Thursday, September 28, 2023
Courthouse News Service
Thursday, September 28, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Texas Constable Ordered to Step Down in Resign-to-Run Case

Michelle Barrientes Vela’s tenure as a Bexar County, Texas, constable lasted two years, a 10-hour FBI raid, three lawsuits and one accidental resignation.

SAN ANTONIO (CN) — Michelle Barrientes Vela’s tenure as a Bexar County, Texas, constable lasted two years, a 10-hour FBI raid, three lawsuits and one accidental resignation.

On Wednesday, a state judge dismissed her lawsuit asking the court to discount a statement she made to journalists while FBI agents and Texas Rangers raided her Northwest San Antonio office last month.

“We’re going to go ahead and make it formally announced today right now that yes, I will be seeking the chair and the seat of the sheriff’s office with the Bexar County,” Barrientes Vela told a reporter at the ABC affiliate in San Antonio.

With those words, Barrientes Vela triggered Texas’ resign-to-run statute: certain elected officeholders automatically resign from their post if they announce their candidacy for another position in an election more than 13 months in advance of their term’s expiration.

When she spoke to the reporter, Barrientes Vela’s term wasn’t set to expire for another 15 months.

It wasn’t until after the county commissioners posted a job opening for her position that she backtracked. Twenty-nine people applied for the interim position before applications closed last week, and a successor was chosen after interviews.

In her Sept. 30 lawsuit, Barrientes Vela argued that her TV announcement was an “excited utterance” and not a “formal political declaration.”

During a hearing Wednesday, Bexar County District Judge Martha Tanner found that the court lacked jurisdiction over the matter, dissolving a temporary restraining order that kept the county commissioner’s court from placing a new constable in the county’s second precinct.

Barrientes Vela agreed to vacate her office by 8 a.m. Thursday, according to a statement from the Bexar County District Attorney’s Office.

Her tenure has been marred by controversy since she took office in 2017.

Two Precinct 2 deputy constables sued Barrientes Vela in San Antonio federal court for placing them on unpaid leave after they decided to run against her in the 2020 election.

She has also been sued twice in Bexar County court by former deputy constables claiming their termination letters were defamatory. Both plaintiffs abandoned those claims and the lawsuits have been dismissed.

In February, her deputies neglected to obtain a warrant before drawing blood from a teen crash victim who was suspected of being high on marijuana. They considered cavity-searching her after she crashed her vehicle in Leon Valley, an enclave city in San Antonio.

In 2017, Barrientes Vela, her chief deputy and a captain billed taxpayers for a two-day Austin trip to attend training on state open records law. The trio attended the first four-hour session but reportedly skipped the remaining eight hours of training. They also opted for pricier rooms at an off-site hotel rather than the discounted rooms made available by organizers.

For months, the constable’s office stonewalled public information requests from reporters. She claimed that requests must be made out to her personally, though state law only requires that they be made in writing.

This Easter, Barrientes Vela made a man pay her $50 per hour for security for the pavilion he had reserved for his family a year in advance, a fee he had never had to pay for the 10-plus years his family has rented that same pavilion.

The director of the Bexar County Heritage and Parks Department told the San Antonio Express-News that the county had already planned to pay officers at all county parks that Sunday — but for $38, not $50, per hour.

Barrientes Vela’s office also requested $2,147 for uniform patches celebrating her for being the county’s first female constable, which is untrue.

The Bexar County District Attorney’s Office said it would not comment further on Wednesday’s ruling, citing a pending criminal investigation.

Follow @cucumbermarg
Categories / Government, Law, Regional

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.