How A 2015 Texas State Law Could Allow The State To Takeover HISD

The Houston Independent School District has been subject to much criticism and controversy regarding the school board’s handling of underperforming schools. Texas Governor Greg Abbott has stated the school board needs to be taken over to replace ineffective leadership – and a 2015 state law could allow this to happen.

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) is the state agency responsible for overseeing public schools. TEA has the authority to take over leadership of schools if the school has been labeled “improvement requirement” for five consecutive years. TEA has exercised this authority in the past in a number of ways.

In recent years, TEA has closed down underperforming schools and even entire school districts; however, the agency has never taken over a school board. Doing so would be particularly unusual because voters elect school board officials. In 2015, a law was passed that gave TEA the authority to impose sanctions on school districts with schools that are consistently not meeting state standards. If the TEA decided to take over the Houston Independent School District, the agency could control the school board for two years or even longer until TEA decides the school district has met academic standards.

School board officials have criticized the idea of a takeover and instead blame the district’s underperforming schools on a lack of funding from the state. It’s currently unclear whether or not TEA will takeover HISD, but current HISD board members would likely put up a legal fight if the agency did. Educational entities have certain protections from liability, which means any legal action taken against them quickly becomes complicated.

Understanding Lawsuits With Educational Entities

Because of local and state regulations regarding educational entities, any lawsuit involving an educational entity will hinge on understanding and applying them. At Feldman & Feldman, our attorneys have successfully represented educational entities in the past and we continue to provide unparalleled legal services to educational entities. Our attorneys understand the nuances and complications of lawsuits of this nature and can help educational entities navigate legal issues to a successful resolution. Contact us today to schedule an appointment with one of our attorneys.

Texas Open Meetings Act Provision Struck Down by Texas Court of Criminal Appeals

The Texas Open Meetings Act (“TOMA”) is included in Chapter 551 of the Government Code. It states that governmental bodies must hold open meetings unless there is an authorized reason for a closed session. Public access to the proceedings and decision-making processes of both local and state governmental entities is an essential element of a properly functioning democracy. Despite its important public interest goals, a significant provision of the government transparency law was recently struck down as unconstitutional.

Texas Open Meetings Act

The Texas Open Meetings Act was enacted to ensure Texas government is transparent, open, and accountable to all Texans. It requires state and local governmental entities to conduct public business responsibly and in accordance with the law. The law contains very specific guidelines concerning when notice of an open meeting must be given and what information that notice must contain. Strict compliance with these guidelines is generally necessary.

In addition to notice, to remain in compliance with TOMA, minutes must be kept or a recording made of every open meeting. These minutes must state the subject of each deliberation and indicate each vote, order, decision, or other action taken.

Unconstitutionally Vague

Texas’ highest criminal court, The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, struck down a significant provision of the Texas Open Meetings Act last month, calling it “unconstitutionally vague.”

The provision at issue makes it a crime for public officials to “knowingly [conspire] to circumvent this chapter by meeting in numbers less than a quorum for the purpose of secret deliberations.” The goal is to keep public officials from organizing smaller meetings — without an official quorum present — to discuss public business in private.

Open-government advocates warned the ruling undermines the aim and purpose of the Act. Like the lawyers at our firm, many members of the public, as well as elected officials, are watching to see if the state Legislature will address the issue.

Houston, Texas Public Interest Lawyers

The Texas Open Meetings Act embodies the most basic values of democracy by ensuring Texas citizens can stay informed about and participate in their local government. Strict and specific requirements mean accidental and intentional violations do occur. At Feldman & Feldman, we work hard for the people of Texas to ensure those in positions of power do not infringe upon their rights. Government transparency via open meetings is just one component of a true transparent democracy. If you or someone you know believe your local or state government has acted in violation of TOMA, we can help.

Monster Jam Launching Monster Lawsuit Against Toy Giant Mattel

When companies work together for years or even decades, a variety of issues can arise out of the agreements made and deals struck. When one company or business decides to part ways by ending the relationship, the resulting split has the potential to turn into a legal nightmare for both parties. In one such recent business divorce, the resulting lawsuit involves a myriad of commercial litigation issues.

The Battle of the Monster Trucks

A recent case between the company that owns MONSTER JAM® and toy manufacturer Mattel undoes a 20-year partnership between the two companies. In July 2018, Feld Motor Sports – the parent company of MONSTER JAM® – alerted Mattel it planned to end their long-standing relationship. While the details of the decision to dissolve the partnership are unknown, Feld Motor Sports had licensed the Monster Jam name and logo to Mattel since 1999, with Mattel serving as the sole producer of official MONSTER JAM® toy trucks and other merchandise.

