Supreme Court Allows Former Texas Council Member to Sue for Retaliation

The lower court ignored binding precedent, the Supreme Court held.

The Supreme Court on June 20 ruled 8–1 in favor of a former city council member in Texas who sued for retaliation after she was arrested following her criticism of city officials.

The new opinion in Gonzalez v. Trevino was marked “per curiam” and not signed by a specific justice. Although per curiam means “for the court” and is supposed to imply unanimity among the justices, the decision was not unanimous.

Justice Clarence Thomas filed a dissenting opinion.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit failed to properly apply existing precedent, the Supreme Court held as it vacated the lower court’s judgment and returned the case to that court “for proceedings consistent with this opinion.”

The ruling allows former Castle Hills, Texas, council member Sylvia Gonzalez to revive her lawsuit and returns the case to a lower court.

Ms. Gonzalez was charged under a rarely invoked Texas law that forbids destroying or tampering with government documents.

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The case deals with qualified immunity, a rule created by the courts that shields government officials from individual liability unless the wrongdoer violated an established right.

It may have ramifications for how government officials can be held accountable in courts of law.

Civil libertarians have become increasingly critical of the qualified immunity legal doctrine in recent years, which they say allows government officials to get away with sometimes egregious wrongdoing.

City officials, on the other hand, said that if the appeal succeeds, qualified immunity could be jeopardized as a judicial policy.

The case goes back to 2019 when Ms. Gonzalez won an election and became a councilwoman in Castle Hills.

She spearheaded a nonbinding petition among citizens demanding that the city manager be ousted for several reasons, among them that he failed to address residents’ concerns, such as fixing the streets.

According to the Institute for Justice (IJ), a public interest law firm representing Ms. Gonzalez, city officials targeted her in a campaign of retaliation.

The city argued that she wasn’t properly sworn in and replaced her on the city council with the candidate she defeated in the election.

Later, a judge reinstated Ms. Gonzalez.

A group of residents aligned with the mayor sued, claiming Ms. Gonzalez was incompetent. She prevailed in that lawsuit, too.

But officials “engineered Sylvia’s arrest for misplacing a document in her binder at a council meeting,” which “happened to be the same petition to remove the city manager that Sylvia had championed.”

“City officials argued Sylvia had stolen her own petition from the mayor as she was gathering her papers at the end of a council meeting,” the IJ stated.

Federal Judge David Alan Ezra said, “Instead of issuing a summons for the nonviolent misdemeanor, [the city] obtained a warrant to arrest the 72-year-old, which ensured that she would spend time in jail rather than remaining free and appearing before a judge.”

Ms. Gonzalez spent a day behind bars and her mugshot appeared in local media reports.

The local district attorney soon withdrew the charges, but Ms. Gonzalez assumed the effort to intimidate her would continue and resigned from the city council.

This is a developing story. It will be updated.

Original News Source Link – Epoch Times

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