The defendants in the HillCo lawsuit filed their answer in court today, denying all charges against them and calling them "meritless."
"HillCo willfully misconstrues events to make innocent and readily explainable meetings, emails and other communications sound sinister," the response says.
According to their court papers, Brandon Aghamalian and Snapper Carr left HillCo Partners because of the "increasing and burdensome issues concerning ... potential conflicts of interest between [their] municipal clients and [HillCo's] private sector clients." The documents also cite an "increasingly hostile" work environment that allowed firm employees to "continually use unprofessional, insensitive, and derogatory references to both clients and elected officials" and HillCo's "lack of attention and disregard for regulatory and ethical compliance."
Hamp Skelton, HillCo's attorney, declined to comment.
HillCo's complaint alleges that two of its former partners, Aghamalian and Carr, conspired with rival lobby shop Focused Advocacy to steal HillCo clients over a six-month period before they resigned.
More on the lawsuit, from today's story in the Tribune:
HillCo accuses Aghamalian and Carr of going to remarkable lengths to pilfer clients leading up to the time they left the firm this January. Specifically, it alleges that, while “masquerading as loyal HillCo employees” — and while in secret communication with Seidlits over a six-month period — they delayed renewal agreements and furtively changed existing HillCo contracts to allow clients to terminate the firm “immediately” if either Aghamalian or Carr couldn’t fulfill the terms, ensuring clients could follow them when the two men made their exit.
They also allegedly supplied Seidlits with confidential information about HillCo practices and traveled on the firm’s dime to meetings with clients where they made “false and disparaging statements” about Hillco’s future ability to meet their needs. One e-mail the lawsuit cites, from Carr to Focused Advocacy — sent while he worked for Hillco — included an attachment of allegedly proprietary HillCo files, along with the message: “Here you go. Leave me alone. Snap.” That and other documents prove “Focused Advocacy’s principals were insisting that these materials be stolen,” the suit charges.
Once they left the firm, the complaint says, the pair assured clients that their separation from HillCo was “seamless and amicable.” According to HillCo’s court papers, all of this adds up to a “systematic pattern of deception,” violates numerous contractual agreements and breaches the fiduciary duty both owed to the firm — an accusation that, if proven, could result in disbarment for Carr, who served as the firm’s general counsel.
Texas Tribune donors or members may be quoted or mentioned in our stories, or may be the subject of them. For a complete list of contributors, click here.