BROWNSVILLE — A judge yesterday held an arraignment hearing in the case of San Benito school board President Michael Vargas, who faces a charge of driving while intoxicated.
During the hearing in County Court at Law No. 5, Judge Estella Chavez Vasquez ordered Vargas to install a breath alcohol ignition interlock device in his vehicle.
The device will not allow the vehicle’s engine to start if the motorist’s breath contains a blood-alcohol level greater than the legal limit of 0.08 percent.
Chavez Vasquez, who granted a waiver of arraignment, set a compliance hearing for Oct. 31 stemming from the Class B misdemeanor charge.
Dan Sanchez, Vargas’ attorney, did not respond to messages requesting comment.
“It seems to me the court system is trying to do what is fair — they didn’t just dismiss his case,” Janie Lopez, the school district’s former Guidance and Counseling coordinator, said after the hearing. “I’m hopeful the court system will do what is right.”
School board member Mary Lou Garcia, who attended the hearing, declined comment.
On Oct. 31 in 107th state District Court, Vargas faces another hearing after residents including Lopez filed an Oct. 2 petition requesting he be removed from office as a result of his arrest.
Under the law, residents can petition to remove elected officials for intoxication.
“Although not explicitly stated in the statute, due process may require that respondent (Vargas) have the opportunity to challenge or oppose the petitioners’ application for citation and service,” the court wrote in a letter to the petitioners. “Accordingly, the court will afford respondent a hearing to show cause why the citation should not issue and be served upon him.”
The petitioners’ evidence includes a police car’s dash cam footage of Vargas’ arrest.
On July 5, a Harlingen police officer arrested Vargas, 32, after finding him sleeping behind the wheel of his car outside a fast-food restaurant at 1518 N. Ed Carey Drive at about 2 a.m., according to a police report.
Later that day, Vargas, who was arraigned before Municipal Court Judge Arturo Saenz, was released from the city jail after posting $2,000 bail.
According to the police report, Vargas was “displaying red blood-shot eyes and slurred speech” before his arrest.
“I also detected a strong odor of an alcoholic beverage from his breath,” Officer Arnoldo Maldonado wrote.
Signs of intoxication led Maldonado to request Vargas perform a field sobriety test, according to the report.
“The male subject refused to perform the (test),” Maldonado wrote. “The male subject was deemed operating a motor vehicle in a public place while intoxicated and was placed under arrest for driving while intoxicated.”
Vargas, who was elected to the school board’s Place 1 seat in May 2015, has served as the board’s president since May 2017.
Last year, he won re-election to the term expiring in 2021.