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Assistant Principal files lawsuit

A longtime administrator at PSJA ISD, Jessica Villanueva, who currently works as an assistant principal at Kelly Elementary, has people talking this week after filing a petition for declaratory judgment late last week against incumbents Jesse Zambrano, Jorge Zambrano, and Jesse Vela, claiming that they misused school resources for personal gain.

The Temporary Restraining Order was signed on Friday, Oct. 9, by Hidalgo County Court at Law #1 Judge Rudy Gonzalez, ordering the defendants to remove or conceal from view from the public any and all reference to the phrases, slogans, and hashtags “PSJA STRONGER TOGETHER,” “#PSJASTRONGERTOGETHER,” from their political campaign on any and all physical or digital medium, including but not limited to social media posts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social networks, flyers, memorandums, emails, billboards, advertisements, and any other medium intended to benefit the defendants’ political campaign.

That’s a mouthful, but so is the petition. A hearing is set for this Wednesday, Oct. 14 at 10 a.m., in Judge Gonzalez’s court, which will give the Zambranos and Vela’s attorney, Gilberto Hinojosa, a chance to respond to Villanueva’s allegations.

Check online tomorrow afternoon– anjournal.com – to read what happened in court. The story will also appear in next week’s print edition. At issue is whether or not the Zambranos and Vela had the right to put the same twitter hashtag that the district uses.

According to Villanueva’s petition, which has been edited for brevity:

TO THE HONORABLE JUDGE OF SAID COURT:

NOW COMES JESSICA VILLANUEVA Plaintiff herein, and file this Declaratory Judgment Action and Application for Temporary Restraining Order, Temporary and Permanent Injunction against JESUS A. ZAMBRANO, JORGE L. ZAMBRANO and JESUS VELA, Jr., hereinafter referred to as the “Defendants,” and in support thereof, shows the court the following:

I. PARTIES

1. Plaintiff, Jessica Villanueva is a taxpayer of the Pharr San Juan Alamo Independent School District (“PSJA”) and employee of the PSJA who resides in San Juan, Hidalgo County, Texas.

2. Defendant Jesus A. Zambrano is an individual residing in Hidalgo County, Texas and may be served with process at [his law office].

3. Jorge A. Zambrano is an individual residing in Hidalgo County, Texas and may be served with process [same office], or wherever he may be located.

4. Jesus Vela, Jr. is an individual residing in Hidalgo County, Texas and may be served with process at [home address in Alamo], or wherever he may be located.

II. VENUE AND JURISDICTION

This Court is the proper venue for this matter as each of the Defendants is a resident of Hidalgo, County Texas.

III. STANDING

Plaintiff has experienced individualized harm as result of Defendants’ wrongful publishing of photograph of Plaintiff on their re-election campaign social media site, giving the false impression that she and other employees are politically supporting Defendants’ re-election effort. Plaintiff also has standing to bring this action as taxpayer, to stop the Defendants’ ongoing wrongful misuse of PSJA property, services, personnel, financial resources and other things of value belonging to PSJA Independent School District.

IV. FACTS

Plaintiff is loyal, dedicated administrator employed by the PSJA school district and currently assigned to Kelly Pharr Elementary School. For nearly 18 years, Plaintiff has worked with PSJA with one goal in mind, student success. The PSJA serves over 31,000 students in the tricity area. PSJA has maintained culture of pride and excellence and is known for its children-first environment. PSJA actively motivates students to pursue an education beyond high school. As part of the aforementioned culture, PSJA periodically adopts, promotes, and financially invests in internal motivational campaigns which are characterized by slogan or phrase adopted by the administration, to promote said culture, in an effort to foster excellence by promoting positive environment through unity. The aforementioned motivational campaigns require the school district to utilize employee time and, thus, the district’s financial resources in order to effectuate said campaigns. The expenditures associated with the motivational campaigns are extensive and substantial and the value incalculable.

The Defendants are each duly elected members of the PSJA Board of Trustees. The Defendants, at all times herein, have seized resources of PSJA as their own for purposes of their reelection campaign, giving the false impression that PSJA, the Plaintiff and other staff of the PSJA endorse their re-election efforts.

On or about August 17, 2020, PSJA rolled out 2020-2021 motivational campaign at the official PSJA convocation, which is the official kickoff for the new school year. PSJA additionally announced their official reopening plan due to the COVlD-19 pandemic. Attached hereto and incorporated by reference as Exhibit is the “Spirit of PSJA: Stronger Together Reopening Plan.”

