Six-figure student loan lawsuit adds another layer to contentious district court judge race

Candidate Nadine Nieto released from lien same day she installed a campaign treasurer, records show

SAN ANTONIO – An already contentious race for a judicial office in Bexar County added another layer of intrigue after court records revealed one of the candidates was accused of defaulting on more than $100,000 in student loans and interest.

Candidate Nadine Nieto, who is running against Lisa Uresti-Dasher for the 285th District Court, was sued by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in 2010 after they alleged she owed $101,580.20 in student loans and accrued interest. Nieto has also been the subject of multiple liens, tax lawsuits and court filings dating back to the late 1990s, the KSAT 12 Defenders found.

During an interview with the Defenders last week, Nieto said the lawsuit included an embellished amount of what she owed, but acknowledged not keeping detailed records of the loans she received.

“At the start, things aren’t that great. And you’re not probably paying attention to the details like you should be,” said Nieto, referring to student loans she took out to attend the University of Texas at Austin and then Thurgood Marshall School of Law at Texas Southern University in Houston.

Nieto claimed during the interview that she was making payments on the loans prior to the suit being filed more than a decade ago. She also previously contested the amount owed and disputed whether it was some of her handwriting — and even if it was her signature — on the financial paperwork.

During a 2011 deposition for the suit obtained by KSAT 12, Nieto was asked if she had a “ballpark figure” of the amount she had taken out in loans for her undergrad years and law school. She replied ‘no,’ according to a copy of the deposition.

When asked if she kept records of the loans she replied, “I did not.”

After the government was awarded a judgment for the full amount in early 2012, Nieto appealed the ruling to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, records show.

April 2011 deposition of Nadine Nieto from a student loan default lawsuit filed by the United States Attorney's Office. (KSAT)

“We really need to get to the bottom of how much is really owed here. And that’s how the litigation ensued,” said Nieto last week.

Nieto said she agreed to drop the appeal later that year as part of a confidential settlement that required her to pay back around $78,000, about $30,000 less than what the amount she owed had ballooned to at that point.

Nieto said she made a lump sum payment of $10,000 and then payments of just over $328 a month for close to a decade.

She cleared the final approximately $6,000 owed in early September, but disputes that the payment was made because she had decided to run for judge of the 285th District Court.

“I do know it has nothing to do with me running for office, if that’s the implication,” said Nieto.

Bexar County Clerk records show she was released from the federal lien the same day state records show she installed a treasurer for her campaign for judge.

Nieto, who called the common date a “coincidence,” said the final payment was made so that she could get a clear title on the purchase of a new home.

Other liens, lawsuits

Unrelated court records show that Travis County was awarded a judgment of just over $6,000 against Nieto in 1997. She confirmed the address on the judgment was her former address, but could not recall any details from the case.

She said a separate 2001 lien filed against her law office for less than $400 was for unpaid employee taxes owed to the Texas Workforce Commission.

Multiple entities, including North East Independent School District and the City of Castle Hills, were awarded a judgment against Nieto in 2005 over what she described as unpaid taxes on the purchase of office supplies at her law office.

The IRS also targeted Nieto in the 2000s, claiming she owed more than she had paid in income taxes from her private law practice. Like the student loan lawsuit, Nieto said she was able to settle the case for a significantly lower amount.

“What you’ve brought up shows that I actually will fight for what is right and I will pay what is owed. I don’t think there’s any voter in Bexar County that would not challenge something that they did not owe,” said Nieto.

District judge candidate Nadine Nieto. (KSAT)

What Nieto’s opponent says

Her Democratic opponent in the March primary, however, has pounced on the revelations from the court records.

“It’s concerning. It’s concerning that Nadine Nieto would run for this position, despite her background and despite her habitual disregard for the law. It appears she’s unfit to be judge,” said Lisa Uresti-Dasher.

Uresti-Dasher, who like Nieto is a San Antonio attorney who graduated from South San Antonio High School and later the University of Texas, beat an attempt earlier this month by Nieto to have her removed from the March primary ballot.

Nieto last month filed a lawsuit claiming that Uresti-Dasher’s application for the judge position contained “several facial defects” that made the application invalid.

A two-day virtual hearing to determine Uresti-Dasher’s political fate revealed significant bad blood between the two campaigns.

