When the news broke about the Ibarra brothers wanting to cancel the settlement agreement in their lawsuit against the Sheriff’s office, I wondered if it was because the county was paying for the appeal two lawyers who had been barred from their case were pursuing over sanctions given them by Judge Hoyt. That would appear to be the case.
The county is obligated by law to provide legal counsel for attorneys Frank Sanders and Mary Baker because they are county employees, even though they were not defendants in the lawsuit, said John Barnhill, first assistant of the Harris County Attorney’s Office.
Sanders and Baker are appealing sanctions levied against them by U.S. District Judge Kenneth Hoyt, who disqualified them three years ago from defending the county in a civil rights lawsuit filed by Sean Carlos Ibarra and Erik Adam Ibarra — two Houston brothers who claim they were wrongfully arrested after one of them photographed an officer during a drug raid.
In his 2005 sanctions order, Hoyt concluded Sanders and Baker tried to deny the Ibarra brothers a fair trial and violated Sean Ibarra’s constitutional right to privacy when they improperly obtained his medical records from the Harris County Hospital District. The judge ordered Sanders, Baker and the county to pay a $10,000 fine.
But the Ibarras are seeking to return the $1.7 million settlement they received from the county earlier this month and want to go back to trial, alleging the appeal by Sanders and Baker violates the agreement that resolved their lawsuit.
The brothers’ attorney, Lloyd Kelley, said paying for the appeal with county funds is illegal unless the Harris County Commissioners Court has approved such an expenditure.
Barnhill said Commissioners Court previously approved spending county money to defend Sanders and Baker.
As I said before, I don’t think it’s unreasonable for the county to pay the legal fees for their employees in a matter like this. There is a case to be made against that, given that their actions cost the county money as well, but that would seem to be an issue for their supervisors to deal with. I certainly understand where the Ibarras are coming from here, but I don’t think they’ve been wronged by this.
No mention in this story about the dispute over Lloyd Kelly’s fee demands, by the way. I’m pretty sure that issue isn’t going away.