Documents ordered to be shared with DA’s Office

Sylvia Atkinson

Orders filed in the case to remove Brownsville Independent School Board Trustee Sylvia Atkinson from her position on the school board are calling on Atkinson, her attorneys, and the school district to turn over documents detailing all communication between the trustee and other members of the school board since her arrest in December.

An order filed on Tuesday, signed by Honorable Federico G. Hinojosa, senior judge, presiding by assignment, ordered Atkinson to respond to multiple discovery requests sent by the state beginning on March 18. “If Respondent claims a privilege, she is ORDERED to specify the privilege claimed,” wrote Hinojosa.

During a hearing on Monday, Cameron County Administrative First Assistant District Attorney Edward Sandoval said the office sent several letters requesting emails and text messages that must be stored in accordance with the Texas Public Information Act from Atkinson.

As of June 29, documentation of those communications had not been received. Hinojosa ordered them submitted on or before July 31.

Attorneys for the state are arguing that Atkinson’s decision to voluntarily refrain from school board and district activities for the duration of her federal criminal case means she actually relinquished her professional duties, and should therefore be replaced so as to maintain the functionality of the school board.

“Respondent has publicly announced her intention not to carry out her duties and since December 2019 she has failed to carry out her responsibilities as a BISD Board Trustee. Respondent’s choice was voluntary. Her actions show ‘actual intention’ to ‘abandon and relinquish’ her office,” read a document arguing quo warranto — that Atkinson must prove her legal right to hold the office.

The document referenced a post on social media in December in which Atkinson informed the public she would be “voluntarily abstaining from attending and participating in board meetings as well as any district-sponsored events”.

In an order signed on Tuesday, Hinojosa sustained two special exceptions argued by the state. One of those sustained an exception to a point raised in Atkinson’s response to the original petition in which her attorneys argued the suit was not brought by a qualified resident of Cameron County.

The petition was filed on March 4 by District Attorney Luis V. Saenz after no Brownsville residents came forward to do so. Atkinson and her attorneys were ordered to re-plead their response to the removal petition by July 31.

Hinojosa on Monday refrained from ruling on the petition, instead rescheduling proceedings for Aug. 14 following the start of Atkinson’s federal trial on Aug. 10. Atkinson has pleaded not guilty to the eight counts and bribery allegations listed in the federal indictment.