The commissioners of Galveston County were split, which resulted in rejecting a proposed settlement in the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association, and attorneys’ fees were at the heart of the disagreement. Over 51 county facilities were damaged from the 2008 Hurricane Ike, and the TWIA did not cover the damages. Two years ago, county commissioners voted to retain the law office of State Rep. Craig Eiland to sue for what claims would be covered. Eiland allegedly submitted bills as part of the settlment at a rate of $1,200 dollars an hour, and the settlement offered would have paid the county $3.065 million and Eiland’s firm $1.885 million.
Galveston County Commissioner Ken Clark objected to retaining Eiland initially. He expressed concerns because Eiland sits on the insurance committee of the Texas House, which has oversight over the TWIA. “I didn’t feel like voting for an hourly rate of $1,200 for an attorney who is an elected official who oversees TWIA was a proper thing to do,” Clark said. “It’s still taxpayer money. Actually, it’s Galveston County residents’ money because TWIA is a co-op. I thought it was incumbent to get the county taxpayers more money.”
Eiland is disputing Clark’s figures, and states that $650,000 of the expenses were to pay experts who worked on the case. He claims a rate of about $425 an hour, which is on par with the other TWIA cases. Without seeing billing records, it’s difficult to speculate on the actual hourly rate charged by Eiland. Based on statements by both parties, the records submitted apparently did not have itemized hours and expenses, which likely could have reduced the misunderstandings between the parties. The conflict of interest issue, however, may have still remained.
Model Rule of Professional Conduct 1.7 states, in pertinent part –
(a) Except as provided in paragraph (b), a lawyer shall not represent a client if the representation involves a concurrent conflict of interest. A concurrent conflict of interest exists if:
(2) there is a significant risk that the representation of one or more clients will be materially limited by the lawyer’s responsibilities to another client, a former client or a third person or by a personal interest of the lawyer.
The county will meet again in a few weeks to discuss the settlement.