McALLEN – The Texas Attorney General’s Office recently ruled that Hidalgo County must release a settlement agreement on a construction defect lawsuit.
While public entities filing construction defect lawsuits are certainly not uncommon in Texas, the case in question may be unique because a sitting member of Congress is entitled to a cut.
As previously reported, U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, a Democrat representing Texas’ 15th Congressional District, signed a modified contingency fee on Dec. 7 to represent Hidalgo County in a construction defect lawsuit.
The contract, which was obtained from the Texas Comptroller’s Office, shows the congressman is entitled to 25 percent of the total amount of attorney’s fees recovered from the case.
The House Ethics Manual clearly states members “are prohibited from engaging in professions that provide services involving a fiduciary relationship, including the practice of law.”
A spokesperson for Gonzalez previously told The Record that all of the work the congressman did on the case was performed before he took office in 2017.
Gonzalez was elected on Nov. 8, 2016. The original contract he signed with Hidalgo County was on Oct. 25, 2016.
Records show the comptroller’s office never approved the 2016 contract but that the document was green-lighted by the Hidalgo County Commissioners’ Court, paving the way for a lawsuit to be filed on Dec. 28, 2016 – just days before Gonzalez took office.
According to documents obtained by The Record, when Hidalgo County received a public information request for the settlement agreement, it sought a decision from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.
On July 23, the AG’s Office concluded the county could not withhold the information.
The released records show Hidalgo County signed off on the settlement agreement on April 16.
However, none of the other parties’ signatures are present on the agreement and the agreement does not state the settlement amount.
The suit, which was filed over the Mario E. Ramirez, Jr. Juvenile Justice Center, named 17 defendants.