By J. NOEL ESPINOZA
Special to the NEWS
A visiting judge ruled today to temporarily remove Michael A. Vargas from his position as president of the San Benito Consolidated Independent School District Board of Trustees pending a trial early next year.
Retired visiting Judge Manuel Banales, who presided the hearing on the petition removal at 107th District Court in Brownsville, took the resolution after a group of San Benito community members mustered a petition following the arrest for driving while intoxicated of the board member in Harlingen in the early hours of July 5.
At the hearing, the school board president “plead the fifth” on the grounds that he might incriminate himself to using marijuana, controlled substances, dangerous substances, dangerous drugs, and liquor.
In a statement, the Cameron County District Attorney’s Office found that there was sufficient evidence to support the allegations made against Vargas. “Upon suspending Vargas, Judge Banales announced that he will be instructing the District Clerk to publish a newspaper advertisement,” the statement reads. “This advertisement will invite citizens from San Benito to apply to be appointed by Judge Banales as the temporary appointee to serve in the place of Vargas for pendency of the removal action.”
Jose Caso, one of two lawyers representing Vargas, said they will check whether the decision can be appealed or not.
“We’re considering all our options right now,” Caso said in reference to appealing.
The removal of Vargas also takes place after a lengthy struggle by residents who believe Vargas should have been removed under the district’s own set of codes dealing with such transgressions.
“It’s sad that it had to come to this,” said Janie Lopez, one of the petitioners for Vargas’s removal. “I’m thankful that the judge ruled to have him temporarily suspended.”
Earlier this year, board members Angel Mendez and M. L. Garcia tried to remove Vargas as president while keeping his position as a board member, but the majority headed by Vice-president Orlando Lopez, Secretary Janie Silva, Victor Eloy Rosas, and Sonia Weaver, defeated the motions to remove him as leader of the school board.
However, Vargas was able to remain as president of the school board with the support of the majority of the members.
After Vargas was able to keep his position, the majority also removed general comments during public school board meetings, keeping only items on the agenda to comment on, a measure that some residents believe was to stop people from criticizing the school board president.
In addition to his July 5 arrest, the petitioners also introduced other events as facts to remove Vargas. They included a San Antonio police report where Vargas allegedly was intoxicated and was harassing another individual at the time of the incident. The San Antonio incident also says that he assaulted a female colleague and groped an unwilling male colleague. They also included videos of his arrest in Harlingen from news media sources and a Facebook post to attest to his character.
SBCISD Public Relations Director Isabel Gonzalez issued a brief statement to the NEWS from Superintendent of Schools Dr. Nate Carman: “San Benito CISD will respect the decision of the courts. We will be consulting with our legal counsel on the next steps.”
Recently, visiting state judge David Stith signed an order to temporarily remove another board member from the Rio Grande City CISD. RGCCISD board member Daniel J. Garcia was suspended from performing any duties after allegations of bribery and abusing his position to get hired as part of the defense team on a homicide.
Mendez said the decision is a win for the community.
“At the end of the day, justice prevailed,” Mendez said.
A trial for Vargas has been set for April 13, 2020.