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La Joya ISD pays $42,000 to settle lawsuit involving Hidalgo County Judge Ramon Garcia

After accusing Hidalgo County Judge Ramon Garcia of fraud and negligence during a nasty legal dispute, the La Joya Independent School District quietly settled with him — and paid $42,000.

Superintendent Alda T. Benavides and Garcia signed the settlement agreement in April. State District Judge J. Manuel Bañales dismissed the lawsuit in May.

RamonGarciaThe school district released a copy of the settlement agreement following a public information request from the Progress Times.

“I’m glad to get this matter settled,” Garcia said. “We got hired by the district to do a certain job, we did the work and we’re glad that we have now been paid.”

Concerned about a confidentiality clause in the settlement agreement, attorney Jaime “Jerry” Muñoz, who represents the school district, declined to comment.

The saga started in 2015, when Muñoz hired The Law Office of Ramon Garcia.

“I need your assistance with an issue that has developed within the District,” Muñoz wrote to Garcia on April 29, 2015. “This issue pertains to the possible unauthorized and unsolicited on-campus vaccination service. As general counsel, I need to investigate who provided the services, what services were provided, and the amount of money received by any parties in exchange for these services.”

Attorneys spent months investigating a McAllen-based company called PHS-Preventive Health Solutions, which billed the school district about $785,000 for vaccinations, according to court records. Attorneys pored over paperwork and conducted depositions, preparing for a potential lawsuit.

When they completed the investigation, though, the school district refused to pay.

The Law Office of Ramon Garcia slapped the school district with a lawsuit in May 2017, attempting to collect about $38,400 in legal fees. The school district responded by hiring Edinburg-based attorney Javier Peña, a courtroom pugilist with a reputation for taking on Hidalgo County politicians, to handle the case.

Peña filed a bombastic counterclaim, which accused Garcia of manipulating the investigation to protect Bob Trevino, the owner of Pharr-based Workplace Benefit Advisors.

When PHS-Preventive Health Solutions administered the vaccinations, Trevino handled insurance services for the school district.

“By consciously steering the investigation away from Bob Trevino Insurance, Garcia was able to point his investigation towards political rivals while protecting his political allies,” according to an amended counterclaim Peña filed in November 2017. “This tactic of using legal proceedings to threaten and/or intimidate political opposition has been a common practice of Garcia and his firm.”

Garcia flatly denied the allegations and attempted to set the record straight.

“These are the facts. I was hired by the La Joya Independent School District to represent them and I did the work as requested and required payment,” Garcia said in a statement released days after Peña filed the amended counterclaim. “There were, and are, no conflicts of interest with respect to our representation of the District. While forming our report for the District, the political makeup of the school board changed, which this misguided attorney saw as another opportunity. The school district has refused to pay me on his advice. I sued the district for nonpayment and here we are today.”

After months of litigation, the law firm and the school district started negotiating a settlement agreement.

What, exactly, prompted the settlement negotiations remains unclear. The confidentiality clause prevents Garcia and the school district from discussing the matter.

“The Parties agree to state to outside parties only that the matter was settled to the mutual satisfaction of Parties,” according to the settlement agreement.

Garcia and the school district signed the settlement agreement in April.

Along with dropping all claims against the law firm and Garcia, the school district agreed to pay $42,000 — about $3,600 more than the law firm originally sought.

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