In an opinion issued on June 5, a three-judge panel of the 14th Court of Appeals affirmed a judgment awarding $246,788 in legal fees and sanctions to Fort Bend ISD in a lawsuit challenging the district’s truancy practices.
Local attorney Deron Harrington filed the lawsuit against the Fort Bend ISD Board of Trustees, the Fort Bend County Juvenile Board, Fort Bend County truancy judges, and other Fort Bend County and district employees on behalf of three students, claiming procedural defects in the handling of truancy cases.
The plaintiffs’ lawsuit was dismissed in September of 2017 and a judgment was entered ordering Harrington, his co-counsel, and his clients to pay the county and district defendants a combined total of approximately $500,000 in attorneys’ fees and sanctions.
Harrington was also ordered to take 22.5 hours of continuing legal education classes on topics relevant to the lawsuit.
The court of appeals affirmed the trial court’s judgment, concluding:
“Despite warnings from defense counsel that the claims asserted were frivolous, filed in bad faith, and sanctionable, Harrington nevertheless persisted in repeatedly amending the pleadings to eventually include numerous public officials and others who were required to obtain counsel and defend themselves for over a year against ever-morphing claims for prospective injunctive relief unsupported by either cogent allegations or evidence of wrongdoing under the new civil truancy system.”
“We are grateful for the court of appeal’s decision. It is unfortunate that the plaintiffs and their lawyers pursued a meritless lawsuit that subjected the district and county to needless and costly litigation. The court’s opinion serves as vindication for dedicated public servants who work to ensure that the children in our community go to school,” said Fort Bend ISD Board of Trustees President Jason Burdine.
Prior to the start of the 2015-16 school year, Fort Bend ISD introduced new attendance procedures in accordance with House Bill 2398, which was passed by the 84th Texas Legislature and created a new civil process governing truancy proceedings, moving student truancy proceedings away from criminal courts. In order to better support students, staffing was added at high school campuses to provide more personal interactions with families and ensure accuracy.