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Lawyers suing over Walmart shooting donate $10k to re-election campaign of El Paso judge hearing the case

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KVIA/MGN
Judge Sergio Enriquez is facing ethics questions over a campaign donation.

EL PASO, Texas -- An out-of-town law firm representing Aug. 3 shooting victims and their families in a lawsuit against Walmart contributed $10,000 to the re-election campaign of El Paso Judge Sergio H. Enriquez, who is presiding over the case in the 448th District Court.

That's according to campaign finance reports filed with the Texas Ethics Commission that were reviewed by ABC-7. (You can view the document at the bottom of this article.)

The contribution made by the Ammons Law Firm of Houston makes up over 40 percent of Enriquez's total political contributions, which amount to $24,800 during the reporting period of Jan. 24 to Feb. 22.

Enriquez had a more than $25,000 in total political expenditures during that time period as well.

Ammons only contributed to Enriquez's campaign during the reporting period, the firm during that time did not donate to the campaigns of any other judge or judicial candidate in the El Paso area.

Enriquez's opponent, Abe Gonzalez who is a partner at El Paso's Kemp Smith law firm, has raised just $1,975 during that period. His total political expenditures were $23,806.38 during that same period.

According to the Texas Center for Legal Ethics, "a judge shall refrain from financial and business dealings that tend to reflect adversely on the judge's impartiality, interfere with the proper performance of the judicial duties, exploit his or her judicial position, or involve the judge in frequent transactions with lawyers or persons likely to come before the court on which the judge serves."

While acceptance of the donation by Enriquez may be questionable by some, it is not illegal. In the state of Texas, a judge or judicial candidate may legally ask for and receive funds from a law firm or attorney despite the ethical considerations noted above.

A spokeswoman for the Ammons Law Firm told ABC-7 that the firm "regularly gives political contributions to experienced candidates, as is within their right."

"It's not an uncommon practice," maintained Miranda Sevcik. "Many, many other law firms in the state do that.”

When asked about the potential ethical conflict raised by her firm's donation to Enriquez, Sevcik contended, "There's nothing illegal about it."

"Law firms do it all the time and whether or not it's an ethical question is really one for the Texas state Legislature," she added.

ABC-7 also asked about what motivated the firm to specifically contribute to Enriquez's campaign and not others in the El Paso area.

"I wasn't there, I didn't write the check," Sevcik responded. "So, as far as a motivation behind it, I can't speak to it, but we do it all the time."

ABC-7 spent five hours Friday waiting for Judge Enriquez outside his office, where aides said he was in a meeting, to ask why he accepted the Ammons donation. Despite being aware that an ABC-7 crew was there, the judge did not take time to speak with them.

His campaign marketing director told ABC-7 that the judge was abiding by campaign rules under Texas law and didn't believe that taking the contribution posed any conflict.

Enrqiuez is a "very ethical person," maintained the marketing manager, Orlando Rodriguez. "He has got a responsibility to uphold the law and he’s got a responsibility to do his job and knowing him he’ll do his job.”

The judge's name appears on the upcoming March 3 election ballot.

Article Topic Follows: Texas Politics

Brianna Chavez

Brianna Chavez is an ABC-7 reporter/producer.

Jim Parker

Jim Parker is the Director of Digital Content for ABC-7.

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