Despite objections of ousted law firm, City’s new attorney takes seat at dais

After charges and counter-charges last week that the City Council had violated state law when it fired its law firm and hired another, it was the newly-appointed attorney who took the position at the dais Monday.

Art Rodriguez of the Russell & Rodriguez law firm of Georgetown was hired as City Attorney in a 3-2 vote July 15 — a vote that also terminated the services of the Bojorquez Law Firm of Austin.

Those opposed to the dismissal of Bojorquez and  Assistant City Attorney Cathy Riedel, claimed the vote violated state law because the Council failed to show cause for the dismissal and then lacked the required number of votes.

Bojorquez told The Independent that the motion failed to pass by the required two-thirds votes, which should have been four of five members rather than three. He said he was still the City’s attorney because the motion failed.

However, it was Rodriguez who was sitting at the dais with the City Council one week later. Representatives of the Bojorquez firm were not present Monday.

Regardless of a provision in state law that dictates how a city government must go about terminating the services of its lawyer, a code of ethics requires an attorney to discontinue representation where services are no longer wanted, Rodriguez said.

He said that for an attorney, the code of ethics carries more influence than state law on this issue.

“Regardless of whether there is cause (to terminate a contract) or not, our code of ethics requires us not to represent (clients) where we aren’t wanted,” said Rodriguez. “It may be a due process provision, but our ethics require us not to serve regardless of what the state says.”

Rodriguez said the statute was written more as a protection for other municipal officer who may not have the same rigorous code of ethics that attorneys follow. The law applies to municipal officers including council members, the city secretary, treasurer, tax assessor and collector, marshal, city engineer and any other officers or agents authorized by the governing body.

The Russell & Rodriguez firm  represented the City of Liberty Hill 12 years before its contract was terminated in 2012. The City was incorporated in 1999 and had two lawyers for a short time before the Georgetown firm was retained.

Although it was Mayor Jamie Williamson and members of the current council who voted to fire Rodriguez and hire Bojorquez one year ago, Rodriguez said he viewed his past experience with Liberty Hill as positive. He said represeting a Council and Mayor who fired him a short time ago was not a concern and would not influence how he performed his job.

“I’ve been on the wrong side of mayors before, and I’ve been around too long to play politics with legal opinions,” Rodriguez said. “This City is a client just like any other municipal client. The City of Liberty Hill has been a good client for many years.”

Rodriguez said his role is simply to provide the best legal opinion.

“Regardless of who asks the questions, the answers will be the same,” he said.

In his experience as its city attorney, Rodriguez said “Liberty Hill has always been contentious.”

He said most of his municipal clients are “pretty cohesive and have a common vision.” While Liberty Hill has come together to improve some city services, including water and wastewater, the city seems to be lacking continuity as council members change from year to year.

He said the city benefits from having legal representation with years of continuous service and a firm that knows the history of decisions that have been made, as well as the intent of those in leadership positions at the time.

In addition to the question of the legality of the vote that fired Bojorquez and hired Rodriguez, are accusations made by the ousted law firm that the firing was politically driven.

In an email from Bojorquez made public last week by its recipient, Councilmember Connie Fuller, the attorney claimed that his firm was targeted by the Mayor after it performed work directed by the majority of the Council.

“After Cathy (Riedel) and I supported the Council’s authority to hire Greg (Boatright as city manager), and the Council’s authority to limit Jamie’s mayoral power, she added us to her Hit List,” he wrote in the email. “The Mayor’s history of trying to get rid of those who disagree with her is well-documented.”

After hearing the attorney’s claims that the Mayor “used her office to try to get rid of Wendell (McLeod), Frank (Spinosa) and Clyde (Davis), and prevent Greg’s appointment”, those opposed to the firm’s termination have suggested that Boatright may be next on the “list.”

Boatright was hired as interim City Manager in May over the strong objections of Mayor Williamson and Councilmember Vicki Brewer. His contract expires at the end of the current fiscal year in September. He is currently paid $5,000 per month from Economic Development Corp. funds, and also serves as EDC Director.

Mayor Williamson told The Independent last week that she has no hidden agenda, but did not dismiss the opposition’s claim after the vote that Boatright’s contract might not be renewed.

“Well, his contract is up in September and I have yet to see where the money is going to come from to continue paying him,” she said.

Rodriguez said he had not been involved in any conversations with the Mayor or individual council members regarding the future employment of Boatright.

“There have been no discussions about Greg Boatright,” Rodriguez said. “I don’t even know what his contract says. I have not been asked or directed to examine his employment with the City.”

He added that since his firm was terminated by the City last year, “I have kept my distance.”