The defense team for a Rio Grande City school board trustee who is facing removal from the board presented its initial arguments via a brief filed in court last Thursday, arguing the elected official is not incompetent, among other things.
The submission follows a canceled hearing late last month to remove Daniel J. Garcia from the Rio Grande City school board.
The brief was filed in opposition to Garcia’s temporary removal pending a trial on his final removal, both of which were requested by the state, in this case represented by Starr County Attorney Victor Canales.
Ricardo Lopez, a former employee of the school district, filed a petition in May, citing an April federal indictment filed against Garcia as part of the basis for his removal from the school board.
The federal indictment stems from an investigation into an alleged bribery scheme surrounding the city of Weslaco’s water treatment facilities.
Garcia pleaded not guilty to the charges, along with three co-defendants in the case — former District 2 Weslaco Commissioner John Cuellar, former Hidalgo County Precinct 1 Commissioner A.C. Cuellar and Weslaco businessman Ricardo “Rick” Quintanilla. John Cuellar has since changed his plea to guilty.
In the motion opposing the removal, Garcia’s attorney, Gocha Ramirez, argues that the arguments outlined in the petition are not sufficient for removal.
He notes that part of the petition cites allegations from the federal indictment, which Ramirez argues do not constitute incompetence — one of the reasons cited in the petition.
Incompetence, in Chapter 87 of the Texas Local Government Code, is defined as gross ignorance of official duties; gross carelessness in the discharge of those duties; or unfitness or inability to promptly and properly discharge official duties because of a serious physical or mental defect that did not exist at the time of the officers election.
“ Clearly, none of these apply to the allegations made in Paragraphs 7-15 of the Petition for Removal or temporary suspension,” the motion states. “None of the federal allegations allege, in anyway, a connection of the alleged offenses with Mr. Garcia’s duties as a school board member.”
The second basis for Garcia’s removal — official misconduct — is also not supported by the allegations in the federal indictment, Ramirez argues, because any unlawful behavior must be related to that person’s official duties as an officer, according to the local government code.
“ There is absolutely no nexus between said allegations and Defendant Garcia’s position as a school board member,” the motions states.
However, that cannot be said for the second set of allegations which focus specifically on Garcia’s behavior as a school board trustee.
In the petition, Lopez alleges that Garcia requested bribes from school district employees in exchange for pay raises or promotions, and that Garcia, an attorney, abused his position on the school board so that he’d be hired for the defense team on a murder case.
Lopez, who filed the petition against Garcia, was arrested in November 2017 for allegedly attempting to bribe the judge who was presiding over that same murder case at the time: 381st state District Judge Jose Luis Garza. Lopez, however, alleges that Garcia orchestrated that bribery attempt.
Ramirez also argued those allegations are vague and unspecific, writing that “they fail to meet the specificity requirements” set in the local government code, which he believes requires the petition to cite the time and place of each alleged act.
He notes that the petition states that those acts began in November 2017 and continued through the present date, but argues that statement does not meet the specificity requirement.
While Lopez was arrested on the attempted bribery, Garcia has never been charged or arrested on those allegations — a fact which Ramirez highlights in the brief.
Ramirez also mentions that when Lopez was deposed for this case, he invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination to most of the questions Ramirez asked.
The investigator in the alleged bribery case, Robert Caples — who is the commander of the Starr County Special Crimes Unit, and who arrested Lopez on the attempted bribery charge — was also deposed for this case.
Ramirez alleged that in his deposition, Caples was not able to corroborate allegations that Garcia orchestrated the attempted bribery.
“ He was unable to corroborate that Defendant Garcia was, in ANYWAY, involved in Petitioner Lopez’ attempt to bribe the District Judge,” the motion states.
The state is expected to file a response in a few days, and afterward, visiting state Judge David Stith is expected to take no more than four days to review the arguments and render a decision.