Judge Gabert handed down ruling

Christopher Maher, Alice Echo-News Journal

A lawsuit filed in Duval County against the Robstown Independent School District has been transferred to a Nueces County Court, following a ruling by District Judge Alex Gabert last week.

Gabert, of the 229th District Court in Duval County, issued an order granting the district's motion to transfer the venue for the case to Nueces County on May 23, following a hearing.

Jesus Alejandro, a former business manager for the district, filed the lawsuit citing wrongful termination and a violation of the Texas Whistleblower Statute in the 229th District Court in Duval County on Feb. 2.

In his order granting the ruling, Judge Gabert wrote, "the court finds that the maintenance of the action in Duval County would work an injustice to the defendant, that the balance of interests of all parties predominates in favor of the action being brought in Nueces County, and that the transfer of the action would not work an injustice on any party."

In the May 23 hearing, both parties were in court to argue a motion for a change of venue filed by the district, requesting the case be sent to Nueces County.

Sara Leon, the attorney for Robstown ISD, argued the case could be heard in Duval County, but it should be moved to Nueces County out of convenience for the witnesses, most of whom work or reside in Nueces County.

Edward Connors, the attorney for Alejandro, argued Wednesday his client was authorized under the Texas Whistleblower Statute to choose a neutral county for his case to be heard, and the distance from Nueces County to Duval County was not extreme enough to provide an inconvenience to the witnesses in the case.

According to information provided in the lawsuit, Alejandro served as an employee in the district for 16 years, and was under the supervision of Superintendent Roberto Garcia before he was terminated on Sept. 26, 2006.

Alejandro stated through the suit that in August 2006 he became aware that the district was not complying with a legal requirement of the Teachers Retirement System (TRS) regarding the interim superintendent, and he notified TRS of the non-compliance.

The alleged violation related to the district's designation of Garcia as a "substitute," when he did not meet the legal requirements to qualify as a substitute, according to the suit.

In listing Garcia as a substitute, the district had avoided paying a required surcharge, Alejandro alleged.

When Alejandro informed Garcia he had contacted TRS regarding the violations, Garcia allegedly "reacted angrily and claimed it was an honest mistake," according to the suit.

Alejandro alleged in his suit Garcia retaliated against him by attempting to prevent Alejandro from contacting the school board about the violations, "bringing up issues from the past in an attempt to make him look bad," by claiming Alejandro was acting because of a political or personal agenda and by "making false allegations" against Alejandro.

The alleged retaliation ultimately concluded when Garcia fired Alejandro on Sept. 26, 2006, according to the suit.

The suit further stated that Alejandro filed a grievance of his termination with the district on Sept. 27, 2006, but in board meetings on Oct. 17 and Nov. 13 of the same year, the school board reviewed and declined to reverse the termination.

Alejandro claimed in his suit his termination violated the Texas Whistleblower Statute, and that as a result of his wrongful termination he suffered damages in excess of $250,000.

The district has issued a general denial of the allegations.

The case was transferred to Nueces County on Thursday.