Banales received some notoriety a few years ago by ruling that 15 sex offenders in Corpus Christi must place signs in the yard of their residence declaring: "Registered sex offender lives here."
Banales pretended not to like the brief national attention, telling the Texas Monthly: “I didn’t want the attention. When I go to the store now, everyone knows me, and that didn’t use to happen. I hate the invasion of my privacy.”
The Texas Monthly reporter also noticed a framed copy the Corpus Christi Caller-Times that waited to be hung on the wall by his desk with a picture of Banales and a headline that read “The Mind Behind the Sex Sign Controversy.”
So much for not enjoying the attention.
Judge Banales has maintained tight courtroom control in the Govea case, moving testimony along expeditiously. He loses patience with the untrained, unskilled like prosecutor Oscar Guzman, who can't seem to frame questions that don't include the anticipated answer. Banales has to be judge and law professor simultaneously.
Yet, Banales himself loses concentration, not noticing entire lines of questioning that are inaudible to the jurors. When I can't hear Erin Gamez, while sitting directly behind her, because she doesn't understand how the microphone works, I glance at the jurors and see them straining to hear. No matter how artful a line of questioning or well-rehearsed the responses, it is lost on the jury if the judge doesn't understand the need for microphone enhancement of all but a few human voices in a courtroom.
Judge Banales' attempt to call me out for using an electronic device in the courtroom was as bizarre as his facial hair. Had I been using a laptop or other electronic device to "blog" as Banales insinuated, surely one of the constable/bailiffs would have dealt with it. I was on the front row in plain view, directly behind the prosecution, just a few feet from the defense team. It was OBVIOUS I was simply taking notes. Was Banales simply grandstanding?
Paradoxically, Judge Banales, working a case involving a car/pedestrian accident has himself been involved in two such accidents. Note this Corpus Christi Caller report:
Banales car struck man in 1990 accidentCorpus Chisti Caller-Times By Jaime Powell
CORPUS CHRISTI - Eighteen years ago, a gold Chrysler Fifth Avenue driven by District Judge J. Manuel Banales struck a Robstown man with mental disabilities who was crossing the street near Corpus Christi City Hall.
Banales was not ticketed for the incident and the pedestrian, Francisco "Frank" Pena, then 31, was found at fault. He was taken to Memorial Medical Center with cuts, scrapes and a broken leg.
Banales and his lawyer, Ron Barroso, did not return phone calls last Thursday.
The Caller-Times filed a public records request with the Corpus Christi Police Department on June 9 seeking a police accident report and other documents related to the incident.
The police department wasn't able to fill the request because, under department guidelines, traffic accident reports are purged after two years, according to police.
An Aug. 20, 1990 police report obtained by the Caller- Times through other means Thursday afternoon and verified by Mayor Henry Garrett, who was police chief at the time, shows that Banales was traveling west on Leopard Street at 7:20 p.m. when Pena crossed the street, without the benefit of a crosswalk.
The report says Banales braked and swerved.
"This is an accident report that we generated at the police department at the time," Garrett said. "It's the real thing. It looks like the pedestrian was crossing at the middle of the block. To look at this diagram, I wouldn't see that a ticket would have been issued. By the diagram and what's in the report, the violation was the pedestrian."
Pena's father, Ramon Pena, 74, gave a different version of events Thursday morning. He was not there to witness the collision but talked to witnesses shortly after.
Frank Pena was waiting for a bus at the corner of Leopard and Staples when he decided to cross the street to a convenience store to get a soda, his father said.
"He looked both ways and here came the judge," Ramon Pena said.
City Councilman Mike Hummell, an attorney, who was serving as the assigned prosecutor in Banales' court at the time of the accident, went to the scene shortly after it happened.
He could not remember if Banales had called him or if he happened upon the accident on his way home.
"The only thing I recall is the guy had a Big Red," Hummell said. "When I got there, there was Big Red all over the car and at first glance it was a scary thing. Looking closer it was just a soft drink."
