in Houston, Texas
Houston school district officials to company accusing them of bribery, racketeering and money laundering: Let’s take it to trial
Wednesday, Nov 23, 2011, 06:01PM CST
By Mike Cronin
justice

The Houston Independent School District says it wants a jury trial as it faces a suit from a construction company that alleges a schools trustee and the district improperly awarded a contract to a competitor.

The Houston-based Gil Ramirez Group failed to prove any liability, according to Arturo Michel, a lawyer representing the district, in documents filed this week in the U.S. District Court of Judge Kenneth M. Hoyt.

Michel also states in the documents that:
"All Texas independent school districts are immune from liability for all tort-based acts of their officers, trustees or employees under the doctrine of governmental immunity, with the exception of injuries resulting from the operation of motor vehicle."
Michel could not be reached for comment.

This is the latest in a high-profile suit that has put a prominent HISD trustee -- and the district -- in the spotlight.

The Gil Ramirez Group sued HISD Trustee Larry Marshall and the school district last year for improperly awarding contracts to other companies, while omitting them from the process.

Texas Watchdog reported last month that lawyers for the Gil Ramirez Group requested that Judge Hoyt hold another contractor in contempt of court for refusing to provide a copy of a $25,000 check that they say Fort Bend Mechanical, a Stafford-based contractor, gave to Marshall as a bribe.

Fort Bend Mechanical has done millions of dollars of work for HISD.

Marshall and Fort Bend Mechanical lawyers have denied the claims and Marshall has called the suit baseless.

David Thompson, a Houston lawyer who has been special counsel to the HISD board for the last 20 years, and Marshall filed documents with Judge Hoyt’s court on Thursday that stated Marshall was replacing Michel with Jarvis Hollingsworth, a lawyer with the Houston office of the law firm, Bracewell & Giluliani.

The suit filed last year accuses Marshall and HISD of racketeering, bribery, wire fraud and money laundering.

Those documents quote HISD Superintendent Terry Grier saying:
"I have seen a procurement department made up of independent folks rate bids from a variety of different companies … And then I've seen staff - just for whatever reason - pull names off of a list and put other names back on a list, (with) no rhyme or reason except, quite frankly, influence where influence has no business coming from."
Read the latest court documents here.

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

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