Jay Root, The Associated Press by Jay Root - December 10, 2009
AUSTIN, TX – When Corpus Christi Judge Rose Vela was looking for an appointment to the Texas Supreme Court, her husband turned to a longtime friend and ally of Gov. Rick Perry – Cameron County Judge Carlos Cascos. But lawyer Filemon "Fil" Vela said he was dismayed by what Cascos told him: He needed to publicly disavow his support of Perry's rival Kay Bailey Hutchison, get on the Perry re-election bandwagon, and give the governor some campaign money for his wife to even be considered for the appointment. "It's clear that despite her qualifications, that when it came to the appointment, she was not on a level playing field because I had contributed to Hutchison – and I wasn't going to switch my support just to help her get the appointment," Filemon Vela told The Associated Press. Rose Vela is now running in the March Republican primary against the judge Perry ultimately appointed – Eva Guzman of Houston.
Cascos acknowledged that he gave Filemon Vela advice on how his wife might become eligible for an appointment to the high court. That included a recommendation that Filemon Vela endorse the governor and contribute to his campaign, Cascos said. What's not entirely clear is the role played by the governor's office or campaign. Cascos said he acted alone, without direction from Perry or his aides, a subject of dispute between the Vela and Perry camps. The saga began in August, when Justice Scott Brister announced he was stepping down from the high court, allowing Perry to appoint a temporary replacement. Rose Vela, a judge on the 13th Court of Appeals in coastal South Texas, expressed interest in the seat, and her husband inquired about an appointment. But Filemon Vela said Republican officials told him his support of Hutchison in the GOP primary was standing in his wife's way. The first to deliver the news was Eric Opiela, director of the Texas Republican Party, Filemon Vela said. Opiela, who resigned his party job in late November, declined to comment. After hearing from Opiela, Filemon Vela approached Cascos, whom Perry had once appointed to the Texas Public Safety Commission. Vela said Cascos told him in two conversations that he should endorse Perry and donate to his campaign if he wanted his wife to get the appointment. Cascos said the advice was meant "from one friend to another" and not as a message from Perry or anybody who works for him.
"I said, 'If you want it bad enough ... I would withdraw the endorsement [of Hutchison], I would contribute to the campaign, I would support him,' " Cascos recalled. He also said he told Filemon Vela that it was only a suggestion and "there's no guarantees or assurances that anything is going to happen." Perry spokeswoman Allison Castle said Perry's chief of staff, Ray Sullivan, and Cascos spoke on the phone about a possible appointment for Rose Vela but didn't discuss endorsements or campaign contributions. Sullivan told Cascos that Perry would "consider all the applicants," Castle said. In the end, Vela submitted an application for an appointment, but the job went to Guzman, whom Perry had previously appointed to a Houston appellate court. The two face each other in the GOP primary for a full term to the Supreme Court seat. Guzman's campaign consultant, Ted Delisi, said neither Guzman nor her husband has ever given campaign money to Perry. "Justice Guzman's qualifications are what put on her on the court. Period," Delisi said.