Supreme Court rules in favor of San Antonio-area woman suing Castle Hills for retaliation

Former councilwoman Sylvia Gonzalez spent a night in jail after accusing Castle Hills' city manager of failing to do his job.

click to enlarge Former Castle Hills councilwoman Sylvia Gonzalez stands outside the Bexar County Sheriff's Office. - Courtesy Photo / Institute for Justice
Courtesy Photo / Institute for Justice
Former Castle Hills councilwoman Sylvia Gonzalez stands outside the Bexar County Sheriff's Office.
A woman who sued the City of Castle Hills for alleged political retaliation has scored a victory in the U.S. Supreme Court.

On Thursday, justices ruled that the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which had previously swatted down the suit, misinterpreted case law. That means the revived complaint will head back to the lower courts.

Sylvia Gonzalez — Castle Hills' first Latina council member — in spent a night in Bexar County Jail five years ago on a misdemeanor charge of mishandling government documents. The paperwork in question was a petition accusing the northwestern suburb's City Manager Ryan Rapelye of failing to do his job by not repaving city roads and ignoring citizen concerns, according to court filings.

Following the 2019 council meeting where the 300-signature petition was discussed, Gonzalez accidentally placed some of its pages in her briefcase, according to the lawsuit. Although Gonzalez turned over the petitions before leaving the council chamber, Mayor Edward Trevino, a political ally of Rapelye, accused her of trying to destroy government records, the petition alleges.

The Bexar County District Attorney's Office eventually dropped charges against Gonzalez, who had since resigned from her position out of embarrassment. She eventually filed a lawsuit against Trevino and others, arguing the arrest was politically motivated and a violation of her First Amendment rights.

During the ensuing legal fight, the notoriously conservative 5th Circuit of Appeals in 2022 rejected Gonzalez's claim. The New Orleans-based court denied hearing the case again last year, prompting her to bring her grievance to the U.S. Supreme Court.

"This has been a nightmare for the last five years," Gonzalez, 76, said in a statement. "It has kept me up at night, but finally I can sleep knowing that the nightmare I've gone through will protect critics from retaliation in the future."

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Michael Karlis

Michael Karlis is a Staff Writer at the San Antonio Current. He is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., whose work has been featured in Salon, Alternet, Creative Loafing Tampa Bay, Orlando Weekly, NewsBreak, 420 Magazine and Mexico Travel Today. He reports primarily on breaking news, politics...

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