Trial lawyers snatch half of Hidalgo County’s $1.35M settlement, U.S. Rep. Gonzalez’s cut comes to $118K
By David Yates
HIDALGO COUNTY – U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez received $118,125 for the few weeks of work he put in on a construction defect lawsuit, not a bad payday when considering his yearly salary in Congress is $174,000.
Two weeks before he was elected in 2016, Gonzalez, a Democrat representing Texas’ 15th Congressional District, signed a contingency fee contract with Hidalgo County.
The congressman’s representation agreement with the county raised some questions, as the House Ethics Manual clearly states members “are prohibited from engaging in professions that provide services involving a fiduciary relationship, including the practice of law.”
When The Record first reported on the contract, a spokesperson for Gonzalez told the publication all of the work the congressman did on the case was performed before he took office in 2017.
After the case settled, The Record sought to ascertain how much Gonzalez profited from the lawsuit and obtained a settlement agreement last October.
The agreement shows that the Snapka Law Firm, the head law firm handling the case, issued a settlement check for $685,992.81 to Hidalgo County.
Missing from the records, however, was a breakdown of what the attorneys who represented the county were paid, including how much Gonzalez made from the deal.
The Record has now obtained those records, showing the county approved a $1.35 million settlement agreement on April 16, 2019.
The lawyers representing the county received $664,007.19 in fees and expenses, $118,125 of which went to Gonzalez.
The actual work Gonzalez put in on the case remains unclear.
Gonzalez was elected on Nov. 8, 2016. The original contract he signed with Hidalgo County was on Oct. 25, 2016.
As a sitting member of Congress, Gonzalez signed a modified contingency fee contract on Dec. 7, 2018, entitling him to 25 percent of the attorney’s fees.
Records show the Texas Comptroller’s Office never approved the 2016 contract, as was required by law, but a lawsuit was filed anyways on Dec. 28, 2016 – just days before Gonzalez took office.
Gonzalez’s name never appeared on any of the case filings, including the original petition.
In addition to Gonzalez and Snapka Law, Hidalgo County also retained the law firm of Felipe Garcia, the brother of then-Hidalgo County Judge Ramon Garcia.
Felipe Garcia’s firm was also entitled to 25 percent of the attorney’s fees, with the remaining 50 percent going to Snapka Law.