Attorneys representing Sylvia Atkinson in the case to remove the trustee from her position as vice president of the BISD Board of Trustees appeared in court on Friday to discuss the status of the removal petition.
Atkinson faces eight federal counts including conspiracy, bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds, and violation of the Travel Act-State Bribery Law.
An indictment handed down by a federal grand jury in December accused the trustee of soliciting and accepting a $10,000 bribe from an undercover FBI agent posing as an employee of local film production and advertising company Pink Ape Media in exchange for placing a production proposal on the school board agenda.
Atkinson has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Friday’s status hearing involved determining how the state will continue its discovery process given an order signed by U.S. District Judge Fernando Rodriguez, Jr. on July 31 which prohibited Atkinson, her attorneys, and government prosecutors from making extrajudicial statements about their knowledge of the case pending trial.
According to court records, Atkinson is currently set to go to trial on Oct.13.
During Friday’s hearing in the 107th District Court, First Administrative Assistant District Attorney Edward Sandoval asked visiting Senior Judge Federico Hinojosa to require the defense to provide a privilege log after Atkinson’s attorneys sent discovery responses with objections and claims of privilege to over 1,200 requested documents.
One of Atkinson’s attorneys, Dale Robertson, said, “The state has served us with 1,200-something requests for production. To each of them we have asserted our fifth amendment rights.”
Attorneys on both sides discussed with the judge whether they can proceed given the nature of the federal order. Hinojosa pointed out that much of those documents are covered by that order.
Sandoval asked for a description of the documents so that litigation can move forward.
Also at issue was the fact that Atkinson is allegedly undecided as to whether or not she will seek reelection. The filing deadline is on Monday, and her current term ends in November.
Jury trials likely won’t happen until next year, Hinojosa explained, and it could be that either the case becomes moot or voters voice their decision come November.
Atkinson’s attorneys established that she remains active on the school board and has been given permission to do so by Rodriguez.
Brownsville Independent School District general counsel Baltazar Salazar argued that BISD has in fact been complying with requests for documents as they prepared those documents for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in January, and that the DA’s office allegedly asked them to hold onto them until further notice.
Noe Garza, Atkinson’s second attorney, asked the DA’s office to determine whether they will seek prosecution of Atkinson at the state level following the closure of both ongoing cases.
“They’re seeking information in a civil proceeding that can be used against her in a criminal proceeding later in state court,” he said.
Hinojosa ordered the status hearing reset following Atkinson’s decision on whether she will run for elected office. He asked attorneys to complete all outstanding discovery requests and will be reviewing a sealed order entered into Atkinson’s federal case.