With seven pending lawsuits, including one involving the police department, the city of Palestine faces more litigation than it has for at least 15 years, Mayor Steve Presley told the Herald-Press Thursday. Presley attributes the flurry of suits against the city to a “combination of bad luck and high employee turnover in key leadership positions.”
Conversations with leaders of similar-sized cities suggest another possible reason for Palestine's heavy load of lawsuits: Before calling in the lawyers, other municipalities avoid legal impasse by talking things out with potential litigants.
“Our administration isn’t timid, but we try to be careful,” Corinth City Manager Bob Hart told the Herald-Press Thursday. “We do our best to resolve all issues before it ever gets to that point. When you end up in court, everyone loses.”
With a similar population, Corinth faces perhaps one lawsuit every year or two, Hart said, but currently faces none.
A lawsuit against Palestine, filed earlier this week by Baze Chemical, alleges the city threatened to shut off water to its fire suppression systems if Baze did not pay a $50,000 bill.
Baze officials argue they never used the 1.5 million gallons of water they were billed for. Shutting off water to the fire suppression system, they said, violates the company's 2016 contract with the city.
Moreover, state and federal regulations would force Baze to shut down operations, costing the company millions.
Baze officials said they tried to contact the city about the problem numerous times before filing suit, but couldn't reach officials and never received return phone calls.
A recently dropped federal Americans with Disabilities Act lawsuit brought against the city by resident Michael Ivy also argued the city's lack of communication forced Ivy to file suit.
Angleton, Texas, like Palestine, has a population of just below 19,000. Unlike Palestine, however, Angleton hasn’t faced any litigation in the three years Scott Albert has managed the city.
“We don’t have a specific strategy,” Albert told the Herald-Press. “I just know I’m against it if it can be avoided. The last litigation I was involved in was when I was with the city of Celina, years ago. I was against that, too.”
In addition to the Baze suit, the city faces ongoing legal action against Jerry Laza, aka the “Lawnmower Man.” Laza has filed a countersuit against the city.
Last November, Union Pacific Railroad sued the city to abrogate its 150-year-old contract with Palestine. At stake is 65 local jobs.
City officials also appealed a more than $500,000 judgement after Lone Star Equipment won a lawsuit against the city last February for breach of contract.
Another lawsuit involving the Palestine Police Department also is pending.
In addition to the hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal costs for current lawsuits, the city faces losing millions of dollars in judgments.