Lost lawsuit cost Edcouch $26,000 for attorneys

The city of Edcouch paid $26,000 to attorneys involved in a lawsuit Alderman Joel Segura filed after Election Day in November 2018, when the city attempted to block him from assuming his seat, city records show.

The city paid $12,000 to its former attorney, Javier Villalobos, and $14,000 to Michael Pruneda, the attorney Segura hired to represent him in a lawsuit he filed to keep the seat he was elected to on Nov. 6. The city, in October, sent Segura a letter claiming he was not eligible to become an alderman because he lived in neighboring Elsa instead of within Edcouch city limits, as required by law.

“Edcouch taxpayers could’ve avoided spending any public money on the lawsuit if the losing party would’ve just accepted the will of the voters,” Pruneda said.

Despite the letter, Segura received 776 votes to then-incumbent Esmeralda Cabrera’s 492.

At a hearing on the lawsuit in late November, a visiting state district judge issued a permanent injunction, preventing the city from interfering with Segura’s duties as an alderman and allowing him to retain the Place 2 seat on the Edcouch Board of Aldermen.

The election propelled Segura, who ran on a slate with aldermen Rene Flores and Lorenzo “Lencho” Cabrera, to take control of the board’s majority.

The board has since fired Villalobos, the city’s former attorney, as well as former City Administrator Eddy Gonzalez. The former police chief testified in court that Gonzalez had directed him to conduct an investigation into Segura’s residency prior to the election.

“The city had no supporting evidence to take action against Segura or to (remove) him,” Pruneda said, noting Segura lived within the city limits as of Election Day, as required by law.

The Edcouch Board of Aldermen, with Segura abstaining, voted to pay the invoice submitted by Pruneda.

If it had not paid the legal fees Segura incurred as a result of the lawsuit, Pruneda said an additional lawsuit could have been filed to pay for the $14,000 bill.

City records show aldermen Danny Guzman and Fidel Borrego signed the $12,000 check issued to Villalobos two days after the judge issued a permanent injunction in the lawsuit.

The board of aldermen discussed paying Villalobos for his work during executive session, according to Guzman, who disagrees with the payment made to Segura’s attorney.

“I don’t think taxpayers should be footing the bill,” said Alderman Danny Guzman, who’s now in the minority on the board.

“There was no damages, so why are we paying his legal fees,” he said. “Mr. Villalobos’ payment was based on an invoice he submitted to the city.”

The city paid the $26,000 sum with money in its general fund.