RIO HONDO – A Hurricane Dolly lawsuit brought by a Southeast Texas school district recently settled before the case could be tried – a piece of storm litigation that may have been solicited, according to the district’s records.
Seeking more than $1 million in damages, the Rio Hondo Independent School District filed suit against the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association on Feb. 28, 2014 in Cameron County District Court, alleging TWIA failed to properly reimburse the district for damages caused by Hurricane Dolly in 2008.
A month prior to filing the litigation, the Rio Hondo ISD Board of Trustees met in a regular session on Jan. 13, 2014, to discuss, among other things, the imminent lawsuit.
According to the minutes from the meeting, Superintendent Ismael Garcia introduced plaintiff’s attorney Gilberto Hinojosa, the current chair of the Texas Democratic Party and founder of The Law Office of Gilberto Hinojosa and Associates, which works closely with the Mostyn Law Firm, founded by Steve Mostyn, on storm litigation.
“Mr. Garcia explained that this law firm (Gilberto Hinojosa and Associates) approached him but he has not negotiated a contract until he gets directive from the school board,” the minutes state.
The Record attempted to contact Superintended Garcia for further elaboration on how the law firm “approached” him about bringing the lawsuit. A callback from Garcia has not yet been received.
Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct prohibit attorney solicitations –with rule 7.03 specifically stating a lawyer shall not “seek professional employment concerning a matter arising out of a particular occurrence or event.”
The minutes go on to state that Hinojosa said he was at the meeting “on behalf of the Mostyn Law Firm” and “commented” further that he and Mostyn have “worked on Hurricane Ike, Hurricane Dolly, and hail storm litigation and have recovered billions of dollars in the state of Texas.”
According to the minutes, Hinojosa told the board that he and Mostyn currently represent Brownsville ISD in its Dolly suit against TWIA, saying that they believe Rio Hondo ISD suffered from the same lack of complete TWIA investigation and adjustment as Brownsville ISD did.
“This is why we brought this to the attention of Superintendent Garcia … Mr. Hinojosa stated,” the minutes read.
RIO Hondo ISD’s lawsuit was brought six years after Dolly struck. Normally, the statute of limitations in Texas for civil litigation is two years, but school districts are not barred from bringing expired claims under the state’s Civil Code.
The Record sought comment from Hinojosa on the matter.
When asked about the six-year gap between the hurricane and lawsuit, Hinojosa said the question was “ridiculous” without further explanation.
The Record also sought to ascertain from Hinojosa on whether the minutes were accurate in stating his firm “approached” the district about filing the lawsuit, but the attorney hung up mid-question and refused to respond to further calls.
The case of Rio Hondo ISD v. TWIA was slated to go to trial on Aug. 15 but settled beforehand, according to a courthouse official.
The Record has submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the district in hopes of obtaining the settlement amount and an audible recording of the board meeting.
Rio Hondo ISD is represented by both Mostyn and Hinojosa.
Cause No. 2014-DCL-01336-H