Judge rules BISD will pay its own legal bills
When an automatic pay raise provision was somehow inserted into new BISD superintendent Timothy Chargois’ employment contract in May 2012, it came as a shock to at least two sitting Beaumont Independent School District Board of Trustees members. What transpired in the search for how the automatic pay provision was added despite all consultations with BISD board attorney Tanner Hunt expressly decrying any such provision led Trustees Tom Neild and Mike Neil into litigation that would only conclude this past week with District Judge Mickey Sheffield ultimately finding that there was no way to know how such a contract came to be.
“In fact,” Shuffield wrote in a case opinion wherein Neild and Neil had sued BISD to force the district to produce documents pertaining to Chargois’ employment contract, “because there was no testimony to explain the metamorphosis of the automatic increase prohibition to an automatic increase or contradict the plaintiffs, this Court, to this very moment, has no idea: how, why or when the (draft) contract contained in defendant’s Exhibit 7 became the (end) contract contained in defendant’s Exhibit 1. All this despite having all the communications between the attorneys during the negotiating process.”
When Shuffield made his ruling, it was in response to a motion by the defendants, BISD, to seek sanctions against Neild and Neil, and their attorneys Mike Getz and Vann deCordova, for allegedly filing suit against BISD in bad faith. The Bernsen & Bernsen Law Firm represented BISD during the litigation, incurring expenses nearing $100,000. BISD and its attorneys asked Shuffield to order the plaintiffs and their attorneys to pay the legal fees on the basis that not only did the trustees bring the lawsuit in bad faith, but they also “prematurely” embarked on a litigious path that was unnecessary and ultimately unwarranted.
Shuffield disagreed with BISD’s assertions, finding that no fault could be placed on the plaintiff trustees in this case. Neild and Neil testified during the sanctions trial beginning Nov. 4, saying each trustee had requested all documents pertaining to Chargois’ contract negotiation from the district’s attorney Tanner Hunt but were ultimately rebuffed by Hunt and then-BISD superintendent Carrol Thomas responding that the requested information was non existent.
According to Shuffield’s ruling, “The plaintiffs were understandably skeptical and that skepticism proved to be justified inasmuch as, through discovery, they were provided other documents – some of which were in a ‘string’ of e-mails that would have been difficult to inadvertently overlook at the time of the original production.”
Judge Shuffield felt it of note to mention that not one BISD trustee was called to the stand to offer up evidence as to how Chargois’ end contract held language of an automatic pay provision.
“Whether through a diabolically clever scheme to deceive the plaintiffs or through utter ineptitude and/or ignorance on their part, the plaintiffs plead and testified that the prohibition against an automatic salary increase was never changed or authorized by the Board and the defendant offered no evidence to dispute this,” Shuffield stated in his Nov. 21 ruling. “Whether the plaintiffs felt they had been deceived or were simply dumbfounded by any failure on their part to discover the changes, the fact remains they were entitled to the documents to determine what went wrong either way. Moreover, there is uncontroverted testimony ... that several board members originally felt blindsided as well but later ‘circled’ the wagons.”
Shuffield’s ruling was anticipated roughly a week prior to its delivery. The judge apologized to the interested parties for the delay, saying that, “due to the breadth of the issues, the size of the record, competing matters on the Court’s schedule and the sizeable body of law to be reviewed, the process took longer than anticipated.”