Judge candidate claimed to have gathered ballot signatures. Social media shows she was on a cruise.

Opponent of Ana Laura Ramirez challenged her application, but opted not to file a lawsuit seeking her removal from the March primary ballot

SAN ANTONIO – A candidate for judge of one of Bexar County’s state district courts listed herself as having gathered signatures from voters on many of the same days she was pictured on social media taking part in a cruise along the coasts of California and Mexico, records obtained by KSAT Investigates show.

Candidate Ana Laura Ramirez, a Democrat, listed herself as the circulator on all 82 signature pages she turned in late last year as part of her application to get on the March 5 primary ballot for judge of the 73rd Civil District Court, records show.

Ramirez, however, was on the West Coast in early November, when close to 100 of her signatures were gathered, application records and social media posts confirm.

‘It’s disingenuous at best and lying at its worst’

On Nov. 5, for example, a day in which multiple pages of registered voters signed Ramirez’s ballot petition, she was pictured on Facebook on a dance floor. The post was tagged with the location Newport Beach, California.

The Nov. 5 signatures include those of Jamie Medellin and her husband.

“I came home with my daughter. My husband was already signing while I drove up,” Medellin said.

Jamie Medellin and her husband signed Ramirez's petition in early November. (KSAT)

Medellin told KSAT the woman gathering signatures for Ramirez’s application was clearly not Ramirez, as evidenced by the candidate’s picture appearing on campaign flyers being carried by the woman.

“I find it strange that knowing now how the process works, it all could have been easily avoided,” Medellin said.

Nov. 9, another day multiple signatures were gathered, Ramirez was tagged and pictured on Facebook on a boat in the San Diego Harbor.

Another post included multiple pictures of Ramirez wine tasting in Ensenada, Mexico, on Nov. 10, when other signatures were gathered.

“When a person states that they’re the circulator, they’re stating that they’re the persons that actually took the petitions and signatures around,” Monica Ramirez Alcántara, chairwoman of the Bexar County Democratic Party said.

Ramirez’s application drew a formal protest last month from Elizabeth Martinez, one of Ramirez’s two opponents in the Democratic primary.

In a Jan. 9 letter to Alcántara, Martinez described Ramirez’s application as invalid, noting that her opponent listed herself as the circulator for 99 signatures gathered on dates she was on the cruise.

Elizabeth Martinez, candidate for judge of 73rd District Court. (KSAT)

Martinez’s protest listed what she described as other defects in Ramirez’s application.

Martinez included a long list of signatures she was challenging, including those she said came from people who had already signed her petition or were not registered to vote in Bexar County.

“Rules are rules. Laws are laws, and we have to lead by example. I noticed some glaring inconsistencies that did need to be pointed out,” said Martinez, staff attorney for the Bexar County civil district courts and a part-time city magistrate who was appointed in June 2022.

Martinez’s January letter stated that Ramirez “must be disqualified from appearing on the Democratic Party primary ballot.”

In her formal protest of Ramirez’s application, Martinez included a signed affidavit from Medellin in which she swore under oath that the woman who gathered her and her husband’s signatures was not Ramirez.

“It’s disingenuous at best and lying at its worst. Especially for a judgeship, I don’t know, I would probably just bow out gracefully and call it a day and say ‘next time I’ll do it properly,’” Medellin said when asked about Ramirez’s decision to stay in the race.

The third candidate for judge of the 73rd District Court, attorney Dannick Villaseñor-Hernandez, told KSAT she and her campaign team also reviewed Ramirez’s ballot petition.

“With regard to Ms. Ramirez, we did find some concerning defects in the signatures,” said Villaseñor-Hernandez, who opted not to challenge the application after determining Ramirez still had enough signatures if the possibly invalid ones were tossed out.

Villaseñor-Hernandez conceded that at the time her team reviewed the application, she was unaware of Ramirez’s cruise and that signatures listing Ramirez as the circulator were gathered while she was out of state.

“As a judicial candidate, I would expect anybody who is going to apply to put their name on a ballot, that they pay attention to detail,” Villaseñor-Hernandez said.

