Questions raised over attorney fees — Matter going to court in Beaumont
Port Arthur attorney Langston Adams is billing the city for his expenses relating to the Edison Square Apartments lawsuit. Among the expenses, he is listing time he spent speaking with city councilman Willie “Bae” Lewis.
Lewis did not say why exactly he was speaking with the opposing counsel or what they were discussing.
However, Lewis has been pushing for the city to reimburse Adams for months now.
Lewis said it’s not unethical what he has done because he has a fiduciary responsibility to the citizens. He added that he met with Adams more than the four hours listed on the invoice.
“I want to see the citizens made whole. They’re messing with my citizens,” he said.
Back in January, Adams, attorney for plaintiffs Reginald Trainer, Efrain Avendano, Paul Hulin and Herman Levingston, said Judge Donald Floyd of the 172nd Judicial District Court in Beaumont ordered the city of Port Arthur to pay $50,737 to the plaintiffs for legal fees.
Moreover, in the event the city is unsuccessful in its appeal, the city will be required to pay an additional $10,000 to the plaintiffs’ legal fees for each additional appeal.
Adams said about the memorandum opinion the lawsuit invalidated Ordinance 13-32 for multi-family residential housing. The ordinance did not have a supermajority from the city’s Board of Adjustments as required.
Adams said attorney John Werner in Beaumont was handling all matters related to Edison Square. Messages to Werner were not returned as of press time.
The complex is a 78-unit community for people age 62 and older.
The ruling was issued on July 14, 2016 by the Corpus Christi – Edinburgh 13th District of Texas Court of Appeals. The case was on appeal from the 172nd District Court of Jefferson County, according to a memorandum opinion from the 13th District Court.
Lewis said the Port Arthur City Council violated laws, ordinances and zoning regulations that could be subject to a $2,000 fine because more than 20 percent of the citizens of that district were protesting building Edison Square and the city council didn’t have the required supermajority to overturn it.
He added that City Attorney Val Tizeno wrote an opinion with Texas Municipal League’s support stating the city could not accept a petition by the contractor which, in Lewis’ view, is against the law.
“That’s delegating city governance,” he said. “It must be brought through Planning and Zoning. They are the only ones who can do this.”
Lewis said the procedure is to get a property rezoned in Phase I. Next, submit a preliminary plat to the Planning and Zoning committee in Phase II. For Phase III, submit the plat to the city council for approval to make it a permanent plat with infrastructure installed. Lastly, issue a building permit.
Lewis said the final plat was never approved by the council and that is a violation of the law.
He said Tizeno never told the plaintiffs in the lawsuit what to do and she has a fiduciary and ethical responsibility to do so.
“They thought they could beat down the plaintiffs and nobody would help them. They raised their legal fees,” Lewis said. “All the ones involved (city councilmembers) are all running for reelection except the mayor.”
Lewis estimates the city will pay from $47,000 to $52,000 to the Houston firm of Olson and Olson who took on the Edison Square lawsuit on behalf of the city.
He said the only thing the council voted on was to approve hiring Olson and Olson. Their fees were not to exceed $18,000. Lewis voted against hiring the firm.
“This is not over yet. It could go higher than that,” he said.
According to Texas Ethical Opinion 474 from The Supreme Court of Texas, Rule 4.02 of the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct Adams and or Lewis may be in violation of their opinion.
That opinion says, in part, “In representing a client, a lawyer shall not communicate or cause or encourage another to communicate about the subject of the representation with a person, organization or entity of government the lawyer knows to be represented by another lawyer regarding that subject, unless the lawyer has the consent of the other lawyer or is authorized by law to do so.
(c) For the purpose of this rule, “organization or entity of government” includes: (1) those persons presently having a managerial responsibility with an organization or entity of government that relates to the subject of the representation, or (2) those persons presently employed by such organizations or entity and whose act or omission in connection with the subject of representation may make the organization or entity of government vicariously liable for such act or omission.
Under governmental entities where the opposition’s client is a municipality represented by the city attorney, communications by plaintiff’s attorney with individual city council members regarding disapproval of the opposition’s settlement offer is prohibited under Rule 4.02.”
David Ball: 409-721-2427