“Stay off the tacos.”
That’s what a board member of The Miss Bexar County Organization repeated on a radio show when talking about 17-year-old beauty queen Domonique Ramirez, who on Jan. 25 had been stripped of her title as Miss San Antonio 2011.
Ben Wallis Jr., TMBCO’s lawyer, maintains that the board member was merely echoing what Ramirez herself had said before and that the statement was taken out of context.
The comment only exacerbated an already contentious dispute and made Luis R. Vera Jr. of San Antonio’s Luis R. Vera Jr. & Associates, who had taken up Ramirez’s cause pro bono, fight that much harder. And on March 24 Vera won back her crown.
The legal saga of the size 2 Ramirez began on Feb. 7 when her mother sought a temporary restraining order and filed a petition in Bexar County’s 288th District Court. In Lorena Briseno, as Next Friend of Domonique Ramirez v. The Miss Bexar County Organization Inc., Briseno alleged her daughter began her reign as Miss San Antonio in July 2010, but did not receive a chaperone or transportation to events she was scheduled to attend, as promised in her contract with TMBCO. Briseno further alleged in the petition that TMBCO sent Ramirez a letter on Nov. 8, 2010, criticizing her for tardiness, and on Jan. 25 sent an e-mail “revoking [her] reign.”
Wallis of San Antonio’s Wallis Law, who along with his son Ben Wallis III represents TMBCO, says his client alleged in its Feb. 16 answer and counterclaim that Briseno and Ramirez had breached the contract. Ramirez “didn’t show up on time. She did things on her own without approval of the board. She went on national television and made numerous appearances that were not allowed.”
The case went to trial, and on March 24, after deliberating 12 hours, the jury sided with Briseno, deciding that TMBCO had violated the contract and Ramirez had not. Judge Barbara Nellermoe ruled from the bench, granting an injunction to reinstate Ramirez’s title.
Wallis says TMBCO is waiting for Nellermoe’s written judgment before deciding whether to appeal.
Vera, in practice since 1992, is national counsel for the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC). He says Briseno was “one of the hardest cases I’ve ever been in” due to the thorny contract-enforcement issues. Vera says he received pro bono assistance from a top-notch team, including retired 4th Court of Appeals justice and former San Antonio Mayor Phil Hardberger; Ralph Lopez, a partner in San Antonio’s Tuggey Rosenthal Pauerstein Sandoloski Agather; Arturo Acedvedo, an assistant professor at the John Marshall School of Law in Chicago; and Richard L. Scheff, chairman of Philadelphia’s Montgomery, McCracken, Walker & Rhoads.
Briseno attracted the attention of bloggers and network news. A Japanese-language animation depicting the “off the tacos” comment even surfaced on YouTube. Oprah and Ellen Degeneres asked Ramirez to appear on their shows, but restrictions in her contract with TMBCO likely won’t allow it, Vera says.
Vera is not shocked that the case drew international attention. He says the story of a kind, young woman broke hearts, adding that even some jurors were crying after the verdict.
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