Alamo judge sues city? Seeks monetary relief between $200k and $1m

Employee files suit, too?

 

ALAMO – By the time this story breaks Wednesday (Nov. 8), Alamo residents will already know if incumbent Municipal Judge Celia Garcia beat her opponent, Attorney Veronica Moncivais, or vice versa. No matter who is elected municipal judge, however, it won’t dismiss the lawsuit Garcia has filed against the City of Alamo -- the very city she’s sworn to preserve, protect, and defend -- which seeks monetary relief of more than $200,000 but less than $1 million.

Ka-ching goes the gavel.

City residents will also know by Wednesday if incumbent Place 1 City Commissioner “Molly” Gallegos has retained her seat or whether “Trino” Medina has replaced her.

Medina’s slate mate, incumbent Place 3 City Commissioner Robert De La Garza, was battling to keep his seat while Gallego’s slate mate, “Tommy” Moncivais Jr. was trying to wrestle it from him.

The Garcia lawsuit, however, is one of the more interesting things discovered during this election, and it was being talked about while people went to vote. Obviously, Garcia’s detractors were doing their best to paint the lawsuit as unseemly, because how often does one see an elected official suing his or her own city for remuneration? Not often, that’s for sure.

Celia Garcia, who has been Alamo’s municipal judge since 2009 and is married to Hidalgo County Court-at-Law #6 Judge Albert Garcia (the marrying judge), filed her lawsuit Oct. 2, 2017. Her attorney of record is McAllen-based Francisco J. Rodriguez.

In her suit, Garcia claims that certain actions on the part of the city have caused her to suffer “severe mental anguish and distress.”

According to Garcia’s lawsuit, a city employee of approximately 24 years, Criselda Gomez Ysquierdo, falsely accused her of various acts of misconduct while acting in the course and scope of her work as municipal judge.

Garcia maintains that the false accusation made against her by Gomez was then forwarded to the Commission of Judicial Conduct.

The judge wants to get her hands on the information that was forwarded to the state commission, but the city won’t oblige, she claims.

The lawsuit claims that the City of Alamo sought an opinion from the Office of the Texas Attorney General concerning her request, which wrote back that the city could indeed withhold the information in question as long as there “was litigation or anticipated litigation involving the party (city employee) who had provided the information to Defendant (Celia Garcia).”

Garcia’s suit then claims that Gomez “who provided the information to the Defendant (the City of Alamo) is no longer in litigation. (Therefore), the Defendant now has a duty to release to Plaintiff (Judge Celia Garcia) that information, but has not done so.”

The Alamo municipal judge (either current or former based on Tuesday’s election) now demands a jury trial. Celia Garcia also wants the city and or its insurance carrier to pay for her court costs.

Litigation Still Pending

The problem is, the city employee to whom the judge refers, Ms. Gomez, still has litigation pending against the city. Only difference being, the longtime city employee isn’t seeking the big bucks the judge is seeking, but is simply asking the court for injunctive relief. In other words, she is asking through her attorney, Sameer Ahmed, and the lawsuit that she has filed, that the city keep her statement concerning the judge’s alleged misconduct confidential and kept from any and all disclosure without her permission. If the city turns over her statement to the judge, Celia Garcia and/or her attorney, it will constitute an invasion of her right to privacy, and will result in irreparable injury to herself, according to her lawsuit filed in state district court.

“Cris” Gomez filed her lawsuit against the City of Alamo back in late December 2015. Since then, she and the city have entered into what is known as a Rule 11, which basically says both sides agree to maintain the status quo. In other words, the city won’t release the statement she filed against Judge Celia Garcia until the court matter is finally resolved.

According to Gomez’s lawsuit, in early August 2015, she was asked “only once” by Judge Celia Garcia to help a resident of Alamo “complete a public information request…so that he may submit it to the City Manager’s Office.” Since (the Alamo resident) spoke mainly Spanish, Gomez translated his request on the form for him.

Over the next few weeks, the same resident returned to city hall and asked Ms. Gomez to help him translate additional public information requests. According to her lawsuit, by helping the Alamo resident complete the forms, she ascertained that he was requesting records concerning public officials or their friends or relatives. Namely, the public info requests centered around an EDC loan made to a friend of Alamo Mayor Diana Martinez.

On Sept. 17, 2015, Gomez was called into City Manager Luciano Ozuna’s office (the city’s HR manager was also present) where she was asked if she had helped fill out the public information requests in question. She admitted that she had. Four days later, the city manager told her that if she provided him with a written statement concerning the matter and her involvement with it, she would not be “written up.” She wrote up a statement to that effect, according to her lawsuit, believing that it would remain private and in her personnel file in lieu of a written reprimand or termination.

In her lawsuit, Gomez said she was shocked to learn a month later that there was an item on the city agenda that pertained to the alleged misconduct on the part of Municipal Judge Celia Garcia.

A month after that, the Texas Judicial Council advised Garcia that a grievance had been filed against her based on the statement provided by Gomez. Through others, Gomez was advised that the judge believed that it was she who had filed the grievance. According to her lawsuit, however, she knew that this was incorrect “because she did not submit any complaint to the Texas Judicial Council.”

On Dec. 4, 2015, City Manager Ozuna called Gomez to discuss some issues, according to her lawsuit. She asked him if he or someone from his office had filed a grievance against the judge on her behalf, but Ozuna told her that no grievance was filed in her name. According to her lawsuit, she was “relieved because she never intended (that) her written statement be used against Judge Celia Garcia or forwarded to any entity.”

Four days later, however, the municipal judge, Celia Garcia, met with Gomez and told her that her statement to the city manager was the basis of the grievance.

There was an effort this summer to mediate the lawsuit, but apparently to no avail. Both parties, however, did enter into an agreement that as things now stand, the city will not release to anyone or any entity the statement made by Criselda Gomez Ysquierdo to the Alamo city manager in the fall of 2015.

A mediation to settle the matter was held this summer, but apparently to no avail. Meaning, the matter is still in litigation.

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