Calallen Independent School District residents will pay for both defending and the filing of a lawsuit against the district after the school board agreed to a settlement Monday night with disgruntled resident Karen Ford.
The school board voted Monday night after a lengthy executive session to pay all of Ford's legal fees although the district won the case in court months ago.
In addition, the school district has spent more than $50,000 defending the lawsuit, superintendent Arturo Almendarez said Tuesday.
Monday's school board meeting lasted well into Tuesday morning after a 5-hour executive session that included several matters in addition to Ford's lawsuit.
The district agreed to pay Ford's legal expenses in exchange for Ford agreeing not to appeal the lower court's decision, said Calallen defense attorney John Holmgreen.
Holmgreen said Ford had filed papers with the local court necessary to initiate an appeal, although her notice of appeal was never filed.
Settling the matter out of court allows the school district to proceed with issuing $43 million in bonds before interest rates rise, Holmgreen said.
"We resolved it," he said. "You know every day that passes, there is the risk of higher interest that you have to pay in order to get this bond issue."
The bond projects had been stalled by Ford's lawsuit. Holmgreen said the Texas Attorney General's Office was reluctant to give its clearance for the bonds while litigation was underway.
"We were trying to get this thing disposed of as soon as possible," Holmgreen said. "We hope to get the concluding papers signed and filed (Tuesday) afternoon."
Corpus Christi attorney Paul Dodson, who handled Ford's lawsuit after the trial, confirmed the settlement.
"Basically an agreement was reached to withdraw the appeal so I think the school board was going to cover some of the expenses of my client," Dodson said.
Ford filed a lawsuit in the 214th District Court in December and her initial attorney, Bruce Matzke, submitted an amended petition Jan. 16.
The amendment claimed a public notice about the election, published in the Oct. 18 issue of the Nueces County Record Star, did not include all nine of the Calallen ISD's voting precincts.
Missing was Precinct 110, which currently has more than 1,400 registered voters. Also absent was the polling location for that precinct, the Hilltop Community Center.
Matzke claimed the precinct's residents had no notice of the election and therefore the bond election results should be voided.
Almendarez said at a two-day trial held on Jan. 31 and Feb. 1 that the omission of Precinct 110 in the notice submitted to the Record Star was "an inadvertent mistake."
The defense argued that there was not enough evidence to show that even if turnout had included all of Precinct 110, it would have caused the proposition to fail.
The November ballots asked voters to consider two bond propositions. One was the $43 million bond proposal for various capital improvement projects, and the other proposition was about authorizing the school district to refinance about $450,000 of existing debt incurred in 2002.
About 1,500 of the school district's 15,658 registered voters cast their ballots for each of the two propositions, both of which passed by about a two-to-one margins.
Holmgreen said the level of turnout at Precinct 110 would not have been sufficient to overturn the election results.
Calallen resident Anne Shaw testified that she had gathered a petition with about 200 signatures from residents who claimed they would have voted against the bond elections if they had been made aware of them.
The defense objected to the petition, citing it as heresy and inadmissible since there was no way to verify the signatures were authentic.
Holmgreen also noted a joint election notice was published by the County Clerk's office in the Oct. 13 issue of the Corpus Christi Caller-Times that listed the Hilltop Community Center as a polling location for Precinct 110.
Judge Joaquin Villarreal ruled in favor of Calallen on Feb. 1, saying that the school district seemed to be in "substantial compliance" with the applicable election laws, adding that overturning an election could be very expensive to the school district.
Villarreal's judgment denied Ford any compensation for her legal fees, as well as upholding the results of the bond elections.
"I have heard no evidence that anyone was denied the right to vote."