Campaign attack ads ignite already hot Hidalgo County DA’s race

Toribio "Terry" Palacios and Nereida Lopez-Singleterry (Screengrab: Futuro RGV/Facebook)

The gloves are off in the most contentious 2022 primary between the Democratic candidates running to be Hidalgo County’s next district attorney.

In the weeks leading up to early voting and continuing through early voting, candidates Nereida Lopez-Singleterry and Toribio “Terry” Palacios have lobbed attack advertisements at each other criticizing their opponents’ experience, campaigning that has become personal.

More recently, his opponent and social media pages have criticized Palacios for his law firm’s link to a case that resulted in a government informant’s murder, throwing more fuel on the already burning fire.

In interviews with The Monitor this week, both candidates expounded on those criticisms and provided defenses to their opponents with Lopez-Singleterry remaining on the offensive and vigorously defending her record as a Master Court judge while Palacios took a more measured tone, saying he regretted how ugly the race has become and wished it was more about platforms than attacks.

Nonetheless, Palacios has hammered home allegations that Lopez-Singleterry was investigated for being clocked in while on vacation in Cancun.

According to Palacios, his campaign filed an open records request for her timesheets and they say a comparison of those timesheets and Lopez-Singleterry’s Facebook page shows she was indeed on vacation while she was supposed to be working.

“Well, I think you need to be transparent and have some integrity and some responsibility for whenever you are given an office like that,” Palacios said.

He said Lopez-Singleterry was appointed to the position and insinuated her marriage to state District Judge Luis Singleterry may have influenced that appointment and edged out other people applying for that position who had 15 to 17 years of relevant experience.

“They gave it to her and she lost it in two or three years,” Palacios said.

Lopez-Singleterry said she has been offended by what she considers personal attacks by Palacios, which she said includes attacks on her gender, and said her opponent is lying about the existence of a timesheet investigation against her during her time on the Master Court.

“There are no allegations,” she said, challenging Palacios to publish a reprimand against her related to timesheets.

She said the photos Palacios has published are from her Facebook and taken out of context.

“I challenge him because there is no investigation,” she said. “I stepped down to run.”

Lopez-Singleterry is referring to the new district court Hidalgo County commissioners approved in March 2021. She said she planned to run a campaign to be the judge of that court.

However, she said after she stepped down she learned there wouldn’t be a 2022 election to fill the new judge’s spot because the creation of the court is delayed until 2023.

While she said she never planned to run against District Attorney Ricardo Rodriguez Jr., who is Palacios’ nephew, she changed her mind when in November he announced that he would not seek reelection.

Within hours of the announcement, Lopez-Singleterry said Palacios sent out text messages indicating he would run.

The Monitor reviewed one of those messages that was time stamped on Nov. 22 at 6:09 p.m. and had a photo of Palacios in front of an American flag with the campaign slogan “Integrity, Experience & Dedication,” accompanied by text saying “Vote for Terry Palacios for District Attorney.”

Palacios also confirmed to The Monitor on Nov. 22 after Rodriguez made his announcement that he intended to run for the position but needed to resign as Edinburg municipal judge — a position he has held for 27 years — because of ethics rules from the State Commission on Judicial Conduct.

That experience, along with three decades as a criminal defense attorney, is one of Palacios’ main talking points in his campaign.

“As a matter of fact, we would make history if they elect me. I’ll be the most qualified candidate that ever ran for the district attorney’s office,” Palacios said.

While Lopez-Singleterry did admit during a recent forum that Palacios did have more experience than her as a judge, she said Tuesday that neither she nor her opponent are running for a municipal judge position.

Another point of Palacios’ campaign has been pointing out that as a Master Court judge, Lopez-Singleterry never presided over any criminal cases aside from perhaps an individual who was facing jail over failing to pay child support.

She pushes back at his characterization, saying she is an experienced attorney and also has experience as a public defender and she portrays her time on the Master Court as one where she advocated for families.

And Lopez-Singleterry has also attacked Palacios’ experience, namely his work as a criminal defense attorney.

In one advertisement, she said Palacios has made a business out of securing plea deals and said 12, less than 1%, of the 7,296 criminal cases where he was the attorney of record, went to trial.

That ad said he does not have the right kind of experience needed to provide fair and equal justice.

Palacios said that is exactly what a criminal defense attorney does to work out cases in an effective and efficient manner for him, his clients and the taxpayers.

He also pushed back on her characterization that he’s made a career getting plea deals for criminals.

“I can’t say I represent criminals,” Palacios said. “I represent people who have criminal law issues.”

He also said that points to her lack of experience.

However, the latest talking point Lopez-Singleterry is bringing up follows a Monitor story about a Starr County cold case being stalled due to the murder of a government informant. In that story, the newspaper reported that a paralegal in Palacios’ law office pleaded guilty to a 2007 federal indictment for providing a document to members of the Texas Syndicate, which resulted in a government informant’s murder.

She said the public needs to know about this case and characterized the link as a betrayal of a client and of the justice system.

She said she featured this case in a commercial that is backed up by federal sentencing transcripts.

The suspect in this case, Joel Carcaño Jr., also known as “BJ,” took sole responsibility during his sentencing and received 52 months in federal prison after being excoriated and questioned by U.S. District Judge Ricardo Hinojosa, who also vigorously questioned him over whether he acted alone or in concert with anyone else at the law firm.

Carcaño maintained he acted alone.

“It’s so crazy. This got totally out of hand,” Palacios said on the topic.

He previously told The Monitor that he could not comment on the case because of attorney-client privilege and said while he wants to run the race on character and experience, that’s not what his opponent has done.

“What else can I do? Just get slapped around? It’s crazy,” Palacios said.

He said he just wants to be proactive and wished the mud-slinging could be left aside.

“We need to be more proactive and that is my platform and leave all this mud-slinging aside and get rid of that,” Palacios said.

For her part, Lopez-Singleterry said Palacios has used vulgar, fabricated attacks against her.

“Those attacks have no substance and reek of desperation,” she said.

Early voting is currently underway and the primary election is March 1.