Dannick Villaseñor-Hernandez, candidate for judge of 73rd District Court. (KSAT)

Alcántara informed Martinez last month that the party would not remove Ramirez from the ballot, but that she could file a lawsuit in civil district court asking for the signatures to be invalidated.

“All I can state in that regard is that Mrs. Martinez at the time absolutely could have gone into the court system and could have found a remedy,” Alcántara said.

Alcántara told KSAT that the party does not validate signatures and simply serves as the filing authority.

Bexar County Democratic Party Chairwoman Monica Ramirez Alcántara. (KSAT)

“By the time that Ms. Martinez came in with the complaint, many deadlines had already lapsed. So, I had already one - certified the vote, two - we had already provided everything, as far as the ballot is concerned, over to the secretary of state and the elections department and then three - we had already done our ballot order draw,” Alcántara said.

Alcántara and Martinez both confirmed to KSAT that Martinez ultimately decided not to challenge Ramirez’s application with a formal suit.

“I trust the voters. I trust the voters, and I don’t take any of this lightly, and I’m not about to take a choice away from the voters,” Martinez said.

Ramirez responds

Ramirez declined multiple requests from KSAT to take part in an interview for this story.

She instead released a written statement late last month that did not specifically address the contested signatures.

“Thank you for reaching out to me regarding the Democratic primary election. I would like to begin by saying that my opponents had every opportunity to file their complaint in a court of law which they chose not to do. If they believed that they had a legal basis for doing so and if the law was on their side then this would be a matter addressed by the District Courts. It is my understanding that the Democratic Party responded to the inquiry and advised the complainant of her legal remedies. The deadline to file any formal complaint has passed. There is substantial case law that would apply and would demonstrate that this issue has no legal basis. Unfortunately, my opponent has not had the professional curtesy [courtesy] to provide a copy of any letter or complaint to me personally. This in my opinion, is an attempt to distract from the fact that I am first on the ballot, I am the most experienced candidate and am the most qualified candidate in this race. Thank you for your time and consideration,” Ramirez wrote.

“The only thing she had told me was that they came in to sign, she was waiting for her campaign manager and they were rushed. She had all her family here, and so, she felt rushed. I didn’t have much more of a conversation with her other than that,” said Alcántara, who then laughed.

Ramirez, formerly Ana Laura Hessbrook, was sued by a San Antonio neighborhood association in February 2020 for unpaid assessments at a Northwest Side home, court records show.

She agreed to pay $1,146.03 for the assessments and $3,538 in attorney’s fees for the neighborhood association in May 2020, court records show.

The neighborhood association released a lien it had filed against in the property in August 2020, after the amounts claimed in the lien were paid in full, court records show.

Separately, in federal court, Ramirez was sued by the U.S. attorney’s office in March 2011 over unpaid federal student loans, court records show.

The government was able to get a judgment against Ramirez for $151,615.63 plus interest and costs in September of that year, court records show.

Asked for comment about the suits, Ramirez told KSAT via email, “With regard to the HOA issue, that was paid in full at the time it arose and I, like many Americans, have a payment plan regarding my federal student loan debt. I hope this answers your additional questions.”

Judge David Canales stepped down from the 73rd District Court earlier this month, leaving office 11 months before the end of his term.

Governor Greg Abbott could appoint a replacement to hold the position until the end of the year, but he has yet to do so.

Since there are no Republican candidates on the ballot for the 73rd District Court, the winner of the Democratic primary will likely win the election and take office in January 2025.

Early voting on this race and others began Tuesday and runs through March 1. Election day is March 5.

Read more reporting on the KSAT Investigates page.

About the Authors

Emmy-award winning reporter Dillon Collier joined KSAT Investigates in September 2016. Dillon's investigative stories air weeknights on the Nightbeat and on the Six O'Clock News. Dillon is a two-time Houston Press Club Journalist of the Year and a Texas Associated Press Broadcasters Reporter of the Year.

Joshua Saunders is an Emmy award-winning photographer/editor who has worked in the San Antonio market for the past 20 years. Joshua works in the Defenders unit, covering crime and corruption throughout the city.

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