In a lawsuit filed late December 2018 (Feld Motor Sports, Inc. v. Mattel, Inc.), Feld claims Mattel infringed on its trademark by producing its own line of toy monster trucks with remarkably similar styles, names, and colors, alleging they are “virtually identical in shape and construction.” The lawsuit even claims Mattel repurposed the molds it created and used for decades manufacturing the MONSTER JAM® trucks in a gross violation of trademark laws. Additionally, Mattel announced in November it planned to hold its own event, titled “Hot Wheels Monster Trucks Live,” which is a near perfect copy of Feld Motor Sports’ MONSTER JAM® event.

In addition to trademark infringement, Feld alleges Mattel chose not to complete the remainder of the licensing agreement in good faith by failing to supply retailers with their requested supplies of MONSTER JAM® products, resulting in a significant decline in sales for Feld Motor Sports in the third quarter of 2018 versus the same quarter in 2017. Feld claims Mattel “secretly and deliberately undersupplied MONSTER JAM® products” while still remaining the exclusive licensee, and therefore unlawfully blocked market access to the products.

Because of the long history between the two companies, litigation over these issues is sure to prove contentious, with claims ranging from trademark infringement to licensing issues to breach of contract. The issues involved can affect a wide-range of businesses, and the case merits close attention as it continues to unfold.

Commercial Litigation Attorneys in Houston

The commercial litigation lawyers at Feldman & Feldman have successfully litigated business disputes for over 40 years, and one of our founding partners, Cris Feldman, has significant experience in commercial litigation. If your business is facing issues with a partner or vendor, find out how we can help resolve those issues either in or out of the courtroom. Contact us today for a consultation.

Austin, The Live Music Capital of the World, Struggles With Noise Complaints

Due to the close proximity of businesses, entertainment venues, residential areas, and hotels in a metropolitan area, noise complaints are a common occurrence in a big city. Without clear and defined regulations in place for noise levels – including specific hours of operation for music and entertainment venues – these complaints can be a constant source of friction between business owners and those living in or visiting a city.

Austin has spent the last three years attempting to codify regulations and create a system of clear expectations for any business that opens or operates in an area where noise complaints might arise, including near a residential area or a hotel. The city’s Music Commission is pushing the City Council to produce an ordinance to clarify expectations and hopefully alleviate tension between the city’s numerous entertainment venues and nightclubs and nearby hotels and residences.

The Live Music Capital of the World

Austin was dubbed the “Live Music Capital of the World ®” in 1991, when it was determined the city had more live music venues per capita than anywhere else in the country. In addition to being the home of over 200 live music venues, Austin annually hosts some of the country’s largest music festivals, including renowned South by Southwest (SXSW) and Austin City Limits (ACL).

The sheer volume of music venues in a relatively small geographic area was eventually going to lead to issues. In 2015, a newly opened downtown Austin hotel began submitting noise complaints against a nearby nightclub, which had been operating peacefully for years. In mid-2017, it appeared the City Council was on track to create a licensing and penalty system for music venues and nightclubs operating within Austin city limits to address these types of complaints. Objections from leaders in the local hospitality industry and music/entertainment industry, however, derailed these efforts.

Current Laws in Place

The current Austin Code of Ordinance specifies a person may not:

1. Use or permit the use of sound equipment at a business in excess of the decibel limits prescribed by this chapter;
a. in excess of 85 decibels between 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 a.m., as measured at the property line of the business; or
b. is audible at the property line of the business between 2:00 a.m. and 10:00 a.m.
2. Make noise or play a musical instrument audible to an adjacent business or residence between 10:30 p.m. and 7:00 a.m.;

Since downtown Austin is packed with music venues, clubs, restaurants, and hotels, these restrictions are very broadly defined for the epicenter of a city built on live music. Creating a more clearly defined set of regulations, including steps for permitting and set guidelines for violations or infractions, could go a long way towards bridging the divide between entertainment venue owners looking to run a successful business and visitors and tourists looking to get a good night’s sleep.

A History of Success With Noise Complaints

The lawyers at Feldman & Feldman have significant experience dealing with noise complaint issues, most recently reaching a successful resolution for Houston residents in relation to White Oak Music Hall. The Greater Heights homeowners’ settlement with White Oak Music Hall included limitations on when and how long shows can be held at the venue. The settlement also prohibited shows on school nights from lasting past 9:30 p.m., along with any outdoor concerts during state STAAR testing. A sound monitoring system was also required, with potential fines reaching up to $15,000 per violation. These regulations have measurably improved the relationship between the residents of this area and the music venue.

