The court has ruled the city of Palestine lost any rights to appeal in the Sanderson Farm Lone Star Equipment case based on a procedural mistake, not on the merits of the case.
The 12th Court of Appeals laid the blame of the city of Palestine losing its appeal on former city attorney Ron Stutes of the Potter Minton firm in Tyler.
The court in its Aug. 26, opinion stated Stutes failed to object to the trial court’s instruction to the jury that the failure to submit accurate plans constitutes a breach of contract.
Lone Star sued the city and in March 2019, during that trial, jurors ruled the city failed to cover Lone
Star's construction costs for a 1,950-foot asphalt road, from U.S. 79 to Sanderson Farms.
The road project, originally budgeted for $866,000, ended up costing nearly $1.5 million. City officials
claim the contractor Presley was hired at a specific rate — and failed to adhere to it. Any added expense, they argue, required multiple levels of signatures and approvals — none of which, the city claims, Lone Star secured before running up the bill. City officials said the contractor did not go through proper channels to gain approval for addition-
Without payment, Lone Star Equipment eventually stopped work- ing on the Sanderson Farms road project, forcing the city to hire a third-party contractor to finish the job. The cost of the additional contractor exceeded the amount the city would have paid Lone Star for additional work.
On March 4, 2019, following a week- long civil trail, the city was ordered to pay a judgment to Lone Star of more than $500,000 for breach of contract. Based on the ruling, the city is also liable for Lone Star’s legal fees. Counting legal bills, the Lone Star Equipment case could cost the city more than $600,000.
Following the ruling by the jury city council members voted to appeal the judgement.
“The city owes it to the taxpayers to
proceed with all remedies against the engineering firm and the former Palestine city attorney Ron Stutes of the Potter Minton firm,” said Steve Presley, Mayor of Palestine. “The city would be neglectful if they did not take every action to assure full reimbursement to the city and its taxpayers.”
Stutes and his law firm, Potter Minton, charged the city almost $100,000 for representing it in the Lone Star case. Four days after the Lone Star case concluded, the city fired Stutes, who had acted as city attorney for more than a decade.
Greg White, an appellate attorney from Waco, represented the city on appeal. His $30,000 legal fee is roughly one-third what the city paid Stutes for the original trial.