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Pauline Higgins

Metro settles with Higgins

And the last bit of “old Metro” business gets put to rest.

The Metropolitan Transit Authority’s board [Thursday] agreed to settle a lawsuit by the agency’s former chief counsel in which she accused Metro of firing her for trying to prevent the allegedly unlawful destruction of documents.

Metro has agreed to pay Pauline Higgins up to $100,000 to cover her legal fees. The agency will pay no damages.

See here for the background and Hair Balls for more. Statements from Ms. Higgins and Metro are beneath the fold. Far as I know this is the last bit if Wolff/Wilson business to deal with, so it should be all “new Metro” from here on out. I know I’m glad to get to this point, and I’m sure everyone at Metro is, too.

(more…)

In which I become a bit player in a Metro lawsuit

So I got an email on Friday from Chron reporter Mike Snyder, asking me if I had done an interview with former Metro Chair David Wolff. Apparently, there were some new documents filed in the lawsuit against Metro by its former chief counsel Pauline Higgins that referenced some comments Wolff made about Higgins in that interview. Except that the documents referred to an interview Wolff gave to “a Houston Chronicle reporter, Charles Cuff, for the purpose of discrediting and spreading false information about Higgins.” Snyder, knowing that there was no such person but assuming they meant me, asked me about it. I confirmed his assumption and sent him the relevant links. What was amusing to me is that if you found that latter page, as I presume the attorney working on Higgins’ case must have, you might have noticed that it contained my (correctly spelled) name three times, and also included a note that “The reader is responsible for this content, which is not edited by the Chronicle.” Doesn’t sound like something done by a reporter to me, but what do I know? Anyway, it’s not a big deal, but I got a chuckle out of it.

DA clears Metro

Nice.

Months after prosecutors took boxes of documents from Metro’s downtown headquarters and experts examined the agency’s computers, the investigation into allegations that Metropolitan Transit Authority administrators illegally destroyed public documents has ended, Metro officials said today.

In a letter to METRO, the Harris County District Attorney’s office wrote, “Our investigation found no evidence of criminal wrongdoing and those allegations were unfounded.”

The letter clears the agency of any wrongdoing.

That sound you hear is the wailing of all the Metro haters, who were convinced that evil was afoot and are no doubt disappointed to come away so empty. To recap, back in February Metro was accused of shredding documents related to an open records request Lloyd Kelley made. The DA opened its probe a week later. Shortly after that, Kelley admitted he didn’t have any actual evidence to back up the original claim of document shredding, which may or may not have had anything to do with the nookie that then-CEO Frank Wilson was allegedly engaging in with one of his staffers. Said alleged nookie apparently never happened, or at least if it did it wasn’t done on Metro’s dime. Kelley eventually settled his lawsuit with Metro, with an acknowledgment that there was no evidence of any shredding; Kelley also never said just what it was he’d been looking for in the first place. A grand jury heard evidence related to the alleged shredding in May. And now here we are. About all that’s left from the last days of Frank Wilson is the Pauline Higgins lawsuit and the ongoing Buy America saga. I think that about covers it. Mary Benton has more.

UPDATE: Hair Balls has more.

One Metro lawsuit pulled from court docket

Looks promising.

Metro expects to reach a settlement soon in an open-records lawsuit that triggered a series of accusations and investigations that gripped the transit agency for months, board chairman Gilbert Garcia said.

The trial of the lawsuit by attorney and former City Controller Lloyd Kelley, scheduled to begin Monday in state district court, has been pulled from the docket because of the settlement talks, Garcia said. Any settlement would have to be approved by the Metropolitan Transit Authority board.

Garcia declined to discuss details of the proposed settlement except to say he was confident the case would be resolved soon. Neither Kelley nor his attorney, Michael West, could be reached for comment Sunday.

This was the document shredding lawsuit, whose initial hearings led to allegations of hanky panky between now-former Metro CEO Frank Wilson and his chief of staff for which a subsequent forensic accounting review found no incriminating evidence. The lawsuit by Pauline Higgins, Metro’s former chief counsel, is still ongoing. If this does get settled, that will be one more thing that the new Metro board can cross off its to-be-dealt-with list. It will also almost surely mean we’ll never know what Kelley was looking for, or on whose behalf he was looking. I’ll take that trade, and I’m sure the Metro board will as well.

Pauline Higgins sues Metro

Pauline Higgins, the former chief counsel for Metro who was fired in the wake of the document shredding scandal, has now sued the agency for wrongful termination.

“This case involves cut-throat politics and cronyism at Metro,” Pauline Higgins said in the lawsuit filed in state district court. It seeks her reinstatement, unspecified damages and legal fees under the Texas Whistleblower Act.

[…]

Her lawsuit claims Higgins lost her job because Metro’s president and chief executive officer, Frank Wilson, resisted her efforts to bring the agency into compliance with state laws regarding document retention and to correct other problems, such as hiring third-party contractors without contracts or allowing them to work after their contracts had lapsed.

Prior to her arrival, the suit says, Metro’s legal department was “disorganized and dysfunctional,” and its employees “often came to work and left at their leisure.”

After she was fired, the suit states, Metro officials, including former Chairman David Wolff, sought to discredit Higgins in their public statements.

Wolff alleged that it was Higgins that was responsible for the shredding. In a Rick Casey column, Metro CEO Frank Wilson also attacked Higgins:

Far from firing Higgins because she pressed them to get their document and e-mail retention policies in order, [Wolff and Wilson] said, they had asked Higgins to develop a policy months ago. They claimed she only recently produced one, and that it was not in good enough shape to take to the board.

But that’s not why they fired her.

They fired her, they said, because she was a horrible manager of her department.

“A trickle, then a flood of people came to me,” Wilson said. “They were agitated, in tears.”

He said Higgins had bullied them to the point that “they had feelings of zero worth.”

You can hear more of what Wolff said in my interview with him. This case ought to be very interesting, that’s all I can say. I just hope that someday, Metro can go back to being a transit agency again.

UPDATE: Houston Politics has a copy of the suit.