A visiting judge will preside over the petition that was filed to remove Rio Grande City school board trustee Daniel J. Garcia from his position.
Last week, presiding Judge Missy Medary of the Fifth Administrative Judicial Region of Texas appointed Judge David Stith, the 319th state district judge from Nueces County, to preside over the petition filed earlier this month to remove Garcia from the school board.
The appointment of a visiting judge is required under Section 74.059 of the Texas Government Code, which reads: “If an election contest or a suit for the removal of a local official is filed in his court, request the presiding judge to assign another judge who is not a resident of the county to hold a regular or special term of court in that county to dispose of the suit.”
Stith will have to rule on whether there is enough probable cause for the petition to move forward.
The petition was filed May 6 by a former school district employee, Ricardo Lopez.
In making the case to remove him, Lopez cited the federal charges Garcia’s facing in an alleged scheme to help engineering companies funnel more than $4 million in bribes to Weslaco city commissioners in exchange for contracts for the overhaul of that city’s water treatment facilities.
The charges against Garcia include wire services fraud and money laundering, according to the federal indictment.
Garcia pleaded not guilty to the charges and Gocha Ramirez, Garcia’s attorney, said Tuesday that Garcia continues to maintain his innocence.
In the petition, Lopez also claims in the petition that Garcia faces charges related to his position on the school board and as a defense attorney for Jose Luis Garcia Jr., an 18-year-old charged with capital murder in the 2017 death of 17-year-old Chayse Olivarez.
Lopez himself was arrested in November 2017 for allegedly trying to bribe the judge presiding over that murder case at the time, 381st state District Judge Jose Luis Garza.
In the petition, Lopez alleges that Garcia is accused of orchestrating that attempt to bribe the judge and that Garcia is accused of using his position on the school board to be hired to represent Jose Luis Garcia Jr.
To get them to hire him, Garcia allegedly offered a school employee a promotion and/or withheld pay raises to solicit the family of the defendant, Jose Luis Garcia Jr.
He also allegedly worked with another, unnamed public official to disclose sensitive information that was not available to the public in order to secure his position as co-counsel.
Garcia was eventually retained as a defense counsel on the case. However, he has yet to be formally charged on those allegations.
“I think there’s probably some issues with the allegations when the concerned citizen who filed the petition is a person who was arrested for bribery,” Ramirez said, adding that he didn’t think the petition would move forward.
“They have to put on evidence and they’re not going to be able to put on any evidence to substantiate the federal charges and I doubt very seriously that they’re going to be able to put on any evidence to substantiate the other charges,” Ramirez said, referring to the allegation that Garcia orchestrated the attempt to bribe the state district judge. “The DA hasn’t even seen fit yet to indict the actual person who offered the bribe.”
Garcia has not yet been issued a citation to appear in court for the petition, which happens if Stith allows the case to move forward. If the judge refuses to issue the citation, the petition will be dismissed at Lopez’s cost.