City Council Gets Ready To Implement Prop B

It’s been over three months since Houston voters approved pay parity between firefighters and police officers and Houston City Council is getting ready to begin implementation. As the legal representatives who helped the Houston Professional Firefighters Association get Proposition B on the ballot, our entire team is very proud to see the measure come to fruition.

In a City Council meeting in late January, Mayor Sylvester Turner and City Council members discussed different options for how to roll the proposition out. Although Mayor Turner opposed Proposition B, claiming there was not room in the budget for pay parity, others have suggested the money can be allocated from other places. The City of Houston is required to keep 7.5% reserve funds on hand for emergencies, but Houston has an estimated 8.9% in reserves, meaning the city has an excess in its reserves. Some have suggested the excess in reserves can be used to immediately implement Prop B.

While there are many options for funding the implementation of pay parity for fire fighters, the City Council could look to its surplus funds to implement Prop B. Estimates indicate that if the city continues to spend at the same rate through the end of the 2019 fiscal year, there would be a surplus of $88 million available. This surplus could be used for the immediate funding of pay parity. But the city doesn’t have to implement Prop B all at once, as pay parity could be introduced in phases to be completed over five years.

We Are Proud To Support Firefighters

Feldman & Feldman has been honored to help Houston firefighters in their fight to get pay parity with police officers. We are also assisting Dallas and San Antonio firefighters in protecting their rights in separate actions. Our attorneys have extensive experience with governmental entities and workers’ unions and know how to achieve successful results.

Contact Feldman & Feldman For Help

The dedicated attorneys at Feldman & Feldman provide a unique approach to complex legal issues. If you would like to schedule an appointment with us to discuss your legal issues, contact us today.

Investigation Reveals Over 300 Sexually Abusive Southern Baptist Church Leaders

Just one week after Catholic Dioceses across Texas released the names of priests credibly accused of sexual abuse, an investigation by the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News revealed 380 Southern Baptist church leaders and volunteers across the country have been accused of sexual misconduct. Over 220 of these individuals have been charged with sex crimes. Nonetheless the Southern Baptist Convention has refused to act and implement protocols that could prevent much of this abuse, and now victims want answers.

The Southern Baptist Convention as an institution is particularly susceptible to becoming a vehicle for abusers as church doctrine supports the independence of each local church. Hence, there is no central database tracking when an individual was ordained, accusations of sexual or physical assault, and the background/criminal history of pastors, church officials, or employees. In turn, it was previously unknown just how widespread abuse was within the Southern Baptist Convention. The Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News assembled through news reports, prison records, court records, sex offender registries, the number of known predators within the Southern Baptist Convention. However, this probably only represents a fraction of the crisis, as most incidents go unreported, or are not publicly revealed by church officials.

Nonetheless, the Houston Chronicle investigation revealed startling facts. According to the investigation, at least 35 church pastors, employees, and volunteers were able to find a job within Southern Baptist Convention after exhibiting predatory behavior. This was due in part to churches failing to alert law enforcement officials to claims of abuse. The investigation also found that registered sex offenders were able to return to a church and continue working such as one Houston area preacher who sexually assaulted a minor. While some of the church sexual abuse victims were adults, most were minors, with the youngest only three years old. Victims reported being molested, sent explicit communications, photographed nude, exposed to pornography, and repeatedly raped. Many assaults occurred on church grounds.

Helping Victims Speak Out

Feldman & Feldman has been on the front lines holding perpetrators of sex crimes accountable, regardless of denomination, faith, creed, sexual orientation, or race, including members of the Southern Baptist Convention. Religious institutions far too often sweep incidents under the rug, and victims often are unable to seek justice in the criminal justice arena. Feldman & Feldman utilizes recourse in the civil justice system to assist victims in finding closure, and in holding sexual predators fully accountable. Contact us today to schedule an appointment with one of our dedicated attorneys.

Texas Liquor Giant Fighting The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission

If you happen to live in Texas and are over the age of 21, you’re likely familiar with the liquor chain Spec’s. While Spec’s carries a plethora of options for wine, beer and spirits, you can also go there to get other necessary items for a get together or holiday party, including food and paper goods. What you may not know about Spec’s is their ongoing legal troubles with the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) and how they feel they have been wronged by the organization as a whole.

Spec’s Wine, Spirits and Finer Foods, Texas’ largest liquor chain recently announced it would be suing the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) for abusive regulatory overreach. This comes after a two year long enforcement action that led to administrative proceedings in 2017, according to court documents.

The federal lawsuit alleges TABC “wrongfully and maliciously” attempted to extort money from Spec’s. According to the liquor giant, this was done by threatening to effectively shut Spec’s down or by making the business pay more than $700 million in civil penalties.

