Council to Reconsider Law Firm Contract

August 5, 2015

The West U City Council will hear a staff report Monday on the selection of a law firm to recover unpaid municipal court fines and fees, which was requested by Mayor Pro Tem Bob Kelly at the council’s last meeting.

West U Police Chief Ken Walker, who served on a staff committee that recommended the selection of the law firm of Linebarger, Goggan, Blair & Sampson, LLP, will present the report to the council.

Kelly asked for the report because two members of the council — Brennan Reilly and Burt Ballanfant — were on vacation and not in attendance at the July 27 meeting.

An attorney for one of the other bidders on the city contract, the law firm of Perdue, Brandon, Fielder, Collins & Mott, also spoke at the meeting and asked the council to delay consideration of the contract for two weeks.

The law firm’s request, as well as a phone call and email to city officials, violated two provisions of the city’s official request for bids.

The city’s request for qualifications (RFQ) specifically stated that bidders should submit their proposals by June 1, 2015, at 5:30 p.m., to City Finance Director Rhonda Daugherty.

The city’s RFQ also specifically stated: “Inquiries shall not be made to other City officials or employees. Any inquiries made outside of this requirement will cause immediate disqualification of the potential Offeror.”

Another provision of the city’s RFQ included an “anti-lobbying provision.”

That provision specifically stated; “During the period between proposal submission date and the contract award, Offerors, including their agents and representatives, shall not directly discuss or promote their qualifications with any member of the West University Place City Council or City Staff except in the course of City sponsored inquiries, briefings, interviews, or presentations, unless requested by the City.”

Kelly also confirmed that Mike Darlow, the Perdue lawyer who asked the council to delay, had had contacted him by telephone prior to the council meeting.

Kelly insisted that Darlow’s phone call “definitely was not lobbying.”

A senior partner in the law firm of Perdue, Mike Siwierka, also wrote an email to Mayor Susan Sample, urging her to allow the firm to make a presentation to the council.

Sample said the email she received from the Perdue law firm was “a rather long email” and that she “thought it was lobbying.”

Kelly then insisted that a law firm is “trained not to engage in violations of the law.”

Although there was no violation of the law by the Perdue firm, the issue was whether the firm complied with the city’s RFQ.

The anti-lobbying provision clearly stated: “This policy is intended to create a level playing field for all potential Offerors, assure that contract decisions are made in public, and to protect the integrity of the RFQ process. Violation of this provision may result in rejection of the Offeror’s proposal.”

In his email to Sample, Siwierka wrote: “Another issue that was important to the decision makers had to do with firm reputation and ethics.  If you can google each firm, I think you would be surprised at what you would find.”

That statement was clearly a reference to the long, colorful — and at times, scandalous — history of the Linebarger, Goggan, Blair & Sampson law firm.

The firm, which collects delinquent fines and taxes for municipalities across the country, was created by the merger of two law firms — one established by the late Oliver Heard, of San Antonio, and the other by Dale Linebarger, a San Marcos native. Both law firms were in the business of collecting delinquent taxes. The Heard/Linebarger firm was involved in several scandals involving Texas political figures, including former Texas House Speaker Gib Lewis and former U.S. Rep. Albert Bustamante.

In 1990, Lewis was investigated by the Travis County District Attorney for his close ties to the law firm, which sponsored a trip to a posh Mexican resort for the Speaker and four attorneys from the firm. Lewis, who had accepted a $5,000 payment from the law firm toward his own back taxes, was forced to resign from office, paid a $2,000 fine and pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor offense of ethics violations. Bustamante was sentenced to 42 months in federal prison in 1993, for accepting an illegal payment of $20,000 from the law firm.

But the Linebarger, Goggan law firm has collected delinquent taxes and fines for hundreds of cities and school districts, including the city of Houston and the Houston Independent School District.

The recommendation that the city hire the Linebarger, Goggan law firm was not made by City Manager Michael Ross, but by a committee of city staffers that included Chief Walker, Finance Director Daugherty, City Secretary Thelma Lenz, Assistant City Manager Chris Peifer and Municipal Court Clerk Gabby Perez.