Marisa Leal sworn in to seat on Brownsville ISD Board of Trustees

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After canvassing the vote in Saturday’s special election, the Brownsville Independent School District Board of Trustees officially recognized Marisa F. Leal as the winner, affirming that she had defeated Minerva M. Pena by 949 votes and declaring her duly elected to Place 6 on the board.

The official canvass at Tuesday night’s specially called board meeting showed that Leal received 4,217 votes to 3,368 for Pena out of 7,485 total votes cast.

The board then voted 5-0 to accept the result, with two members absent, and issued the certificate of election to Leal.

Judge Janet Leal of the 103rd state District Court then had Marisa Leal recite the required anti-bribery statement of elected official and administered the oath of office.

The ceremony marked the second time Leal had been sworn in to the Place 6 seat on the board.

Initially, Leal won the Nov. 3, 2020 election by one vote. Pena then won the recount by eight votes. The Board of Trustees canvassed the result and Pena was sworn in Dec. 9, 2020 to her fourth term on the board.

But it didn’t end there.

Leal sued to overturn the recount, but because of the pandemic, the case didn’t go to trial until January 2022, in Brownsville’s 107th state District Court. San Patricio County state District Judge Josue Johnson presided because under state law the challenge had to be heard by a judge outside the county where the challenged election took place.

Leal’s attorney, Gilberto Hinojosa of Brownsville, was able to show by clear and convincing evidence that at least 16 voters had used a warehouse at 225 S. Vermillion Road near the Brownsville airport as their address.

Johnson ruled that the illegal votes made it impossible to determine the election’s true winner and ordered a new election for May 7, 2022.

Newly elected Brownsville Independent School District (BISD) Board of Trustee Marisa F. Leal is sworn in surrounded by her family Tuesday, May 14, 2024, by Judge of the 103rd State District Court Janet Leal at BISD’s Main Administration Building Board Room. (Miguel Roberts | The Brownsville Herald)

“So all this time it’s been one delay tactic after another,” Hinojosa said in November, when the Texas Supreme Court declined to consider Pena’s third appeal, and let stand the trial court’s decision in the case.

The Board of Trustees then declared Pena’s seat vacant and named retired former teacher Tim Ramirez to fill the post until the May 4 election.

Tuesday night Ramirez said it had been his honor to serve as the interim trustee. He said he attended many BISD events during his tenure and that he always emphasized that he was there to serve.

After Leal took photos with family and friends, Ramirez escorted her to her seat on the board.

Leal then recounted the obstacles she faced as the challenge to the original election played out in the courts and she battled and defeated cancer. She proudly announced that she has been declared in remission and is cancer free.

“Now let’s get to work,” she said before the meeting adjourned and the board welcomed her with celebratory refreshments.

Afterward she attended the scheduled BISD budget committee meeting as the Place 6 trustee.