The Assistant County Attorney for Kleberg County has had her employment terminated, and she claims it is because she is a whistleblower. Kleberg County Attorney Delma Rios Salazar fired Assistant County Attorney Diane Elizondo. Elizondo claims she was “wrongfully terminated without cause for whistleblowing on Rios’ alleged illegal activities and obvious conflict of interest in violation of ethical and legal principle.”
Salazar also stands accused of slander and retaliation. Elizondo claims that Salazar’s son, Daniel Cuellar, was charged with marijuana possession and resisting arrest, and that Salazar ordered her to dismiss the charges.
One obvious concern is whether the County Attorney Salazar should have had any involvement with any criminal prosecution decisions related to her own son or whether she should have recused herself on such matters.
Elizondo said that when she realized Cuellar was Salazar’s son, she informed County Court-at-Law Judge Guadalupe Mendoza. She claims her employment was terminated shortly thereafter.
Salazar said that the allegations were untrue and said Elizondo was fired because “she was bad-mouthing me.”
According to Kleberg County Judge Juan Escobar, the Kleberg County Commissioners have been alerted about the allegations, and other agencies may be called in as well.
“The Texas Rangers and possibly the local sheriff’s office could be involved,” Escobar told KRIS TV. “Even the FBI, if there are some federal charges. So all three agencies could get involved.”
Salazar confirmed that a State Bar grievance has been filed against her. Elizondo has not yet filed a wrongful termination lawsuit, but Salazar said she will defend any such lawsuit vigorously.
By claiming to be a “whistleblower,” Elizondo is likely referring to what is commonly known as the Texas Whistleblower Act, or Texas Government Code section 554.002, which prohibits public employees in Texas from being terminated after they report official wrongdoing in good faith. Government employees who alert the appropriate entities when they observe a violation of the law are protected from retaliatory action in regards to their employment, including termination or other adverse personnel action.
Under the law, a whistleblower may file a lawsuit for reinstatement and for damages including lost pay, court costs and attorney’s fees. The Texas whistleblower statute applies only to government workers and provides no protection to employees of private companies. Certain other statutes offer protections to other types of “whistleblowers.”