Houston ISD taxpayers have been paying for the legal defense of former board trustee Larry Marshall, even though HISD is no longer named in the lawsuit.

An open records request filed by the Texas Scorecard to determine how much HISD has paid in legal fees for Marshall, shows that as of March 2016 the district has shelled out over $1.3 million for the former trustee’s defense against bribery allegations.

The civil suit came about in late 2010 when Gil Ramirez Group (GRG) and Gil Ramirez Jr. claimed that Marshall, his consultant Joyce Moss-Clay, HISD, and additional contractors were involved in a pay-to-play scheme for HISD construction contracts.

Specifically, Ramirez claimed that one of the additional contractors, Eva Jackson of RHJ-JOC, Inc., paid Moss-Clay nearly $200,000. Moss-Clay then gave some of the money to Marshall, allegedly to ensure that the preferred contractor won bids.

At that time the court stated, “RHJ paid Clay over $2,000 per month for several years but neither RHJ nor Clay could explain what work Clay actually performed.” She justified the payouts to Marshall by saying they were because he was her “mentor.”

Additionally the court found that the other contractor, Fort Bend Mechanical, paid for Marshall to attend the Super Bowl in Tampa and had given the trustee tens of thousands of dollars.

The Gil Ramirez Group’s complaint was that for not participating in this pay-to-play scheme they saw a sharp decline in their contracts with the district.

Marshall left the district in 2013 – two years after the bribery allegations surfaced. That same year, HISD itself was dismissed of the bribery charges leaving Marshall, Moss-Clay, and two other contractors as defendants.

Even in a time of fiscal despair, HISD continues to pay Marshall’s fees. Instead of spending tax dollars on defending an embattled former trustee, the district could have hired: twenty -five teachers at base salary, eleven specialty high school principals, or seventeen elementary school principals at starting salary. Also, as we noted before, out of 284 campuses, 39 are without an on-site nurse, 151 lack counselors, and 193 are without librarians.

How can HISD officials claim they work in favor of students as they allow campuses to lack basic necessities but pay millions in legal fees for a former trustee implicated in a bribery scandal?

In June, a federal judge set October 24th as the start date for Marshall’s civil trial. If Marshall is found guilty, HISD taxpayers could be on the hook for paying his settlement.

Charles Blain

Charles Blain is the president of Urban Reform and Urban Reform Institute. A native of New Jersey, he is based in Houston and writes on municipal finance and other urban issues.