At a hearing held Sept. 22, Judge Brady Elliott of the 268th District Court ordered that Fort Bend ISD receive nearly $200,000 in legal fees and sanctions, after previously indicating late last month that he intended to dismiss a lawsuit against the district.
In May 2015, a group of attorneys filed a lawsuit on behalf of three students, claiming procedural defects in the handling of truancy complaints under the state’s former criminal truancy laws. Fort Bend ISD, the district’s board of trustees, certain district officials, the Fort Bend Juvenile Board, Fort Bend truancy judges, and various Fort Bend County officials were named in the lawsuit.
After hearing testimony and receiving evidence, Judge Elliott ordered the group of attorneys and their clients to pay approximately $500,000 in total attorneys’ fees and sanctions. Judge Elliott held that FBISD is entitled to $144,410.77 in attorneys’ fees and $50,000 in additional sanctions, as well as $100,000 in contingent attorneys’ fees should the plaintiffs unsuccessfully appeal the case.
Elliott also ordered one attorney, Deron Harrington, to take 22.5 hours of continuing legal education classes on topics relevant to this lawsuit.
“We regret it came to this, but we agree with the court’s rulings and believe that justice has been served,” said Fort Bend ISD Board of Trustees President Kristin Tassin.
“It is important that the public know that all reasonable efforts were made to address the plaintiffs’ concerns before any lawsuit was filed. Unfortunately, the lawyers for the plaintiffs decided to file a baseless lawsuit that subjected the district, its board members, district employees, and numerous other county officers to needless, protracted, and costly litigation. We are thankful that this matter has finally been resolved in a manner that vindicates these dedicated public servants who work to ensure that kids go to school,” Tassin said.
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.
Following the Sept. 22 hearing, attorneys for the defendants will submit an order to dismiss the lawsuit in accordance with the judge’s rulings on fees and sanctions.