A Paige from the Past?

A lawsuit accuses HISD's former chief and a trustee of influence-peddling

While the defendants and their attorneys declined comment, their filings in the case show adamant denials of the ousted supervisor's claims. In a prepared statement in response to the original suit, HISD said it was merely a case of Watson being properly terminated under the provisions of his contract, after the district made a "business decision" to reorganize its benefits programs and end the need for his services.

In Marshall's deposition, he claimed he wanted to meet with Watson only because he was "knowledgeable" about cost-saving measures in the health care world.

After many scheduling conflicts, Paige was finally deposed, but not in the Lincoln bedroom.
After many scheduling conflicts, Paige was finally deposed, but not in the Lincoln bedroom.

"The only meetings I ever had with Frank Watson were meetings directed where he, where Dr. Paige, announced to me that he was a liaison for benefits and would be representing him," he said.

Marshall gave obtuse answers in response to questions about his memo to Paige where he called NYLCare's behavior "stonewalling," saying only that the list of employees "would be helpful only because People 1st is an emerging minority business" and that any vendor could have used the list for "introductory purposes."

Part of the reason for the lengthy delays in the case was the difficulty in getting Paige's deposition. It was finally arranged after his Senate confirmation as education secretary.

"He resisted the deposition all the way," says Larry Watts, Watson's attorney. "We even offered to go up there and do it in the Lincoln bedroom."

In his deposition, Paige had trouble recalling certain dates in the dispute, claiming that as CEO of a district with 27,000 employees, he could not deal with small details. While he said he "had no interest in helping People 1st" and claimed that Marshall never told Paige to get rid of Watson, Paige did call Watson "very adversarial." When asked who Watson was adversarial to, Paige referred to himself in the third person: "To the chief executive officer of the Houston Independent School District."

Paige also said that during Watson's sick leave, he attempted to phone Watson but Watson never called him back. (Watson's wife, Ina, states that the couple never received any phone calls from Paige during her husband's lengthy recuperation at home.)

Before his leave, Watson once refused to meet with Paige, the former superintendent said. Watson says, "I would have to be an idiot to refuse to meet with the superintendent of schools."

"Idiotic" is one description the defense team would have for some of the contentions of Watson and his attorney, Watts.

Defendants' attorney Chris Gilbert unloaded on the legal theories of Watson and Watts while responding to their motion to depose others they believe are involved in the case: "The plaintiff's motion to compel is a rambling, repetitive, hyperbolic document that more resembles the synopsis of a soap opera than a court pleading."

Other defendants are People 1st and its CEO and medical director Regina Kyles. Their attorney, Bobby Lapin, filed a countersuit against Watson to collect his legal fees, claiming that the suit is groundless.

The targets of the suit want state District Judge Caroline Baker to throw out the case by granting a summary judgment. Watts says he is confident that jurors will side with Watson if the case is allowed to proceed to trial.

"I just feel that based on the information I have, I don't know how the judge can do anything but let us go to trial," says Watson. "If they let us go to trial then they can see who Larry Marshall really is and who Rod Paige really is. Everything I've said, I've got the information to show it."

However, Watts himself stumbled when asked about the basis for some of his most recent allegations filed in the case. Watts contends that his client was never actually dismissed because the board botched the motion to terminate him -- a claim that the defense labeled as "silly."

The attorney also says Marshall "was secretly paid substantial monies" by People 1st and did not disclose that business relationship until after Watson had "blown the whistle on Marshall's unethical behavior in 1999." However, HISD records show that he filed the required financial disclosure forms for trustees.

Whether the case meets its legal burden of evidence, the information it uncovered raises questions of ethical consideration in the operations of the district. Depositions delved into the past habits of Paige, Marshall and some other district officials of gathering for HISD insiders' sessions during weekly breakfasts at the Buffalo Grille on Bissonnet.

In an almost laughable explanation during his deposition, Marshall offered that these early-morning sessions were open to the public -- assuming any members of the public were ever aware of the gatherings. According to Marshall, the officials on hand discussed "the state of the district and issues that needed to be resolved," and he insisted that the meetings were "above and beyond reproach."

The disclosure forms for trustees require those elected officials to state any ties to companies doing business with HISD, but it took the deposition for Marshall to reveal that he was pulling in a total of about $90,000 yearly lobbying -- he calls it "consulting" -- for Community Education Partners and People 1st.

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We had numerous patients back in 2001 that Nylcare transferred to People 1st. Per Nylcare the claims were paid but the checks were sent to People 1st and we NEVER rec'd those checks. SHAME on People 1st. Bunch of criminals if you ask me & that sure doesn't make minority businesses look very good, does it?

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