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  • Writer's picturePhil Griffis

Judge Rules Congressional Candidate May Refer to Himself as an Astronaut, It was a Close Call...

Updated: Mar 31, 2019

A California citizen (Dillman) sued the California Secretary of State, alleging that Mr. Hernandez filed a campaign document containing “improper and factually false” information.  Specifically, Hernandez designated himself as “Astronaut/Scientist/Engineer”.   Dillman alleged that the designation should be struck from the ballot because, according to him, Hernandez is “no longer an astronaut”.

While seeming petty, the claim was based on Dillman’s reading of the California Election Code, which contains detailed provisions which, among other technicalities, requires a candidate’s designation to include “No more than three words designating either the current principal professions, vocations or occupations of the candidate, or the principal professions, vocations, or occupations of the candidate during the calendar year immediately preceding the filing”.

According to the suit, since Hernandez had received income from MEI Technologies in the year prior to his designation, but had not received income as an astronaut during that same period, he had a current occupation and could not, therefore, list a prior occupation.  Dillman asked the court to strike the ballot designation,  so that the people of California would not suffer “irreparable harm”.

Hernandez then filed his response.  In a haymaker of an opening sentence, he wrote “In Jose Hernandez’s 25-year career as an Astronaut, a Scientist, and an Engineer, Mr. Hernandez helped develop the first full-field digital mammography imaging system to increase the early detection of breast cancer, developed technologies that advanced nuclear non-proliferation agreements between the U.S. and Russia, and flew on a 14-day mission as the flight engineer on Space Shuttle Discovery’s mission to the International Space Station”.    After the dust settled from that one, Hernandez pointed out that, in the year prior to the designation, he had, in fact, received income from NASA and had frequently appeared in public to discuss his experiences as astronaut.

Unimpressed, Dillman wrote that, in fact, Hernandez “had spent his time in a business suit, not a space suit”.   He also argued that there was no evidence that the payment from NASA was for serving as an astronaut.

Last week, the judge ruled in Mr. Hernandez’s favor, though he did not provide the basis for his decision.   If you want to read the lengthy, and well written submissions from both sides, go to the court’s website  and search under Case Number 34-2012-80001093.


Phil Griffis obtained his first jury verdict in 1990, when he convinced a jury that a customer’s fall at his client’s store did not cause the customer’s aspiration pneumonia and stroke. In the years since he has continued to win in courtrooms across the State of Texas.

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