Last year during a rebuke of TABC, administrative law judges said the agency failed to prove dozens of allegations and chastised TABC for failing to disclose evidence to their own witness and the court. The judges also stated the agency was “stacking” charges, a tactic commonly used to pressure defendants into settlement. In the end, the judges determined no fines should be assessed against the liquor chain.

Currently, Spec’s is seeking an unspecified amount of monetary damages, including lost profits, more than $1 million in attorneys fees, and harm to its reputation. The lawsuit also alleges TABC provided false testimony during the spring proceedings.

Complex Litigation Attorneys

For the dedicated complex litigation attorneys at Feldman & Feldman, there is no adversary too big. Our legal team passionately pursues each case with skill and tenacity, but without the overhead of a large law firm. For the legal team at Feldman & Feldman, each case is unique and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. If you are facing any type of complex business dispute or commercial litigation, call Feldman & Feldman today to schedule a consultation to discuss your case.

Catholic Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston Release List Of Sexually Abusive Priests

Feldman & Feldman has an established history helping victims of sexual abuse involving the church. Indeed, growing pressure from civil lawsuits such as those filed by Feldman & Feldman, as well as criminal investigations nationally, have forced religious institutions throughout the country to be more forthcoming. As a result, in response to growing public concerns of sexual abuse among clergy, the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston has released today a list of clergy with credible sexual abuse allegations dating as far back as the 1940s. There are in excess of 300 clergy members on the list. To see the full list, click here.

In solidarity with the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, dioceses all across the state have also released similar lists. It is the Church’s hope the list will help victims in the healing process, but it truly comes too late for many victims, who should have been protected from the abuse by more proactive actions from the Church.

Conroe Priest’s Arrest Leads to Release of Names In Texas

On a local level, disclosure of the names of priests engaged in sexual misconduct began in September 2018, when Conroe-based priest Father Manuel LaRosa-Lopez was charged with four counts of indecency with a child. The investigation into Father LaRosa-Lopez began when two victims claimed he abused them as teenagers while serving at the Sacred Heart Catholic Church. Months later, the Montgomery County District Attorney executed a search warrant at the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston looking for church records relating to sexual abuse allegations.

According to the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, a report was made to Child Protective Services (CPS) after the first allegation referenced above surfaced; however, investigators were unable to find this report during their investigation, begging the question as to what the Diocese knew, and when did they know it. The lack of the purported report to CPS smacked of a cover-up. Victims’ advocates subsequently put tremendous pressure on the Archdiocese to stop protecting clergy members who commit such heinous crimes. In response to this pressure, the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston and 15 other dioceses have today released names of suspected abusers.

What Is A Credible Allegation?

The lists released by the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston and others only contain names of clergy who have been “credibly” accused. How the Church describes credibility is a little uncertain, but it has proven self-serving in the past. Michael Norris, a member of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), had his own allegations determined to be “not credible” by the Church. His abuser was eventually found guilty in a criminal trial and sent to prison. Mr. Norris’s situation illustrates the inability of the Church to internally investigate and prevent sexual abuse. Furthermore, the lists fail to recognize the clergy members who did not participate in abuse, but failed to report it or actively worked to conceal incriminating information.

What Victims Can Do

Sexual abuse is about control. Victims often feel lost and angry, but all victims have rights. While law enforcement can pursue criminal charges, perpetrators of these crimes and the people who protect them can also be held accountable through a civil lawsuit. While no amount of compensation can undo the damage done to victims of clergy sexual abuse, compensation can relieve financial stressors and instead allow victims to focus on healing.

Feldman & Feldman Fights For Clergy Abuse Victims

At Feldman & Feldman, our attorneys have a long history defending some of the most vulnerable populations. Our firm has represented clergy sexual abuse victims in the past and helped them not only hold the perpetrator responsible, but assist victims on their road to recovery by giving them a voice. We understand that coming forward is incredibly difficult for clergy sexual abuse victims, but doing so can also bring great relief knowing their abuser was held accountable and their actions will help prevent further atrocities.

If you were sexually abused by a clergy member, Feldman & Feldman can help. We provide free, no obligation consultations to clergy abuse victims. We can help you understand your legal options and your rights. If you do decide to work with us, there is no upfront cost and you won’t owe us anything unless we help you obtain compensation. Contact us today to schedule an appointment with one of our dedicated attorneys.

