By Johnnie Belle Reagan
I just googled that headline like we do everything now days and what I found wasn’t shocking yet… There are all kinds of City Ordinances. In Waco a Manager of a Strip Club was arrested because an undercover cop saw two dancers touching a patron. Another site reported a Copperas Cove man being arrested for overdue library book and then Grand Prairie arrested and jailed a man for $1700 in high grass violations that were never addressed.
In 2017 a bill presented to Texas House of Representatives would have essentially stopped the Texas practice of putting offenders in jail for municipal offences that are only punishable by a fine. HB1125 was backed by the ACLU who agrees that the current way Texas handles this issue is nothing more than debtor’s prison. Unpaid fines are usually there because the offender didn’t have the money to pay them, spending $50 per day housing them in jail for fines they couldn’t pay doesn’t make sense to most. The Bill sits stagnate as is died in committee for failure to take action.
That headline might be the next article the Palestine Herald Press writes about the Lawsuit the City of Palestine is still actively pursuing against Lawnmower Man, Jerry Laza. Hopefully the passing of this bill will help many in the future it would be unlikely to help Mr. Laza and his current struggles with the City of Palestine. The City’s rogue Lawyer Ron Stutes filed another contempt of court motion that is set for December 20th. The City won the District Court Civil Case and awarded $163,155.00 in fines for Judgement and the Judge signed an Injunction. Laza has since filed for Bankruptcy clearing up the fine issue. As it stands the City will get no payment on the fines or reimbursement for Lawyer fees in excess of $325,000. This with Mr. Ron Stutes of Potter Minton Law Offices in Tyler admitting under oath he never received permission for the City of Palestine to file the Civil Suit, nor does the City Charter allow for this kind of punishment for ordinance violations.
It is the Civil Injunction that with a thrown curve ball, the Attorney Stutes was able to have separated from the Judgement so it could continue be prosecuted in District Court. Presently He is asking for Judge Phifer to sentence Jerry Laza to jail time for City Ordinance violations that only call for assessed fine or liens at best. Some item that Laza was accused of and even fined for are not even violations, they are descriptions/definitions taken from the City Charter. It is understood that Ron Stutes has requested as much as 18 months in jail.
I really have to wonder how did a simple ordinance violation go from a citation to a huge fine and now jail time? Is Laza’s 25-year-old Lawnmower Shop causing a hazard? There has never been a report of any kind made. Did Laza have mounds and mounds of unpaid and ignored violations? The City of Palestine presented 1 set of violations made 1 time. Was there years and years of battling non-compliance? Records show that Laza was in Municipal Court for almost all the same violations concerning zoning issues in 2006 and a jury found in Laza’s favor. Was it the accusation that Laza’s Lawn mower shop was infested with rats and polluting with oil? 8 hours of investigation by the City’s hired experts and Laza’s own came up with nothing but accusation.
All of the above really just adds to more questions than answers. The Jury did not get to hear about Jerry Laza’s earlier court case, the Judge ruled it could not be presented as evidence. They also didn’t get to hear and see the video of the meeting Laza had with the City Manager Mike Alexander and Code Enforcement officer Patsy Smith on May 25th 2016. At this meeting Laza offered to save everyone money and strike a deal that didn’t include paying Lawyers thousands of dollars. Once again over stepping authority, Mike Alexander informed Laza he could close his business or the City was filing suit. Another curve ball that seems more than suspicious, the City of Palestine paid Mike Alexander $100,000 to quit and move out of town. The Judge would not allow him to be subpoena back to finish a deposition, or testify to his own affidavit presented as evidence in the trial. City Manager Mike Alexander along with contracted Attorney Ron Stutes filed the Lawsuit without the knowledge or approval of Palestine City Council.
I hope that the Palestine City Council finally shows interest and action. They have set back and allowed the Contracted City Attorney Ron Stutes to run a muck without any supervision. It is totally irresponsible to continue to allow this Lawsuit to manifest into what is currently looking like a personal vendetta executed for one individual monetary benefit, Attorney Ron Stutes. Ron Stutes walks away with full pockets. What purpose could it serve to bankrupt, incarcerate and personally destroy a local small business owner who offered to do exactly what the Court Injunction asked without Ron Stutes paying himself over $200,000 in tax payer funds above his allotted budget? The City of Palestine is the only place in the world where it is alright to not follow procedures, file a Lawsuit, cost the taxpayer 100’s of thousands of dollars without consent from the Client.
I don’t even know what else to say, I guess we just watch and see. Jerry Laza may spend Christmas in jail if Ron Stutes has his way and the City Council of Palestine continues to ignore the travesty of Justice.