A legislative staffer is claiming the state owes him thousands of dollars in legal fees for his role in a redistricting lawsuit he worked on for up to 16 hours a day while still collecting a salary as a full-time state employee.
Martin Golando, chief of staff for state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, is requesting repayment from the state for more than $282,000 in legal fees he says he incurred serving as co-counsel of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus’ redistricting litigation team over the last two years. The expenses claimed for Golando are part of MALC’s efforts to obtain repayment from the state for more than $2.5 million in legal fees following efforts to oppose Texas' Republican-led redistricting efforts.
The attorney general's office has said Golando’s dual employment, along with other perceived conflicts in his request, makes him ineligible for the recovery of such fees.
MALC’s efforts against redistricting began in 2011 after the Republican-led Legislature passed redistricting maps that opponents claimed discriminated against minority voters. This June, The U.S. Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act that prevented states from altering election laws without federal approval. Litigation has continued past the court's decision because the Legislature approved maps for the upcoming 2014 elections that were originally drawn by a federal court in San Antonio for use in the 2012 elections.
Golando claims he worked on the redistricting case on behalf of MALC between half an hour and 16 hours a day from July 2011 to July 2013. During the early stages of litigation, Golando claims he worked more than 60 hours in one week for the caucus alone.
Golando says the time limitations of the case did not allow him to work on other cases or accept other employment opportunities in the meantime. He did, however, continue to receive an annual salary of $50,400 as chief of staff for Martinez Fischer, who serves as chairman of the caucus.
In a statement, Martinez Fischer defended Golando’s dual employment.
“This is permitted by the biennial housekeeping resolution adopted by the full Texas House at the beginning of each regular session,” Martinez Fischer said. “He has been an indispensable member of MALC’s voting rights litigation team in its ongoing fight to protect Texans’ right to vote.”
Under House rules, a lawmaker can authorize his or her employee to work for a caucus if the member determines the "activities support the member's official duties," according to the resolution.
But Attorney General Greg Abbott’s office said in an Aug. 19 filing that the state disputes the number of hours Golando claims he devoted to MALC’s litigation while working as a full-time state employee. Abbott's office declined to elaborate on claims made in legal briefs, due to the ongoing litigation.
Golando billed at a rate of $250 per hour for his legal work and claimed he put in more than 1,130 hours, including a 20 percent “billing judgment discount,” citing 31 years of expertise in cases related to voting rights and seven years of licensed legal experience for his billing rate.
Golando's duties as co-counsel for MALC’s litigation team included presenting pleadings and arguing in front of several courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court. He was also the primary drawer of district maps the caucus used in its legal positions.
"Texas' chief legal officer should think twice before he casts stones to criticize the number of hours that lawyers have spent on this case, given that he has never once appeared in federal court during this litigation," Martinez Fischer said of Abbott.
Abbott’s office also denies that MALC is entitled to recovering legal fees because it failed to succeed in all stages of the litigation, which it calls a crucial factor in determining the proper amount of an award. Several of MALC’s claims were either rejected by the court or abandoned by the caucus, according to Abbott's response.