The courtroom seats reserved for the suspended Victoria County constable and his attorney sat empty Monday morning.
In a one-sided trial, jurors spent just five minutes in deliberation, returning a unanimous verdict that resulted in the removal of Precinct 1 Constable Jesse Garza from office. Attorneys arguing for Garza’s removal said his failure to show up for work since early February met the state’s standard of incompetence required to remove elected officials from office.
“Constable Garza was elected by the people ... It’s only appropriate that the people remove him,” said District Judge Jack Marr, who presided over the civil trial.
Garza, who faces a June criminal trial for felony sexual assault and misdemeanor official oppression charges, did not show up to court or challenge proceedings against him.
“We didn’t know he wouldn’t show up until 10:01 a.m. when they called his name on the courthouse steps,” said special prosecutor Tim Poynter, who also serves as an assistant district attorney for Refugio, Goliad and DeWitt counties. Poynter is also handling criminal prosecution against Garza after Victoria County District Attorney Constance Filley Johnson recused herself.
Garza was suspended April 15 after Precinct 1 Justice of the Peace Mary Ann Rivera filed suit against him, contending he was not fulfilling his duties to her court. Victoria County commissioners have appointed former Victoria Police Department employee Gary Smejkal to act as a replacement. A week later, Victoria County commissioners decided to stop paying Garza his $40,667 annual salary.
Monday’s jury verdict meant Garza no longer holds the office of constable – suspended or otherwise. He was voted into office in a 2016 runoff by a narrow margin of five votes, beating incumbent Richard Williams.
Before retiring to the jury room, jurors heard brief but straightforward arguments from Poynter. Although Poynter said he was prepared to call eight witnesses, including the Victoria County woman who has accused Garza of sexually assaulting her during a ride-along and a Texas Ranger who investigated the allegations, he ended up calling only Rivera to the stand.
Rivera told jurors that Garza had not shown up to work or called her since Feb. 5. Like other Victoria County constables, Garza was responsible for issuing court summonses and other documents as well as acting as a bailiff in her courtroom, which is held three to four times each week.
Without Garza’s presence, the justice of the peace said she once was forced to call a Victoria County sheriff’s deputy because of an unruly person in her court and had to rely on Precinct 2 Constable James Calaway to serve documents.
She also said her court had gotten behind schedule because the serving of some documents was delayed.
“This is a simple matter. We allege he didn’t show up to work,” Poynter said to jurors, adding, “The residents of Precinct 1 deserve a constable.”
No one was present in court to speak or call witnesses on behalf of Garza.
But Poynter said Garza could have hired an attorney to represent him in the case and file documents that would have delayed his removal until at least the end of the criminal case.
Former Victoria County district attorney Dexter Eaves is representing Garza. Neither Eaves nor Garza could be reached for comment.