For more than 40 years, Dallas County Constable Jaime Cortes says, he led an exemplary life, rising up through the ranks of law enforcement in the last decade without running into trouble. But over the course of the last nine months, Cortes claims his reputation has been "smeared tremendously" by Judge Jim Foster and Republican Commissioners Ken Mayfield and Maurine Dickey, resulting in his resignation yesterday afternoon effective in 60 days.
A month after losing his reelection campaign to Beth Villarreal, Cortes was days away from having to produce a $250,000 officeholder surety bond to protect the county from lawsuits stemming from allegations of him taking kickbacks from a towing company -- Dowdy Ferry Auto Services -- and mistreating his employees. More pressing, however, was a hearing scheduled for today regarding a civil lawsuit to remove him from office.
"All these pending litigation cases were going to be very time consuming, cost consuming and taxing on my family," Cortes told Unfair Park last night, hours before a hearing was to begin that could have led to his removal from office. The petition was filed in February by three of his deputy constables, who accused him of "misconduct, criminal conduct, retaliation, incompetence, official oppression and misuse of county property." A month later, Cortes filed a counterclaim against the three, who, he said, "have conspired to defame, embarrass, and thereby damage" the constable.
"And my family has been through enough," Cortes says, "so I thought that now it was time to go ahead and start a new chapter and get this behind me."
Cortes, a Democrat, says he received no pressure from Dallas County Democratic Party chair Darlene Ewing or anyone else within the party to resign. The party has supported him, and he stresses that it was decision made in the best interests of his family -- most notably his wife and teenage daughter.
So what's next for Cortes?
"We're going to make sure Craig [Watkins] stays in office and we get Mayfield out of office," he says. "I'm not laughing. I'm serious."
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Mayfield faces a tough battle in November against former Mayor Pro Tem Dr. Elba Garcia, the wife of one of Cortes's attorneys, Domingo Garcia. Mayfield offered campaign assistance to Villarreal, who is expected to be appointed by the commissioners to take over for Cortes because she has no GOP opponent in November, but Cortes says he's not bitter at Mayfield.
"I know what the politics are," he says. "The bottom line is Mayfield and Foster are not for the community. They take the personal vendettas to another level. And they use the commissioners court as a forum, and that is not good for the community."
Larry Friedman, Cortes's other attorney, says his client has simply had enough and a good man has been driven out of politics because of a witch hunt.
"It's a sad lesson in civics," he says. "It's a real deterrent for people who are thinking about holding office. It's an unfortunate event that occurred."