COVID-19 a Double Disaster for Attorneys Hit with a $250,000 Judgment for Challenging Fort Bend ISD’s Illegal Truancy Court
Style Magazine Newswire | 4/1/2020, 12:33 p.m.
(Fort Bend County, Texas) Can the public trust Fort Bend ISD after it criminalized poor and black students for absences in an illegal truancy court and then ruthlessly pursued a $250,000 judgment against attorneys who exposed them?
After suing Fort Bend ISD for establishing an illegal truancy court, without a trial, pro bono attorneys Deron R. Harrington, Susan H. Soto, and Carole Stewart Anhalt were ordered to pay Fort Bend ISD’s attorneys’ fees to the very entity whom they sued for setting up the illegal truancy court.
Fort Bend County Attorney Roy Cordes, who is not seeking re-election, indicated that other Fort Bend County officials including Fort Bend County Commissioners Court were not pursuing the $250,000 judgment awarded them by retired Judge Brady Elliott. In fact, Cordes said the lawsuit is now considered a closed matter.
During the COVID-19 devastation, Fort Bend ISD has started collecting the $250,000 judgment. Recently, they cleared out the accounts of one of the pro bono lawyers who exposed the district's illegal truancy court that unfairly targeted black and brown students.
Even after Susan H. Soto’s bank account was wiped out by Fort Bend ISD’s receiver, she stands by her decision to fight for students.
“I don’t regret defending vulnerable Fort Bend ISD students’ civil rights, but it is devastating for all of us to have this judgment lingering and threatening our personal and business assets, especially during this uncertain Coronavirus situation,” said Soto.
Fort Bend ISD shut down its truancy court after the U.S. Department of Justice revealed that it disproportionately punished poor and minority students. The lawsuit also led to Fort Bend ISD shutting down its illegal court and increased a greater community awareness of how this illegal court criminalized students for school related issues.
Many online and in the community are rallying around the attorneys. Leading the charge is the Honey Brown Hope Foundation founded by longtime Fort Bend County Civil Rights Leader Tammie Lang Campbell. The organization set up an online fundraiser to support the attorneys. Donors may also mail donations to Honey Brown Hope Foundation at P.O. Box 1044, Stafford, TX 77497. An in-person fundraising event was recently cancelled due to the requirements of social distancing.
“This miscarriage of justice sends a message to our community: we must stand together to defeat this unjust system,” said Campbell. “This is an urgent request for humanity to join the Honey Brown Hope Foundation in supporting these attorneys by making a donation to help them retire this receivership order.”
“I thank all who are supporting us with encouraging words and with donations that will help us pay down the $250,000 judgment,” said Soto.
Beyond the financial strain, others have voiced concerns about Fort Bend ISD retaliating and setting a precedent to mute efforts of those representing students.
“I am concerned that this case will impede all Texas lawyers’ abilities to effectively represent their clients in an ultra vires case – acts beyond power, where the entire board/governmental entity can be held accountable,” added Soto. “It will negatively impact the future of how attorneys proceed or choose not to proceed in suing governmental officials to protect Texas citizens.”
“We must stand with these attorneys who stood for our children against this bully, Fort Bend ISD,” said Campbell. “If it were not for these attorneys filing suit, this illegal court would not have been exposed.”
In addition to requesting donations to help these attorneys who derailed Fort Bend ISD’s school-to-prison pipeline, the Honey Brown Hope Foundation is encouraging Fort Bend residents to use their voices to question and hold FBISD accountable. The organization is calling for the public to ask these questions:
-Did Fort Bend ISD pay attorneys’ fees through a TASB Risk Management Fund claim? If so, would it be considered fraud to have opposing attorneys pay for Fort Bend ISD’s attorneys’ fees?
-Why did Fort Bend ISD demonstrate poor fiduciary judgment in using taxpayers’ dollars to hire high-powered private attorneys instead of using in-house attorneys to keep attorneys’ fees within reason?
-Considering that FBISD was the proximate cause for this suit, why did they pursue and receive a $250,000 judgment to recoup their attorney fees?