Taft, TX (Tuesday, May 18, 2010) -- Homer Villarreal (founder of El Defenzor newspaper) and Andrew Hall (a Taft resident who distributes the same paper) were found guilty of violating ordinance # 836 – an ordinance passed by the Taft City Council targeting EL DEFENZOR newspaper (a free publication) from being distributed in yards of residents (nor being delivered door-to-door in certain homes that appear in a newly created “no visitors’ list” that is posted in city hall).
What is ordinance #836? A city ordinance that prohibits the free newspapers (e.g., such as El Defenzor) to be thrown in yards. The ordinance only allows subscription newspapers (e.g., the Corpus Christi Caller-times and the local Taft Tribute newspapers that right - the ones you pay for) to be distributed. The ordinance also created a "no visitors' list".
The staff of El Defenzor, under the ordinance, is allowed to visit homes to ask resident if they want an edition of their newspaper only 30 minutes after the sun comes out; until 30 minutes before it gets dark. They cannot leave a newspaper on the yard nor the home. To iterate, it cannot visit residences that appear in the "No Visitor's list."
How did this ordinance come about? It was passed after El Defenzor wrote a critical article of the political tenure of Mayor Bobby Vega's eight months in office. El Defenzor pointed out how removed the platform under which the mayor ran was from the actions he had taken. The article also questioned the past ethical behavior of "Sid" Arismendez, the new city attorney... Soon after the article appeared, the mayor instructed Arismendez to craft an ordinance (which for the most part targeted El Defenzor). Soon after the ordinance was voted on and adopted by the authority of the Mayor and two city councilmen (a majority). Mr. Homer Villarreal, the founder of El Defenzor a few days after challenged the ordinance by throwing a newspaper in the mayor's yard. He was ticketed for violating the mentioned ordinance. He was also given a warning citation for trespassing on the yard of the mayor's residence.
They were both (Villarreal and Hall) represented by Attorney Mark Di Carlo – who did a luminous job: pointing out immediately that a copy of the “newspaper” had not been entered into evidence by the prosecutor (and thus had no legal basis to proceed with the trial). The two cited individuals (Villarreal and Hall) were tried in separate bench trials. [Note: A “bench trial” is when the verdit of “guilt” or “innocence” is left up to the judge to make and not a jury].
Villarreal was fined $500; Hall, $250. Villarreal was fined for throwing a paper in the yard of Mayor Bobby Vega’s home. Hall was fined for attempting to deliver a paper to two residential homes that appeared in a “no visitors’ list” (mentioned in the ordinance). Hall had at the outset been given two tickets (or citations) for being in violation of Ordinance #836 as mentioned – but in court one of the tickets had to be dropped because one of his accusers failed to show up to the hearing. However, the other remaining citation, was tried in court. A Ms. O’Grady (an intimate friend of the Mayor’s) accused Hall (about a month after the ordinance was passed) of attempting to deliver a paper to her home (she claimed her signature appeared in a written request to place her in the “no visitor’s list).
Ms. O’Grady said she first saw Hall talking to her neighbor’s when the incident occurred. “I noticed him when I stared out the window of the living room. Hall’s attorney asked: “How did you know a paper was going to be delivered to your home?” She responded: “I know the newspaper; I’ve seen it before.”
Hall’s attorney: “Are you familiar with the newspaper?”
Hall’s attorney: “Do you think you can provide an accurate, unbias opinion of the paper here in court today?”
Hall’s Attorney: “So when you saw Mr. Hall from the window of you living room, you had problems with the paper being delivered to your house?”
O’Grady: “Yes. I signed to be included in the ‘No Visitors’ List.’”
Hall’s Attorney: “So you do have a bias and a bad impression of the newspaper?”
O’Grady: “Yes, I’ve seen the paper. I think it is not a newspaper, but (staring at Mayor Vega) more of a tabloid.”
Hall’s Attorney: “What makes you say that?”
O’Grady: “About four years ago my ex-boyfriend was mentioned in one of the articles (in a negative light).”
Hall’s Attorney: “Oh, so seeing you ex-boyfriend in an article made you get a bad impression of the paper?”
Hall’s Attorney: “So where were you when Mr. Hall approached you?”
O’Grady: “By then, I was in the backyard with the phone in my hall. I called 911 immediately.”
Hall’s Attorney: “No more your honor.”
After Hall was found guilty by Judge Carmen Herrera, Attorney Di Carlo, who had done a superb, sort of compromisingly asked the judge to lower Mr. Hall’s fine from $500 to about $100. “Your honor, he is a man of modest means your honor and he does not get paid for delivering the paper.” The judge, sensing the weak case that the acting prosecutor had presented against Mr. Hall, agreed to lower the fine to $250.
[Initial note: EL After Hall’s hearing. Homer Villarreal’s took place. It proceeded.
Villarreal’s attorney claimed ordinance #836 was did not apply to El Defenzor because it was not “a flyer, handout nor was the paper considered a canvassor.”
Prosecutor Armendariz argued that he had superbly crafted the ordinance to make sure it included a newspaper. Di Carlo were into detail defining the role of a newspaper as opposed to a commericial endeavor – pointing out the publication was free and that no donations were solicited and that it did not even have any advertisement from San Patriocio businesses or persons.
Mr. Vilarreal said his objective of serving the area was to serve the community by giving them another perspective. He pointed out that he felt he was “innocent” yet he had throw a paper in the mayor’s yard as a symbolic challenge to the ordinance.
The mayor's wife was called to the stand. She exaggerated her claim. She said Villarreal stepped on her yard and threw a newspaper and knocked on her door and so forth". For the record, local media that was present on that momentous day, have pointed out that he never stepped on the yard and threw the paper from the street. A television reporter stated during one of his reports that it was he and he alone that knocked on the Vega home. "I told Sid Almendarez that: yet I have never been issued a citation for tress passing or being in violation of the ordinance."As the judge found him guilty. Mayor Vega in the back jerked his arm as if saying: “Yes! We got him,” one observer shared. has ten days to appeal the decision of the Taft Municipal Court. An Appeal Bond of $1500 will have to be covered - twice the amount of the total citations.]