in Houston, Texas
Fort Bend Mechanical lawyer says firm, owner did not bribe Houston ISD trustee Larry Marshall
Thursday, Oct 27, 2011, 08:21AM CST
By Mike Cronin
scales

The lawyer for a Stafford businessman accused of bribing Houston school board member Larry Marshall with a $25,000 check said yesterday those charges are “absolutely not true.”

David “Pete” Medford, who runs Fort Bend Mechanical, “makes contributions to lots of campaigns – including (Gov.) Rick Perry,” Michael McGann, a Houston lawyer who is representing Fort Bend Mechanical, said during a phone interview yesterday afternoon.

“’Contributions’ is not a dirty word, but that’s what they’re making out it to be,” McGann said of lawyers representing The Gil Ramirez Group, a Houston-based construction company and rival of Fort Bend Mechanical for Houston school system work.

But Chad Dunn, a Houston lawyer with the firm of Brazil & Dunn representing Ramirez, argued in court documents filed earlier this month that the $25,000 Houston Independent School District Trustee Larry Marshall received from Medford in 2009 was a bribe because Marshall never reported the money as a contribution on his campaign disclosure forms.

Not doing so is illegal.

Marshall represents HISD District IX. HISD is the nation’s seventh-largest school district. It has a $1.6 billion annual budget and about 203,000 students.

Fort Bend Mechanical, an HVAC service and installation company, has done millions of dollars of business with HISD.

That might be the case, but McGann said the company’s success in securing business with the district did not come through bribery of HISD board members.

“My client has everything required by HISD’s system,” McGann said. Because Fort Bend Mechanical is already an HISD vendor through its job-order contracting program, the company would have nothing to gain by trying to sway school board members, he said.

“I’m only guessing, but I imagine if you don’t have the qualifications, you are not going to be selected,” McGann said. “HISD is happy with my client’s work.”

McGann also contested accusations by Dunn and his legal team that Fort Bend Mechanical is refusing to supply information that a court subpoena orders.

“We didn’t hide anything,” he said. “We produced everything. A copy of the $25,000 check from Mr. Medford to Mr. Marshall was hand-delivered by me personally to” Kelly Greenwood Prather.

Greenwood Prather is a lawyer at The Greenwood Prather Law Firm in Houston. She is working with Dunn in representing Ramirez.

The documents that Fort Bend Mechanical are withholding consist of items such as banking information, bills and an owner’s manual for a thermostat, McGann said.

“Those are not in the subpoena, and some of that information is probably confidential to my client,” McGann said.

Plus, Fort Bend Mechanical is not even a party to the lawsuit that Ramirez has brought against Marshall, McGann said.

“I have not reviewed the court's file, but (Fort Bend Mechanical) has not been served with any process, pleading, citation, etc.,” McGann wrote Texas Watchdog in an e-mail.

The $25,000 campaign contribution to Marshall came from Medford – not Fort Bend Mechanical – so Dunn and Greenwood Prather have no legal right to view them, McGann said.

But Fort Bend Mechanical reimbursed Medford for that check, Greenwood Prather said. At least $45,500 in checks from Medford to Marshall exist, according to court documents.


“If those checks are reimbursed by Fort Bend Mechanical, then that’s a payment,” Greenwood Prather said. “So, that does fall under the subpoena. And we believe there are still other checks out there reimbursed by Fort Bend Mechanical.”

The past two weeks have been particularly contentious between the two legal teams due to the fight over what documents Fort Bend Mechanical must provide to Dunn and Greenwood Prather and what documents Fort Bend Mechanical may keep.

The Ramirez lawyers have filed contempt-of-court and compel motions to force Fort Bend Mechanical to produce the documents they believe include more checks from the company to Marshall.

“According to Marshall’s campaign finance forms there are” more Fort Bend Mechanical checks to Marshall,  Greenwood Prather said.

Some of those could be bribes, according to court documents filed on Monday by Dunn’s team.

In McGann’s response to the contempt-of-court and compel motions that he said he filed on Tuesday, he wrote that “personal checks of David Medford, Sharon Medford and Eric Medford... are not company checks and therefore not within the scope of the subpoena.”

McGann provided Texas Watchdog a copy of that document, but it had not yet appeared in the federal courts’ electronic record system as of yesterday afternoon.

“The statement that Plaintiff believes that there were other checks to Larry Marshall or his campaign in the yellow folders is disingenuous,” McGann wrote.

In a second document McGann said he filed to the court earlier this month, the lawyer wrote that it was “untrue” that Fort Bend Mechanical was not providing subpoenaed information.

McGann also provided Texas Watchdog with a copy of that document yesterday. It had also not yet appeared in federal court system electronic record system.

Greenwood Prather said Fort Bend Mechanical formally became a party to the lawsuit on Tuesday. Dunn and Greenwood Prather first asked U.S. District Judge Kenneth M. Hoyt to make the company a party on Oct. 12, Greenwood Prather said.

Though McGann said Fort Bend Mechanical doesn’t contribute to political campaigns, Marshall’s own campaign-finance disclosure forms show a $2,500 donation directly from the company dated June 18, 2008.

In documents filed with the court yesterday, Dunn and his legal team wrote that they continue "to seek, specifically, copies of all payments to Larry Marshall which Fort Bend Mechanical made directly or indirectly when it reimbursed its employees and owners for payments to Marshall or his campaign."

They also say in yesterdays's documents that "the effort to obtain the documents has been going on for over a month since the subpoena was first served."

Questions about Marshall’s actions as a board member have circulated for months.

He twice accepted offers from state Rep. Borris Miles to travel for free Costa Rica. He held a fundraiser in Costa Rica on one of those trips. And he introduced district officials to a Houston doctor who almost received a  $640,000 no-bid contract – despite the absence of a job description for Wells’ proposed district work.

District officials halted negotiations on that contract due to questions from Texas Watchdog and the Houston Chronicle.

***
Contact Mike Cronin at mike@texaswatchdog.org or 713-228-2850. Follow him on Twitter at @michaelccronin or @texaswatchdog.

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Photo of 'Justice #2' by flickr user InsideMyShell, used under a Creative Commons license.

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