Ramon Pena said he had difficulty finding a lawyer to take his son's case. "I saw a lawyer every day on TV, Mike Butler. At first he refused to take the case but then he decided to."
Mike Butler, who now practices in San Antonio, did not return repeated phone calls this week.
But Jeffrey DeVillez, who was an investigator and insurance negotiator for Butler's law practice at the time, remembered the 1990 accident.
"They were accusing the kid and the kid's family was accusing Banales, saying that he was not watching," DeVillez said. "He was a judge and the kid was (disabled). They couldn't put the kid on trial. They wanted to avoid that at all costs. So we asked for the total amount of the policy and said let's move on."
Ramon Pena said Banales had a $100,000 insurance policy. Lawyer's fees and hospital bills carved Frank Pena's share down to a little more than $47,000, Ramon Pena said.
"Frank, he's still limping today and he got a rod in his leg," Ramon Pena said.
Also, this report from the Raymondville Chronicle:
Judge Banales injures TX-DOT worker in collision in Corpus Christi
Worker's medical condition upgraded to serious
ROBERT WILCOX, Editor/Reporter
CORPUS CHRISTI POLICE inspect the car driven by Presiding District Court Judge J. Manuel Banales on Thursday afternoon near the I-37/Padre Island Drive interchange, after he struck and seriously injured a TXDOT worker. Rescuers had to cut the roof and doors off Banales's Cadillac Coupe DeVille to free the judge. Both men were taken to the Christus Spohn Memorial Hospital. Photo courtesy of George Gongora/Corpus Christi Caller-Times.CORPUS CHRISTI - Presiding District Judge J. Manuel Banales struck and critically-injured a TXDOT highway worker last Thursday afternoon, who was working with crew members on the North Padre Island Drive connecting ramp to I-37 in Corpus Christi.
Judge Banales, who is presiding over three crucial Willacy County criminal trials, was slightly injured himself, and had to be removed from his gold Cadillac Coupe Deville, by the jaws-of-life, according to Corpus Christi police who are investigating the incident.
Martin Garcia, 34, the TX-DOT worker who was injured, is in serious condition at Christus Spohn Memorial Hospital's Intensive Care Unit.
Garcia and one other TX-DOT worker were replacing signs along the left side of the ramp when Judge Banales lost control of his vehicle, and went off the roadway.
After striking Garcia, Judge Banales car then struck a heavy duty cherry picker truck, according to a story in the Corpus Christi Caller- Times.
Capt. Mike McKinney of the Corpus Christi Police Department said that Judge Banales willingly gave a blood sample for examination, and that police are still investigating if speed or other distractions may have caused the accident.
Traffic investigators returned to an accident scene for about three hours on Friday, to recreate the crash that seriously injured Garcia, according to KRIS/Channel 6 TV in Corpus Christi.
It is still unknown, whether Judge Banales will face any charges.
"We have no reason to believe, nor do I believe, that he was under the influence of anything. But we just kind of have to eliminate any possibility."
McKinney said the incident is still under examination, and the blood test results could take up to 30 days.
TX-DOT Spokesperson Cliff Bost told KRIS/Channel 6 TV, "Our guys are kind of going through some things. They're upset about their coworker. Probably next week they'll get out there and take care of them."
Judge Jose Longoria said that his colleague Judge Banales is more concerned about Garcia's well-being than his own right now, according to KRIS/Channel 6 TV.
Judge Longoria said, "Knowing Judge Banales, he'll be here on Monday, but he needs to take care of himself and we'll take care of his court."
Judge Banales had a Nueces County murder trial scheduled for Monday, and was planning to take vacation in July.
The three Willacy County criminal trials involve; District Attorney Juan Angel "Johnny" Guerra and two of his staff members; County Judge Eliseo "Cheyo" Barnhart; and former Raymondville School Board President Gloria Garcia, her niece, and her nieces husband.
It is unknown if the Willacy cases will be postponed or reassigned to another district judge.
Judge Banales is in recovery from surgery he had on a broken hand on Friday.