A hearing on the petition to remove a Rio Grande City school board trustee was canceled earlier this week due to scheduling conflicts.
Daniel J. Garcia, the school board trustee, was set to appear in court on Friday morning for a hearing on the petition that was filed to have him removed from the school board.
However, a hearing over the custody of his child was also scheduled for Friday morning.
“Obviously, Mr. Garcia cannot be in two hearings set for the same morning,” Gocha Ramirez, Garcia’s attorney, stated in a motion for continuance. “And also obvious is that the custody litigation involving his son is more concerning to Mr. Garcia.”
The attorneys in the case then spoke via telephone conference where the judge presiding over the case — visiting state District Judge David Stith — decided arguments would be made through submissions to avoid further delays.
Ramirez will have until Friday, Nov. 1, to submit a brief after which Canales will have three days to respond, if necessary. The judge indicated he would take no more than four days to review the arguments and render a decision, according to Starr County Attorney Victor Canales.
Canales, who is representing the state in the case against Garcia, said he saw Garcia’s motion for continuance as a delay tactic.
“Mr. Garcia filed several motions in his custody case,” Canales said. “They asked the judge for a setting on his custody case and they set it for Friday. At the same time, essentially, that his removal hearing was set for.”
Canales, who is also involved in the custody case, posited that Garcia could have notified the judge in the custody case that he already had a hearing for the removal case set for that day and asked for the custody hearing to be reset for a few days.
“They did not file anything on the custody case to continue that,” Canales said. “Instead they filed motions for continuance on the removal action which we took, and we take, as a stalling tactic.”
However, Ramirez reiterated that the custody hearing was more pressing for Garcia.
“I guess he could have,” Ramirez said regarding the option of requesting a reset of the custody hearing. “Unfortunately or fortunately, Mr. Garcia’s interest in his son completely outweighs his interest in this other hearing.”
Despite the delay, Canales said he was pleased with the judge’s decision to have the case proceed via submissions.
“That’s the way I think it should have been handled initially and I was pleasantly surprised that the court considered to do that,” Canales said, explaining that the argument for Garcia’s removal is a legal one, not a factual argument.
“Having hearings on this kind of case where it’s a legal argument but you have an actual hearing, creates a circus type environment and it cheapens the judicial process, quite frankly, is how I feel,” he said.
Ramirez disagreed, insinuating the county attorney didn’t want the judge to hear evidence presented in testimony.
“I’m disappointed that the judge is not going to hear any evidence because I think if he heard evidence, everything would be much clearer to him,” Ramirez said. “But Mr. Canales doesn’t want evidence presented and it’s clear why he doesn’t — because the evidence just doesn’t support the removal.”
The removal petition was filed in May by Ricardo Lopez, a former employee of the school district, citing a federal indictment filed against Garcia in April as part of the basis for Garcia’s removal from the school board.
The federal indictment is 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.
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, the school board trustee, is accused of orchestrating that attempt to bribe the judge in addition to the allegation that he maneuvered his way onto the defense team.
Lopez has not yet been indicted on bribery, a fact that Ramirez often brings up in the removal case.