Who Is Lina Hidalgo?
Lina Hidalgo is an influential American politician known for her role as the county judge of Harris County, Texas. Lina Maria Hidalgo was born on February 19, 1991, in Bogota, Colombia. Due to circumstances in Colombia, her family decided to leave the country when Lina was just five years old.
After leaving Colombia, the Hidalgo family lived in Peru and then in Mexico City. Their journey for a better life eventually brought them to Houston, Texas, when Lina was 15 years old. Lina’s educational journey in the U.S. began in Texas. She attended Seven Lakes High School in Katy, Texas. After high school, she pursued higher education at Stanford University, where she graduated with a degree in political science in 2013.
Her honors thesis at Stanford was titled “Tiananmen or Tahrir? A Comparative Study of Military Intervention Against Popular Protest.” This academic achievement was a testament to her interest in global political events and movements. In the same year she graduated from Stanford, 2013, Lina Hidalgo became a U.S. citizen, marking a significant milestone in her personal and professional journey.
After her graduation from Stanford, Lina received the Omidyar Network Postgraduate Fellowship, which allowed her to work with an international organization. She moved to Thailand and worked for the Internews Network, an international nonprofit dedicated to training journalists and advocating for press freedom. This experience gave her a global perspective on media, communication, and the importance of a free press.
Upon her return to the U.S., Lina took on the role of a medical interpreter at the Texas Medical Center in Houston. She also volunteered for the Texas Civil Rights Project, showcasing her commitment to civil rights and community service. During this period, she was accepted into the MPP/JD joint program at the Harvard University Kennedy School of Government and New York University School of Law. However, the 2016 election became a turning point for her, inspiring her to put her academic ambitions on hold and run for public office.
Lina Hidalgo’s early life is a testament to her resilience, adaptability, and commitment to public service. From her birth in Colombia to her migration across countries and her eventual settlement in the U.S., her journey reflects the challenges and opportunities that come with seeking a better life and making a difference in the community. Her educational and professional experiences further shaped her perspective and prepared her for a life of public service in Harris County and beyond.
In 2018, Lina Hidalgo decided to run for the position of Harris County Judge. This was a significant move as she was challenging the incumbent, Ed Emmett, who had held the position for a considerable time. Hidalgo’s campaign focused on several key issues, including flood control, criminal justice reform, and increasing transparency and accountability in local government.
In the 2018 elections, she was unopposed in the Democratic Party primary election and faced Ed Emmett in the general election. Her victory in the general election was notable as she became the first woman and Latina elected to the office of Harris County Judge. This win was considered an upset and garnered national attention. Her victory also marked a shift in the political landscape of Harris County, as the election switched majority control of Harris County Commissioners Court, over which Hidalgo presides, from Republicans to Democrats.
Tenure As Harris County Judge
As the Harris County Judge, Hidalgo has been at the forefront of several major decisions and initiatives, such as the misdemeanor cash bail reform. Hidalgo championed misdemeanor cash bail reform in Harris County, aiming to make the justice system more equitable.
COVID-19 Pandemic Response
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Hidalgo was proactive in implementing public health measures to curb the spread of the virus. In March 2020, she ordered the closure of bars and restaurants. By April 2020, she mandated that Harris County residents wear face masks in public. These measures, while essential for public health, faced criticism from Republicans at both the state and federal levels.
Hidalgo has been credited with making voting more accessible in Harris County during the 2020 Texas elections. Her initiatives led to increased voter turnout, especially among lower-propensity voters.
Infrastructure And Development
Hidalgo has been involved in discussions and decisions related to infrastructure development in Harris County. She filed a lawsuit against the Texas Department of Transportation to stop the expansion of Interstate 45 through Houston. This move was based on concerns about potential environmental and civil rights violations.
Hidalgo’s work and influence have not gone unnoticed. In December 2019, she was named one of Forbes 30 under 30 in Law and Policy.
