Case to remove school trustee faces dismissal

The case for the removal of Trustee Daniel J. Garcia from the Rio Grande City school board faces possible dismissal after the required bond in the case was not posted.

Visiting Judge David Stith held a virtual hearing Friday to address a motion to dismiss that was filed by Garcia’s attorneys in the ongoing case to have him permanently removed from the school board.

The petition to remove Garcia was filed by Ricardo Lopez, a former school district employee, in May 2019. It alleged that Garcia requested bribes from school district employees in exchange for pay raises or promotions. He further claimed 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.

Lopez was arrested in November 2017 for allegedly attempting to bribe the judge who, at the time, was presiding over that same murder case: state District Judge Jose Luis Garza. Lopez, however, alleges that Garcia orchestrated that bribery attempt.

As part of the proceedings, Stith granted a motion in November to temporarily remove Garcia from the board pending trial.

Garcia’s attorneys, however, argued in their motion to dismiss that Lopez failed to post the required bond in the case.

“The statute clearly reads that the court upon motion of any party or by its own motion of any party or by its own motion shall dismiss the case if security costs are not posted on or before 20 days after notice,” the motion stated.

In October, Stith ordered Lopez to post a $2,500 bond, which serves as security for costs in the case.

Starr County Attorney Victor Canales, who is representing the state in the case against Garcia, said his office had attempted to file the bond but hadn’t realized until Thursday night that it had been rejected by the district clerk’s office.

“We attempted to comply with the court’s order; I was not aware that the district clerk’s office rejected the bond that we had submitted until last night,” Canales said during Friday morning’s hearing.

Canales said the district clerk’s office stated that it needed an order from the judge approving the bond for it to be approved by their office.

“We submitted the bond and it got kicked out,” Canales said. “We didn’t see that. With all that’s gone on since then, it just got lost in the shuffle.”

Hilda Gonzalez Garza, one of the attorneys representing Garcia, argued that Lopez missed the 20-day deadline to post the bond but Stith questioned when the clock on that deadline actually began.

“It seems clear, and probably in agreement from everybody, that there was no written order following that pre-trial hearing where I ordered the bond,” Stith said, pondering whether the 20 days began from the day of that hearing or from the signing of the order.

Another one of Garcia’s attorneys, Gocha Ramirez, insisted the 20 days must have started on the day of the hearing.

“It would have to be 20 days from the telephone conference because if it was 20 days from the signing of the order, then the petitioner or the realtor could delay forever,” Ramirez said.

Where Stith lands on that question, though, was left undecided Friday.

Stith ordered Canales to file a brief addressing who is responsible for ensuring the judge signed the order for the bond and whether the clock on the 20-day deadline to have the bond posted begins the day it is pronounced in court or the day the order for it is actually signed by the judge.

Canales must file the brief by May 22 and Garcia’s attorneys must respond by May 29.

The next hearing, during which Stith is expected to rule on the motion to dismiss, is scheduled for June 1.