Page 4 of Exhibit contains a letter from PSJA Superintendent, Dr. Jorge L. Arredondo. The letter ends with emphasis of the slogan the PSJA is utilizing during the pandemic reopening, stating “We will continue to work as one PSJA Family throughout this crisis, as we are Stronger Together!” (emphasis added).

The slogan adopted by PSJA for the 2020- 2021 school year was and continues to be “PSJA STRONGER TOGETHER,” “#PSJASTRONGERTOGETHER,” “STRONGER TOGETHER,” and/or “#STRONGERTOGETHER” (collectively referred to herein as the “slogan”).

The motivational campaign was created internally at PSJA. Since the inception of the motivational campaign, the slogan has been used and displayed regularly and prominently on the PSJA official website, on PSJA official emails, on the official social media of PSJA and throughout the entire PSJA Independent School District. The PSJA slogan has been displayed on both physical and digital mediums. Additionally, PSJA has expended considerable employee time and public resources conceiving, implementing and promoting the slogan since its inception. Attached hereto and incorporated by reference as Exhibit is PSJA’s use of the slogan on social media.

Defendants, running as unified political slate, and acting in concert, wrongfully appropriated the PSJA slogan as their political motto. Attached hereto and incorporated by reference as Exhibit is Defendants’ use of the PSJA slogan. The slogan is printed on their political material, including on their campaign signs in quotations. Defendants are knowingly using the PSJA slogan as their own.

Additionally, the Defendants have routinely taken photographs and images (herein “images”) published by the PSJA and have republished them with modification as their own political material. See Exhibit E. The Plaintiff is the victim of the Defendants’ deceptive scheme. Defendants used photograph of Plaintiff and her entire campus appeared on Defendants’ social media, leaving the false impressions of endorsements of the political campaign. The Defendants have distorted the images of the PSJA to give the appearance that staff is endorsing their re-election campaign. These images, similar to the slogan utilized by the PSJA, constitute school district resources which the Defendants have used in advocating their re-election campaign in violation of the law.

VI. CIVIL CONSPIRACY

The Plaintiff also brings cause of action against the Defendants for engaging in civil conspiracy. The Defendants, acting among themselves, engaged to accomplish an unlawful purpose or lawful purpose by unlawful means. The action of the Defendants demonstrate they had meeting of the minds on the object or course of action. This is apparent from the Defendants’ use of the slogan beginning on or about the same day PSJA held its convocation and publicized its slogan. One or more of the Defendants have committed an unlawful, overt act to further the objective of seizing PSJA resources for wrongful use in their own reelection efforts. The Plaintiff has been injured as proximate result of Defendants’ actions.

VII. INJUNCTIVE RELIEF

Defendants have caused irreparable confusion among the electorate; in that they have intentionally created the appearance and/or perception that the PSJA and its staff are endorsing and/or promoting their political campaign. Plaintiff requests mandatory temporary restraining order.

Unless Defendants are mandated by order to be immediately enjoined and restrained, Defendants will continue to use the PSJA slogan in violation of the law as well as continue to manipulate images belonging to the PSJA to give the false impression the those appearing in the images are endorsing the Defendants’ re-election campaign. Said conduct violates Texas law, and continues to perpetrate laundry list of professional and campaign ethics violations, by continuing to wrongfully appropriate and benefit from misusing PSJA property, services, personnel, financial resources and other things of value belonging to PSJA.

ELEMENTS FOR INJUNCTIVE RELIEF

Plaintiff is likely to succeed on the merits of this lawsuit because she can show Defendants have knowingly and intentionally participated in the illegal expenditure of public funds by wrongfully appropriating, and benefiting from the misuse PSJA property, services, personnel, financial resources and other things of value belonging to PSJA. Unless this Honorable Court issues mandatory injunction that immediately restrains Defendants, the Plaintiff will suffer immediate and irreparable injury, for which there is no adequate remedy at law to give Plaintiff complete, final and equal relief. Note: Check online Wednesday afternoon – anjournal.com – to read the results of Wednesday’s 10 a.m. hearing. An attempt to reach the Zambrano slate Tuesday for comment met with no success. No surprise, since in cases like this, the defendants typically let their attorney do the talking until the matter is resolved.

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