority opinion said the trial court erred by not allowing evidence contesting the disputed results of the election and ordered a new trial in state district court before Judge Joseph Hart in Laredo.
Chief Justice Alma Lopez and Justice Catherine Stone, both Democrats, sided with Rodriguez in the 2-1 decision. Justice Paul Green, a Republican, wrote the dissenting opinion.
"Obviously, we're disappointed by the court's decision," Cuellar said, who said he remained "extremely confident" that he'll hold onto the Democratic nomination.
"To throw out 58 votes, that's an uphill battle," he said.
Cuellar said he would seek a ruling by the full 4th Court of Appeals, which is comprised of five Republicans and two Democrats. He has five days to file an appeal.
During the original case, Rodriguez attorney Buck Wood provided Cuellar's attorneys — but not the court — with a list of 262 names and addresses of voters he claims may have voted illegally in Webb County.
But Hart ruled Rodriguez could not present that evidence because it was not part of his original lawsuit, an issue that became the crux of the appeal.
Specifically, the appellate panel said Hart wrongfully disallowed Rodriguez to present his claim of unqualified voters. The justices ordered a new trial where evidence would be permitted "on both the validity of the recount and the qualifications of the individual voters."
In legal filings, Cuellar cited the 2000 presidential fiasco in Florida to argue that challenging votes in Webb County was "fundamentally unfair and constitutionally infirm" because it singled out voters in only one part of the expansive congressional district.
But the appellate court ruled that in Bush vs. Gore, the state of Florida lacked specific standards to determine the legality of votes, unlike Texas where votes are presumed to be legal unless proven otherwise.
"Although the task of reviewing the 300-and-some ballots Rodriguez contends were cast by unqualified voters may be an arduous one, it is a task our Legislature has indicated that the courts must undertake," the majority opinion read.
Cuellar spokesman T.J. Connolly said Green's dissenting opinion was "equally clear and strong that Judge Hart's rulings should in fact be upheld."
"It is our view that the full court, in hearing all the facts, may well concur with Judge Green and Judge Hart that Henry Cuellar has won," Connolly said.