RIO GRANDE CITY — A lawsuit alleging voter fraud in the Rio Grande City school district elections was dismissed Friday at the request of the people who filed the lawsuit.
Attorney Javier Pena, on behalf of Basilio “Bacho” Villarreal, Ruben Klein, and Noe Gonzalez — the candidates who lost in the school district elections held in November — filed an order of nonsuit to dismiss the civil case.
Pena explained that they would not be able to support their case because of an ongoing, separate criminal investigation by the county attorney’s office into those allegations. The criminal investigation involves the impoundment of all election records, making them inaccessible for the purposes of the civil case.
“There was no way we’d be able to meet our burden so after discussing with the client we decided it would not be wise or reasonable to waste the court’s time if we know at this point we’re not going to have access to the records we need to prove the case,” Peña said.
His clients reluctantly agreed, Pena said, but still want to make sure all information about mail-in ballots is known, which is now in the hands of the county attorney.
“The ultimate goal is to make sure that comes out, that gets exposed, and hopefully the wrongdoers get punished and prosecuted,” he said.
In their lawsuit, Villarreal, Klein and Gonzalez, who ran on the political slate called U.S.S. Restore, alleged that the school district’s elections department accepted more than 200 forged or otherwise illegal mail-in ballots. They also accused election judges of refusing voters the assistance of their choosing.
The school board trustees who ran as the Kids’ Choice team and were named in the original petition have completely denied those allegations. School Board President Daniel Garcia, who ran for re-election on the Kids’ Choice team, pointed out that one of the Restore candidates won her respective race.
Juan Guerra, the attorney for the school board trustees, said he believed the case would have reached the same conclusion even if Pena and the Restore team hadn’t filed the order.
“We’re happy that Mr. Pena, the attorney for the contestants, came to the same conclusion that we came to a long time ago and decided to nonsuit this case because there is no merit to the allegations,” Guerra said.
The case was dismissed with prejudice meaning the case cannot be refiled.
The criminal investigation, which despite having affected the civil case, is its own separate case.
An application submitted by the county attorney’s office to impound the election records is currently awaiting a decision by the court, according to County Attorney Victor Canales.