In February, Harris County Commissioners Court approved a $20 million settlement in a civil lawsuit the County brought against the vaping company JUUL. Two outside law firms hired by Harris County to handle this lawsuit- including one that has close ties to Houston Controller candidate Chris Hollins- were retained under a contract that was not properly approved under Texas law.
On September 15, 2020, Harris County Commissioners Court approved a contract with four outside law firms to represent Harris County on a contingent fee basis in connection with the vaping litigation. These four firms were Richard Schechter, P.C., Reich & Binstock LLP, Chamberlain Hrdlicka, White, Williams, and Aughtry, PC, and the Law Office of J. Michael Solar, PLLC.
Texas law requires that any contingent fee contract for legal services contract awarded by a political subdivision must be reviewed and approved by the Texas Attorney General’s office before the contract is valid. Harris County submitted the contract to hire these four law firms to the Attorney General’s office, which eventually approved the contract after initially rejecting it.
On May 25, 2021, Harris County Commissioners Court approved a purported “amendment” to the outside counsel contract for JUUL vaping litigation to include two additional law firms- Boucher LLP and J. Jackson Law Office, PLLC.
Under the basic tenets of contract law, Harris County created a new contractual relationship with Boucher LLP and J. Jackson Law Office, PLLC, when they approved this purported "amendment," as one cannot "amend" a contract that they were not previously a party to. Even though this "amendment" constituted Harris County entering into a new contingent fee contract for legal services, the "amendment" was never submitted by the County to the Attorney General's office as required by law.
Section 2254.1036 of the Texas Government Code sets forth the criteria a political subdivision must evaluate before hiring an outside law firm on a contingent fee basis. Before hiring the law firm(s), the political subdivision must post an advanced public notice that lists, among other information, "the competence, qualifications, and experience demonstrated by the attorney or law firm selected” and “the nature of any relationship, including the beginning of the relationship, between the political subdivision or governing body and the attorney or law firm selected.”
Harris County Commissioners Court failed to follow the requirements outlined in Section 2254.1036 of the Texas Government Code when considering and approving the "amended" JUUL litigation contract and hiring other outside law firms on a contingent fee basis to represent Harris County.
Section 2254.1038 of the Texas Government Code requires a political subdivision to submit a contingent fee contract for legal services to the Attorney General’s office for review and approval before the contract is effective and enforceable. The “amended” JUUL contract of May 25, 2021, was never approved by the Attorney General's office.
Section 2254.110 of the Texas Government Code specifies that a contingent fee contract for legal services entered into by a political subdivision that the Attorney General's office does not approve is "void against public policy" and "no fees may be paid to any person under the contract or under any theory of recovery for work performed in connection with a void contract.”
On February 21, 2023, Harris County Commissioners Court approved a $20 million settlement with JUUL Labs. Under the 35% contingent fee provided for in the contract, the outside lawyers hired by Harris County stand to be paid $7 million. Under the terms of the "amended" contract, Boucher LLP stands to be paid $1.4 million in fees, and J. Jackson Law Office, PLLC stands to be paid $350,000.
Chris Hollins, the former Harris County Clerk who recently dropped out of the race for Mayor of Houston to instead run for City Controller, appears to have close ties to the J. Jackson Law Office, PLLC, one of the law firms improperly hired by Harris County in the JUUL litigation.
According to the Hollins Law Group and the J. Jackson Law Office websites, the two law firms share the same office (6944 Cypress Creek Pkwy #200, Houston, TX 77069).
According to legal pleadings filed by the J. Jackson Law Office in various proceedings, the phone number listed for the J. Jackson Law Office (346-980-4600) is the same phone number listed on the website of the Hollins Law Group
The J. Jackson Law Offices currently represents Chris Hollins in a personal injury lawsuit filed by Hollins arising from a car accident where Hollins allegedly sustained injuries (Cause No. 2023-17260). Attorney Aysia Mayo-Gray of the J. Jackson Law Offices, who is listed as the attorney of record for Hollins in his personal injury lawsuit, formerly worked for the Hollins Law Group.
Justin Guerrini, a paralegal for the J. Jackson Law Offices who is listed on a document that is part of Hollins’ personal injury lawsuit, was listed as a paralegal for the Hollins Law Group when Hollins’ firm was hired by Harris County several years ago
The J. Jackson Law Offices contributed $5,000- the maximum permissible contribution- to Hollins’ campaign for Mayor on December 15, 2022
A review of cases on file with the Harris County District Clerk's office shows that Hollins has not filed any new lawsuits in a Harris County District Court since May 2020. Hollins, however, has received appointments as a guardian ad litem as recently as January of this year. It is unclear what financial arrangement Hollins or his firm has with J. Jackson Law Offices.
This is not the first time that questions have been raised about contingent fee legal contracts awarded by Harris County. Last month, local attorney Mark McCaig who also publishes The Texas Voice website, filed a lawsuit against the Harris County Attorney’s Office under the Texas Public Information Act. McCaig’s lawsuit seeks to force the County Attorney’s Office to turn over records related to State Representative Senfronia Thompson’s representation of Harris County in opioid litigation that earned her $391,061.34 in fees.
Nothing surprises me any more when it comes to underhanded contracts and kick back schemes the folks in the Harris County commissioners court will pull.
Thanks so much for exposing these criminals posing as "representing" the people.