A U.S. federal court has rejected a motion from Beaumont Independent School District (BISD) attorney Melody Chappell seeking recovery of attorney fees, along with other fees, that the district incurred when asked to provide testimony and documentation in the case of the United States v. Calvin Walker of Walker’s Electric Company, the district’s electrical contractor of record.
According to the Motion to Strike a Claim asserting the district’s right to a portion of Walker’s forfeited funds – a claim filed by Chappell and verified by BISD Board of Trustees president Woodrow Reece – “Beaumont ISD assisted the United States Attorney’s Office in gathering information (and) witnesses for prosecution of this matter. Beaumont ISD seeks to obtain payment for attorney fees and costs associated with the attempted prosecution of Calvin Walker.
“Beaumont ISD has incurred costs which can be calculated and proven.”
U.S. Attorney Michael Lockhart filed an objection to Chappell’s motion, stating, “The United States files this Motion to Strike the claim of Beaumont Independent School District (BISD) because BISD has failed to allege an ownership interest in the Defendant Property. Without such allegation of ownership, BISD has no standing to challenge the forfeiture and the claim should be stricken.”
A final order dated Oct. 17 sides with the U.S. Attorney, stating “the Court is of the opinion that BISD has failed to allege an ownership interest in the Defendant Property. IT IS ORDERED that the claim of BISD is stricken from the record.”
The funds that BISD is seeking resulted from a July 17 plea agreement between Walker and the federal court wherein Walker agreed to forfeit $3.2 million in assets.
U.S. Attorney's Office spokeswoman Davilyn Walston said any money left over after taxes and fines were confiscated from the allotment was available to BISD to reclaim since the funds initially came from checks issued to Walker by BISD in response to falsified invoices.
Funds from the forfeited money not used for BISD’s restitution will be placed into a national fund for victims' compensation. Still, immediately after learning of the forfeited funds up for the school district’s taking, the BISD Board of Trustees elected not to pursue the money. Who authorized Reece and Chappell to file the court’s most recently rejected motion is still unclear. However, the board will address the issue at its Oct. 18 board meeting at the Administration Building, 3395 Harrison St. in Beaumont, which begins at 7:15 p.m.
Trustee Tom Neild said he was not satisfied with the school’s board’s earlier decision not to seek restitution and had requested the issue be put on the board’s Oct. 18 meeting agenda. “The whole intent is for us to take action – for the U.S. Attorney’s Office to come in and let us know what our options are and how we can go about getting back our funds,” Neild said. “The last time it was presented, the board elected not to do anything about it.”
According to Neild, “We need to take a vote, and anyone who doesn’t want to seek the restitution needs to explain why they don’t want to seek those funds. They need to explain why to the taxpayers.”
“We need to recover as much as we can for the taxpayers of Beaumont.”