SCOTUS To Hear Texas Council Member Case

Sylvia Gonzalez
Former Castle Hills council member Sylvia Gonzalez | Image by Institute for Justice

A case involving a former city council member from Castle Hills, a suburb of San Antonio, is headed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

SCOTUS is set to hear the case, which involves allegations that Castle Hill city officials violated the constitutional rights of former council member Sylvia Gonzalez after she spearheaded an effort to remove the city manager.

“Constitutional rights mean nothing if they can’t be enforced against government officials who violate them,” said attorney Patrick Jaicomo of the Institute for Justice, the organization representing Gonzalez, reported The Texan.

“This blatant abuse of power by government officials should have never happened,” he added.

Gonzalez started a petition to fire the city manager while she was running for city council. She was elected to office in 2019. According to court documents, Gonzalez subsequently faced hostility from city politicians and their allies, according to The Texan.

Other members of the council allegedly attempted to remove Gonzalez from office immediately after her inauguration. Her opponents claimed her oath of office was not properly administered by the county sheriff. But a court order on the matter protected her.

However, she recounted that she briefly stepped away from the council platform during a meeting in which the petition to remove the city manager was presented by a resident to the council.

Gonzalez said that when she returned, Mayor J.R. Trevino asked her where the petition was, and then she found it in her personal binder. The mayor then ordered local police chief John Siemens to investigate Gonzalez’s possession of the petition. She said she did not know how the document got into her binder.

Castle Hills police found no wrongdoing on Gonzalez’s part, after which Siemens hired local attorney Alex Wright to conduct a second investigation. After a month-long investigation, Wright obtained an arrest warrant for Gonzalez, who was charged with tampering with a government record.

Gonzalez was booked into jail for the offense, which is a misdemeanor. A group of residents allegedly “politically aligned” with the police chief then filed a lawsuit to remove Gonzalez from office due to her alleged “incompetency.”

The efforts to remove Gonzalez from office were unsuccessful, and she was deemed not guilty of the criminal charges against her. However, she said the legal battle cost her thousands of dollars, and the allegations against her destroyed her reputation.

She filed a lawsuit in federal court against Trevino, Siemens, and Wright, claiming retaliatory arrest for engaging in conduct protected by the First Amendment.

A district court judge decided to deny qualified immunity to city officials, but the ruling was reversed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, reported KSAT. According to the appellate court’s decision, Gonzalez failed to establish a violation of her constitutional rights. For its part, SCOTUS has yet to hear the case.

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