The hearing focused on whether Uresti-Dasher had applied using her legal name and had provided inaccurate information about how long she has resided in Texas and Bexar County.

Uresti-Dasher is the daughter of Bexar County Tax Assessor-Collector Albert Uresti and the niece of disgraced former Texas state senator Carlos Uresti, who is currently serving a 12-year prison sentence for federal fraud and money laundering convictions.

After an attorney for Nieto filed a motion to keep certain evidence out of the hearing, including previous court filings involving Nieto, an attorney for Uresti-Dasher responded.

“The law is very, very clear. When you ask for extraordinary relief, you need to come to court with clean hands,” Uresti-Dasher’s attorney Andrew Toscano said during the hearing. He repeated the “clean hands” remark several times during the proceedings.

“Trying to embarrass either side about things that may or may not be something that you don’t want to get into, that’s irrelevant to any issue in the case. We’re not trying to try anything in secret, we’re not trying to exclude the press, we’re not trying to do any of those things,” Nieto’s attorney Roy Barrett said during the hearing, defending his motion.

At the conclusion of the hearing visiting Judge John Gabriel denied Nieto’s request for a temporary injunction, allowing Uresti-Dasher to remain on the primary ballot.

Nieto’s specific legal issues did not come up.

“The judge made a clear decision that her claims lacked all merit and now I’m on the ballot, and now the voters can decide if they want to vote for someone who does pay their taxes,” said Uresti-Dasher.

Uresti-Dasher confirmed to the Defenders that she filed a formal bar grievance against Nieto in late November.

District judge candidate Lisa Uresti-Dasher said it appears her opponent in the Democratic primary, Nadine Nieto, is unfit to be judge. (KSAT)

In the grievance, which Nieto must respond to by the end of this month, Uresti-Dasher wrote that Nieto “continuously spreads lies about me. I have heard her tell people that I am a housewife, I do not practice law.”

“I respect all housewives and I respect all people that are homemakers and I have children of my own and I’m a proud mother and a proud wife. But I’m also a proud attorney,” Uresti-Dasher told KSAT.

An attorney representing Uresti-Dasher also sent Nieto and her campaign manager a cease and desist letter in early December, demanding that they stop making “defamatory statements” about his client.

“Her comments kept on getting larger, the white lies kept getting larger,” Uresti-Dasher told KSAT.

Uresti-Dasher told KSAT the inaccuracies on her application for the judge position pale in comparison to Nieto’s past legal issues.

But questions about Uresti-Dasher’s accuracy extend beyond her application.

During an interview with KSAT earlier this month Uresti-Dasher claimed she never worked for her uncle, ex-state Senator Carlos Uresti, and instead had an office in his building much like several other attorneys.

In a 2018 sentencing memorandum in Uresti’s federal criminal case, however, Uresti-Dasher was quoted as saying she worked at her uncle’s law office in her first years as an attorney.

“He never hesitated to help those who came into his office. Even when people didn’t have money to pay him, he would tell me, ‘just help them.... I will still compensate you for your time.’ And, he sure did compensate me, even though he didn’t always get paid from his clients,” the memorandum states.

Uresti-Dasher attempted to provide clarification via email this week, writing that she was compensated by her uncle as a contract attorney

“So, to be clear, I never said I was not compensated by him; I said I was not employed by him,” wrote Uresti-Dasher in the email.

During the court hearing earlier this month Uresti-Dasher testified that she was never employed by a district attorney’s office in Wisconsin, but instead simply took part in an internship in that state as part of attending law school there.

In her state bar complaint against Nieto, however, Uresti-Dasher wrote that her legal experience included starting her career in the district attorney’s office in Wisconsin, where she led trials as a juvenile prosecutor.

“The kind of person that needs to be on this bench is somebody who’s been trustworthy and that has told the truth during the campaign. And I know that we can look at other things beyond that, but I don’t think that she can show that I’ve been dishonest about anything,” said Nieto.

Early voting for the March 1 primary is scheduled to begin February 14. The winner of the Democratic primary for 285th District Court will face Republican Mark Thompson in the November election.

About the Authors:

Emmy-award winning reporter Dillon Collier joined the KSAT 12 Defenders in 2016. Dillon's investigative stories air weeknights on the Nightbeat. 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.