Karla Garcia, Dallas ISD's District 4 Trustee. (Photo courtesy karlagarciaforDISD.com)

Education

Judge Tosses Lawsuit That Attempted to Remove DISD Trustee Karla Garcia From Office

The court case over Garcia's Texas residency is over.

The attorney representing Karla Garcia, Dallas ISD’s District 4 trustee, called the case against her a “big nothing-burger.” But I’m going to tell you about it anyway, because her opponent in the June runoff tried, and failed, to get a judge to remove her from office.

Her challenger, Camile White, used the question of Garcia’s residency that trailed the race as a way to get her bumped from her seat as the district’s elected trustee for Pleasant Grove. A judge yesterday dismissed the case, saying White basically missed the boat: these were allegations that should’ve been brought to the court prior to the election. White alleged that Garcia had not returned to Texas from college in North Carolina within the 12 months required to run for local office.

“You can’t complain after the fact,” says attorney Jeronimo Valdez, who represented Garcia. “You’re now asking for a removal instead of keeping her off the ballot. If the other side had an issue with Karla Garcia’s residency, the proper mechanism for that would have been filing suit to keep her from being put on the ballot.”

Associate Judge Monica Purdy dismissed the case after finding the court didn’t have the jurisdiction to remove her. White, who represented herself, filed the lawsuit nine days after the election. Garcia had already been sworn in. Dallas ISD filed a rather thorough rebuttal, basically saying that courts can compel the district to put a candidate on the ballot (or pull one off) but can’t remove one from office if they have already won. Garcia won with nearly 60 percent of the vote. In the case of removal, the state attorney general or the district attorney would be the ones to trigger that action. Not a district court.

White and failed District 5 City Council candidate Ruth Torres began raising the residency claims after White and Garcia made the runoff. Garcia had to submit two applications to run for office; her first indicated that she’d only lived in Texas for the past seven months, since returning to her Pleasant Grove home from college in North Carolina. The second, which was accepted by the district, said she’d lived here for 15 years and seven months. Both are included as exhibits in the lawsuit, as are forms showing Garcia had registered for a North Carolina driver’s license and registered to vote there.

Torres told the Dallas Morning News that she’d alerted the Dallas County District Attorney about this prior to the election, but didn’t plan to pursue legal action. Which, according to the judge’s ruling, would’ve been the time to actually do that. In an interview Tuesday, Torres said she and White were too busy with their own races to file a lawsuit. The DA’s integrity office said in a statement that it “can’t comment on pending investigations.”

So, here is how the state’s election code defines a residence: “In this code, ‘residence’ means domicile, that is, one’s home and fixed place of habitation to which one intends to return after any temporary absence.” Garcia had told the Dallas Morning News that she intended to return to Dallas after college and even had a job lined up. And, in a court case in 1964, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that “the term ‘residence’ is an elastic one and is extremely difficult to define.” It’s also been loose with the permanent residency of college students, which White contests in the lawsuit.

Torres ran for City Council in District 5 against the victor Jaime Resendez, who supported Garcia in his race. Resendez previously had to vacate the trustee seat Garcia won after he moved out of the district during his term. A series of emails included in White’s lawsuit indicate that Torres called Garcia in May and asked her to “immediately withdraw” from the election or face “multiple felony charges for aggravated perjury.” Torres even served Garcia with the lawsuit, she confirmed.

She said her interest in White’s lawsuit had nothing to do with her own race against Resendez, but about accountability in the electoral process.

“This is someone who got elected when they knowingly should not have,” she said. “I care very much about government accountability and this is a case where it was clear there was fraud, illegality, or a mistake on her getting onto the ballot.”

White didn’t respond to a message requesting comment, and Torres said she was unsure whether her friend would appeal the ruling. What is sure: Karla Garcia is Dallas ISD’s District 4 trustee.

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