Motion filed in La Joya ISD retaliation case

Attorneys for Hidalgo County Pct. 3 Commissioner Joe Flores have filed a motion to dismiss him in a case filed by a group of current and former La Joya ISD employees after the 2012 district election alleging retaliation.

Attorney Javier Peña, on behalf of a few dozen plaintiffs, filed the original lawsuit in April 2014 in Hidalgo County. La Joya Independent School District, trustees Joel Garcia, Juan Jose “J.J.” Garza, Jesus “Chuy” Avendaño and Oscar “Coach” Salinas and Flores were named as defendants in the suit, and attorneys for La Joya ISD moved the case to federal court in May 2014.

legalFlores’ motion to dismiss states that more than a year later he has not been served with the suit. The case is set to go to trial Aug. 10, and several deadlines have expired, the document states. It also cites a federal rule that if a defendant is not served within 120 days of the day the complaint is filed, the defendant must be dismissed.

Peña’s suit alleges that each of the employees represented did not support Team Liberty, “a political faction headed by Defendant Joe Flores.”

“Defendant Flores used his influence and control over the LJISD Board of Trustees and LJISD supervisory employees as a tool to punish the Plaintiffs for their failure to support Team Liberty,” the suit states.

The school district’s answer denies any harassment or hostile work environment. In each case, the answer states all actions were in accordance with the district’s policies and procedures.

Flores filed his own lawsuit against Peña in May 2014. Flores’ suit was also against former State Rep. Kino Flores; Ruth Villarreal, a former insurance provider for La Joya Independent School District; and Arnold Ochoa, a former La Joya ISD trustee and former city of Palmview employee.

According to Joe Flores, the suits were filed against him because he supported Team Liberty, a slate of candidates in the 2012 La Joya ISD board election that ran against Kino Flores’ chosen candidates.

In a plea to jurisdiction to have the case thrown out and a counterclaim, Peña compared Joe Flores’ behavior to the mafia. Peña stated that the fact that the sitting judge on one of the cases denied a motion to dismiss proves the lawsuits are not frivolous.

Flores’ lawsuit remains pending in the 398th District Court.

Meanwhile U.S. District Judge Micaela Alvarez has issued $500 in sanctions against Peña in the employee retaliation case in federal court.

In a November order, Alvarez states Peña was first ordered to pay $100 in August because he was late to the initial pretrial and scheduling conference. Peña later provided a copy of a check for the $100, but did not show proof it had been mailed to the courthouse by the date ordered, Alvarez stated.

In September, Peña was ordered to come before the court “to show cause why he should not be further sanctioned” or he could pay $250 by Sept. 12. At that time, an employee for Peña submitted an affidavit stating she mailed a $100 check on Sept. 15. Alvarez stated the court did not receive the check, and it wouldn’t have complied with the court’s order.

Then, in October, Peña explained to the court that the original $100 check had been sent to the wrong address. He was asked to come back with proof within a week, but on the day of the deadline, his secretary hand-delivered the $250 check, Alvarez states in her order.

Another hearing was scheduled for November, at which Peña told the court the clerk’s office would not accept the supplemental proof of the original $100 check his secretary brought with her when she turned in the $250 check. The secretary’s affidavit only mentions the $250 check, Alvarez states.

“The Court would have much preferred a truthful, though unsatisfying explanation for Mr. Pena’s non-compliance than his attempts to appease the Court with statements that are not supported by facts,” Alvarez stated.

Peña was then penalized another $250, for $500 total. Alvarez reprimanded him one last time in December when the $250 check was brought three days after the deadline.

“The Court finds Mr. Pena’s defiance both disrespectful and inexcusable, but the Court has already expended considerable time and resources addressing Mr. Pena’s behavior, so no further action will be taken at this time,” Alvarez stated.

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