Huffman, Texas School Suing Contractors For Shoddy Work

When you send your kids off to school, it’s only natural to assume you’re sending them to a safe and secure environment to learn in. Oftentimes there’s no reason to think the institution they are attending is in any shape other than good or even exemplary. Unfortunately for an elementary school in Huffman, Texas, this isn’t the case.

At Falcon Ridge Elementary, there aren’t just a few worn down classrooms, there are numerous safety concerns throughout the school. Ceiling tiles sag over students’ heads, while another student fell into a hole on the second floor that had been hastily patched over with a thin layer of concrete and insulation wrapped in plastic tarp. Solid-maple planks have fallen 40-feet into the school’s commons and seemingly unending cracks and gaps have formed in the wooden gym floor.

The school finds itself at the focal point of a multi-million dollar lawsuit between a construction management firm, a bond program manager, and Huffman ISD.

Paradigm Construction LLC officials say the school district had actually stopped payments to the company after June, even though it took until August to substantially complete the school after several delays spurred by Hurricane Harvey and alleged interference from a firm selected to manage Huffman ISD’s bond program. They claim that as they worked seven days a week to get the building ready for the first day of school, Huffman’s bond manager inserted new subcontractors into the project who altered already finished features, making it difficult for Paradigm’s unpaid subcontractors to finish their work.

On the other hand, Huffman ISD and Bond Program Management Services say their contract allowed them to stop payments to Paradigm after it was apparent the construction would not be completed by the original substantial completion date of July 19, and that the work did not meet standards. BPMS officials say Paradigm, architectural firm Huckabee & Associates, and subcontractors did little to address issues within the school, leading to a building inundated with problems that has even injured students.

Teachers were forced to band together to help assemble furniture and vacuum construction debris hours before they were to welcome students to the school for an open house. In a separate situation, the district was also forced to pay $3,000 a day for two weeks to bring in catered lunches because the school’s kitchen was inoperable.

In the middle of this legal battle and escalating war of words are hundreds of students and dozens of teachers trying to make do with doors that do not close and classrooms with incomplete walls.

Falcon Ridge Physical Education teacher, Courtney Lively, has said she finds new issues with the building each day. The bathrooms attached to the gym only became functional on December 13, and they still lack tile flooring.

“The kids don’t know all the problems, but the teachers are stressed trying to keep it all together,” Lively said.

Houston Construction Attorneys

 At Feldman & Feldman, our attorneys have over 100 years of combined legal experience. Unlike big firms, we work very closely with our clients and no one gets “lost in the shuffle.” We will evaluate your situation, listen to your needs and goals, and devise a strategy that best helps us obtain a successful outcome for you. Contact us today to schedule an appointment to discuss your situation.

Not All Real Estate Agents Are Bound By Fiduciary Duty

If you’re thinking of buying a house, it’s easy to assume the real estate agent or agency you’re working with has your best interests at heart. Whether you’re buying or selling, it’s hard to imagine that these entities would only think of themselves, right?

Recently, Consumer Federation of America (CFA) posed a national survey question to a group of adults who were asked whether or not they assume realty agents are required to represent the best interests of the home buyer or seller with whom they are working. Around 50 percent answered yes, and 16 percent said, “yes, almost always.” Leaving two-thirds of consumers in the survey with roughly the same impression.

A new report from CFA found that in fact, “real estate agents often are not required by law to represent the interests of buyers or sellers.” Meaning that clients of these agents can fall prey to poor transactions or self-dealing, as real estate agents are not legally obligated with a fiduciary duty to their clients.

The author of the report and immediate past executive director of CFA, Stephen Brobeck, says the vast majority of consumers don’t understand the varying types of representation by realty agents. He says the key question they need to ask before agreeing to work with any agent is: Will you be representing us exclusively throughout the transaction and have a fiduciary duty to us?

“The holy grail is to capture the entire commission,” says Brobeck. “The listing agent might say to the seller, we’ve got a hot buyer for your house.”

Common forms of representation examined in the CFA study:

  • Single agent: The agent works solely for the client and has a fiduciary responsibility to the client.
  • Subagent: The agent works with the buyer but has a fiduciary duty to the seller.
  • Transactional agent: The agent works with both the buyer and seller to facilitate a sale but has no fiduciary responsibility to either party.
  • Dual agency: An arrangement whereby “the agent somehow is expected to represent the interests of both the seller and the buyer in a home purchase.”

Breach of Fiduciary Duty Attorneys

The attorneys at Feldman & Feldman handle allegations of breach of fiduciary duty very carefully. We understand these claims often involve delicate situations, so we work efficiently to protect your interests while exploring all options for resolution. If you have been accused of breaching your fiduciary duty or if you believe your fiduciary’s actions constitute a breach, contact us today to schedule a consultation.