Hidalgo ran for re-election in 2022 and defeated her opponent, Alexandra del Moral Mealer, by a narrow margin. Hidalgo’s bilingual skills have been both an asset and a point of contention. In March 2019, she was criticized for addressing constituents in both English and Spanish during a news conference about a massive chemical fire. However, given that a third of Harris County residents are Spanish speakers, her approach was seen by many as inclusive and representative of the diverse community she serves.
In conclusion, Lina Hidalgo’s political career has been marked by her commitment to public service, her ability to challenge the status quo, and her dedication to representing the diverse community of Harris County. Her decisions and initiatives reflect a progressive approach to governance, and she continues to be a significant figure in Texas politics.
The Lawsuit Against Hidalgo
Five individuals have filed a lawsuit seeking to remove Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo from office. The primary contention in the lawsuit revolves around Hidalgo’s absence from public office. The lawsuit alleges that “after July 27, 2023, Judge Hidalgo has abandoned the office of the Harris County Judge and failed to perform any of the duties and responsibilities of the Harris County Judge.
It further states that Hidalgo missed scheduled meetings on Aug. 8, Aug. 17, Aug. 22, Aug. 29, Sept. 12, and Sept. 19. At least three of these meetings were regularly scheduled. The lawsuit claims that “Judge Hidalgo’s absence from public office has prevented her and continues to prevent her from the lawful discharge of her duties as Harris County Judge.
The plaintiffs are seeking Hidalgo’s removal from office on the following grounds that she exercised gross carelessness in the discharge of her duties. She is unfit or unable to promptly and properly discharge her official duties due to a serious physical or mental defect that did not exist at the time of her election. The lawsuit also claims that Hidalgo’s absence for three consecutive meetings means she has abandoned the office. The plaintiffs want the matter to be set for trial by a jury.
In early August, Hidalgo announced she would be taking a temporary leave of absence to receive treatment for clinical depression. She is expected to return to her usual schedule on Monday, Oct. 2. In response to the lawsuit, Brandon Marshall, Harris County Judge’s Office Spokesperson, stated, “The petition is meritless and an absolute joke. It repeatedly misspelled several words. Judge Hidalgo is looking forward to returning to the office on Monday, October 2nd, as she announced in her letter dated September 14, 2023.”
Harris County Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia issued a statement about the lawsuit, characterizing it as “yet another political maneuver by Harris County extremists who refuse to accept election outcomes.” He further criticized the lawsuit for citing a non-existent Texas Government Code Section and for spelling errors. Garcia believes the lawsuit is a waste of taxpayers’ time and money and expects it to be dismissed immediately.
The lawsuit and the reactions it has gathered, highlight the political tensions, and challenges faced by public officials, especially during times of personal challenges.
Is It Illegal For A Judge To Leave Office For Temporary Leave?
In general, it is not illegal for a judge to take a temporary leave of absence. However, the specifics can vary based on jurisdiction and the reasons for the leave.
Judges might take temporary leaves for various legitimate reasons, including medical, personal, or administrative reasons. For instance, a judge might take medical leave for surgery, maternity/paternity leave, or bereavement leave due to the loss of a family member.
In many jurisdictions, a judge would need to notify and possibly get approval from a higher authority or administrative body before taking a leave of absence. This could be a chief judge, a judicial council, or another relevant entity.
The duration of the leave might be subject to specific rules or policies. A short-term leave might be easily approved, while an extended leave might require more justification or might be subject to certain limits.
Depending on the jurisdiction and the length of the leave, a temporary replacement or substitute judge might be appointed to handle the judge’s duties during their absence.
If a judge were to misuse the leave policy, for instance, by taking leave under false pretenses or by extending leave without proper justification, there could be disciplinary consequences.
Judges, especially those in elected positions, might face public scrutiny or political consequences for taking extended leaves, even if the leave is legally justified.
In summary, while it’s generally not illegal for a judge to take a temporary leave of absence, the specifics of the leave – its reason, duration, and the procedures followed – are essential to ensure its legality and appropriateness.
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