Several weeks ago, I discovered that a Court overseeing opioid litigation brought by numerous governmental entities across Texas had approved a recommendation to award State Representative Senfronia Thompson $391,061.34 in attorneys’ fees for her purported work representing Harris County in the opioid litigation.
I’ve been following the opioid litigation for several years now, which struck me as peculiar since I was unaware that Harris County had hired Rep. Thompson.
Subscribe to The Texas Voice
Have every new edition of The Texas Voice sent direct to your inbox
In 2017, Harris County Commissioners Court voted to hire three outside law firms on a contingent-fee basis to represent the County in opioid litigation. These firms were Fibich Leebron Copeland Briggs, The Gallagher Law Firm, and Dan Downey, P.C. The Comptroller’s Office subsequently approved this contract, as was required by Texas law at the time it was approved.
Before September 1, 2019, certain governmental entities (including counties) were required to seek and obtain approval from the Texas Comptroller’s Office to enter into a contingent-fee agreement for legal services. Since September 1, 2019, certain governmental entities (including counties) have been required to seek and obtain approval from the Texas Attorney General’s Office to enter into a contingent-fee agreement for legal services.
After reviewing records I obtained from the Comptroller’s office, the Attorney General’s office, and records of the Harris County Commissioners Court, I have been unable to find any evidence that Harris County Commissioners Court voted to hire Rep. Thompson on a contingent-fee contract in connection with Harris County’s opioid litigation, or had received approval from the Comptroller’s office or the Attorney General’s office for such a contract.
Under Section 2254.110 of the Texas Government Code, a contingent-fee contract for legal services entered into by a governmental entity on or after September 1, 2019, is “void against public policy,” and “no fees may be paid to any person under the contract or under any theory of recovery for work performed in connection with a void contract.”
On February 17, I filed a request under the Texas Public Information Act with the Harris County Attorney’s Office that would shine some light on the matter. My request sought “All contracts between Harris County and Senfronia Thompson related to Senfronia Thompson’s representation of Harris County in opioid litigation” and “All time and expense records reflecting work performed by Senfronia Thompson on behalf of Harris County in connection with opioid litigation.”
The Texas Public Information Act (Section 552 of the Texas Government Code) generally gives governmental entities ten business days to respond to a public information request. Governmental entities that wish to withhold records under an exception to the Texas Public Information Act must seek an opinion from the Attorney General’s office within ten business days of receiving the request.
I did not receive a response of any kind from the Harris County Attorney’s Office in response within the ten business day timeframe. On March 8, after the ten business day deadline had come and gone, I sent a follow-up e-mail to the Harris County Attorney’s Office. They replied later that day, stating, “We are waiting on a response from the executive team and should hear something by the end of the day. Thank you for your patience.”
I have not heard anything from them since.
Earlier today, I filed a lawsuit against the Harris County Attorney’s Office seeking to compel the disclosure of the information I sought on February 17. The information I requested is clearly public information under Sections 2254.1037 and 2254.104 of the Texas Government Code.
Since the information I requested involves a business relationship between Harris County and a State legislator, transparency is paramount.
There are certainly a lot of questions surrounding Rep. Thompson’s contractual arrangement with Harris County and the work she performed to justify a fee of over $391,000. Harris County must be fully transparent to get honest answers to these questions. Unfortunately, the Harris County Attorney’s Office has blatantly ignored its obligations under the Texas Public Information Act, making this lawsuit necessary.
The Texas Voice will report on further developments in this matter as they occur.