Case on removal of RGC school board trustee delayed

RIO GRANDE CITY — The lack of a citation delayed any action on the petition to remove Daniel J. Garcia from the Rio Grande City school board, a judge ruled during a hearing Friday.

The hearing was the first one held on the removal petition which was filed in May by Ricardo Lopez, a former employee of the school district.

As the basis for filing the petition, Lopez cited a federal indictment filed against Garcia in April related to an investigation into an alleged bribery scheme surrounding the city of Weslaco’s water treatment facilities.

Garcia pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Lopez also cites allegations 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.

However, Garcia has never been charged or arrested on those allegations.

On May 24, visiting state District Judge David Stith allowed the removal petition case to move forward, ordering the district clerk to serve Garcia with a citation and certified copy of the petition.

Garcia, however, was never served and that issue brought the case to a standstill Friday morning when Stith decided that no action would be taken until that issue was addressed.

County Attorney Victor Canales — who is representing the state against Garcia in the case — argued that serving Garcia with a citation was moot because he argued the purpose of citation was to notify Garcia that he is being sued and his attorneys had already filed a response to the petition.

“In this case Mr. Ramirez filed an answer, he availed himself to the jurisdiction of the court,” Canales said. “That makes the issue of the citation moot.”

Still, the judge decided against taking action out of an abundance of caution.

Other issues addressed during Friday’s hearing included motions filed by Garcia’s attorneys to disqualify Canales and Lopez from the case.

Gocha Ramirez, Garcia’s lead attorney, argued that Canales had a conflict of interest because he was the attorney for the school district from 2012 to 2014, a time period when Garcia served as the school board president.

Canales countered that the alleged actions by Garcia as a school board member — which served as a basis for the petition — began in 2017, three years after Canales left the school district.

When Ramirez pointed out that Garcia’s alleged actions described in the federal indictment began in 2012, Canales argued that Garcia allegedly took those actions in his capacity as an attorney and had nothing to do with his position on the school board.

Stith apparently agreed, telling the attorneys he believed there was a difference between Garcia’s actions as an attorney and actions as a school board member.

When it came to Lopez, Ramirez pointed to the Texas Local Government Code which states that a person under indictment cannot serve as the petitioner.

Lopez was arrested in November 2017 for allegedly attempting to bribe the judge who, at the time, was presiding over a murder case. The petition alleges that Garcia orchestrated the attempt.

However, Lopez was never actually indicted and therefore he is not disqualified.

“Technically he is not disqualified,” Ramirez conceded, “But it should raise some red flags for the court that he was arrested in November of 2017, never has been indicted.”

Stith said that if Lopez was indicted during the duration of the case, the issue would be addressed but, for now, would allow the case to proceed.

But first, Garcia must be served by the district clerk. Once he is, another hearing in the case will be scheduled to address the security bond that Lopez, as the petitioner, is required to post and the motion filed by Canales to temporarily remove Garcia pending the conclusion of the case.

This post has been updated to reflect that Victor Canales represented Daniel J. Garcia as the attorney for the Rio Grande City school district from 2012 to 2014.