A lawyer hired to represent the La Joya Independent School District in a high-stakes case against the Texas Education Agency plans to charge $750 per hour.
La Joya ISD hired attorney John Scott of Austin-based law firm Scott & Scott to handle an administrative case against the agency, which wants to replace the local school board with a state-appointed board of managers.
“There’s so much money that’s going to be wasted,” said Trustee Mary T. Hernandez. “And, at the end of the day, I think they’re going to come in.”
Board President Alex Cantu didn’t respond to requests for comment.
The agency started investigating La Joya ISD in 2022, when two school board trustees and three administrators pleaded guilty to public corruption charges.
Documents filed in the cases against them also described a conspiracy to steer contracts to Performance Services Inc., an Indiana-based company that specialized in “energy savings” projects. As part of the conspiracy, elected officials employed by La Joya ISD received promotions and stipends in exchange for supporting the projects.
The agency released a report on La Joya ISD in May 2023.
“Although the District asserts that ‘the actions taken by these individuals were done unbeknownst to the rest of the Trustees and the Superintendent,’ it ignores the entire Board’s actions that allowed for these criminal acts to occur in the first place,” according to the report. “It was the entire Board that took unanimous action in May 2017 and June 2019 to approve both phases of the energy savings projects; the Board as a body corporate was the vehicle that allowed for felonious acts to be committed at multiple levels within the organization.”
The report also concluded Cantu, the school board president, failed to properly disclose a conflict of interest that involved RGV Read and Feed, a nonprofit organization that paid him for consulting work.
To address the problems identified by the investigation, the agency recommended Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath appoint a board of managers — an extremely unusual move reserved for school districts with serious problems.
During a contentious meeting on May 18, the school board voted 4-3 to authorize John Scott to “proceed with any action necessary to seek TEA’s reconsideration of its recommendations and decisions regarding La Joya Independent School District.”
La Joya ISD agreed to pay Scott, a high-profile lawyer and lobbyist, $750 per hour, according to an agreement released under the Texas Public Information Act.
Scott worked under Gov. Greg Abbott at the Texas Attorney General’s Office, where he supervised all civil litigation. Abbott subsequently tapped Scott to overhaul the Texas Health and Human Services Commission and serve as Texas secretary of state.
On May 31, however, Abbott announced that Scott would serve as interim attorney general.
Another lawyer with Scott & Scott, who charges $550 per hour, handled much of the legal work for La Joya ISD in May.
Scott, though, did participate in a conference call on May 31 to discuss “next steps,” according to an invoice Scott & Scott submitted to La Joya ISD in June.
The invoice asked La Joya ISD to pay $15,030 for 32.6 hours of legal work performed between May 9 and May 31.
An administrative law judge is scheduled to hear the case in July.