Houston ISD trustee Larry Marshall and HISD itself got happy, happy news Tuesday when U.S. District Court Judge Keith P. Ellison dismissed all claims against them filed by Gil Ramirez Group and Gil Ramirez Jr. in late 2010.
In the lawsuit, Ramirez and his firm had alleged that Eva Jackson of RHJ-JOC, Inc. paid Marshall's campaign treasurer Joyce Moss-Clay a total of $185,000 (saying there was no justification for this large an amount) and that Moss-Clay in turn handed at least part of the money over to Marshall.
This was disputed by Marshall's lawyer Arturo G. Michel,who insisted there was no evidence of kickbacks. Michel also said in 2011 that the Ramirez Group never should have been selected for work with the district to begin with because it wasn't ranked high enough in a committee evaluation of companies, and RHJ always was rated higher. An internal auditor questioned the list of approved contractors and in a subsequent re-review of the companies' qualifications, the list was changed.
Ellison said Tuesday there was no evidence to provide there had been manipulation of any contracts.
Through a press release, Superintendent Terry Grier expressed his happiness, said bon voyage to Marshall who did not run for re-election and will be going off the board at the end of the year and expressed the hope that the school board will go after the Ramirez Group for reimbursement for what he said was more than $1.5 million in legal expenses over the past three years.
"I will encourage our board to pursue reimbursement for the legal fees that the district has spent defending itself against these unwarranted claims," Grier said. "The public funds entrusted to us belong to the children of HISD and should be used for learning."
Over the years, Larry Marshall has been no stranger to controversy. While a school board member, he was on the Commmunity Education Partners payroll as a consultant for the private company that operates alternative schools for HISD. He insisted he never voted on anything involving CEP, but critics questioned how impartial he was as he was paid $72,000 a year by CEP.
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Details of the CEP payments surfaced as part of a 2001 suit against Marshall in which he was accused of unethically trying to influence HISD to do business with a health care provider that had also paid Marshall for consulting services.
In the Ramirez case, he once again denied all charges. His attorney said Marshall wasn't on the committee that put together the approved contractors' list and as one trustee out of several, wouldn't be able to direct the outcome just on his say-so.
And once again this week , Marshall was able to escape his attackers.
"With nearly 50 years of service to HISD, the district is incredibly pleased to see Trustee Marshall being able to transition off the board to more fully enjoy the retirement he has so rightfully earned," said Grier. "His legacy as a Houston educator and leader is preserved now that he is free from the cloud of suspicion of these claims."