The Somervell County Commissioners on Monday unanimously voted to pay local resident Paul Harper the sum of $165,000 as a final settlement agreement that brings to a close a legal battle that began in September 2014, County Judge Danny Chambers said Wednesday.
The commissioners voted 5-0 to approve the agreement, which called for the payment to be sent by registered mail to Harper’s attorney, Mary Barkley. Chambers stated that the check has been sent.
Harper is a former member of the board of directors for the Glen Rose Medical Center Hospital District. A January 2015 article in the Glen Rose Reporter states that an individual named Darrell Best filed a civil lawsuit in August 2014 that was to be heard in the 249th Judicial District Court, in an attempt to have Harper removed from the hospital district’s board of directors.
"In the filing, Best, who is represented by Somervell County Attorney Andy Lucas, who is representing the State of Texas, outlined five areas of Texas code that permits for a governing official to be removed from office," that newspaper article states.
Judge Chambers noted that the case had been contested through the local district court to the appeals court in Waco, and finally to the Texas Supreme Court — then back to the district court.
Chambers said that it means there will be no more appeals.
"This is just a final judgment," Chambers explained. "It brings an end to it for us. I’m just glad it’s done. It’s in the best interest of the taxpayers. I’m glad it’s done and in the past."
Chambers said that he had no other comment on the vote, or the Harper case.
The final settlement document states the following, under a section labeled "No Wrongdoing":
"Nothing herein is intended, nor should be interpreted as an admission of liability or wrongdoing by the Persons Released, all liability or wrongdoing being expressly denied. The consideration paid herein is to buy peace and to avoid the rigors and costs of further litigation."
The Glen Rose Reporter called two different phone numbers in an attempt to contact Harper for a comment on the settlement later in the day Wednesday, and left a voice mail asking for a response. No reply was received by the deadline for this edition on Thursday.
The final settlement document also states:
"In exchange for the consideration set forth in this Agreement, Harper hereby releases and forever discharges with prejudice the State of Texas and Somervell County, including all agencies and offices thereof, employees, current or former members of the Somervell County Commissioners Court during the Lawsuit, and attorneys that represented the State of Texas in the Lawsuit including the current Somervell County Attorney, all in their individual and official capacities (hereinafter "Persons Released"), from any and all claims, causes of action, remedies, or rights of any kind whatsoever, whether known or unknown in law, equity or otherwise, which Harper has or had that relate in any way to the Lawsuit or Judgment, and any or all prior dealings between the Parties as of the Effective Date of this Agreement, except for the obligations imposed by the Agreement."
The January 2015 Glen Rose Reporter article included a timeline of events, which stated that on Oct. 23, 2014, "Harper files Anti-SLAPP motion to dismiss the case against him pursuant to Chapter 27 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code, moving for dismissal of all claims asserted by Text and for an award of attorney’s fees, costs and sanctions. In the filing, Harper claims the petition is ’an attempt’ to ’punish Harper for exercising his constitutional right to petition the government and his right to free speech.’"
Three days later, on Oct. 30, 2014, the article stated there was an "Order on State’s motion to suspend officer from his office as director for the hospital district, pending trial. The order calls for Harper to be temporarily suspended pending an eligibility ruling by the Medicaid Board upon completion and submittal of PIF-2 form."
According to the website rcfp.org, "Anti-SLAPP laws are meant to provide a remedy to strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPP). Anti-SLAPP laws are intended to prevent people from using courts, and potential threats of a lawsuit, to intimidate people who are exercising their First Amendment rights."
More information on the Texas anti-SLAPP law, which went into effect June 17, 2011, can be found online (slappedintexas.com).
An article in the May 2015 Reporter stated that the hospital board deadlocked, 3-3 (with Harper recusing himself) on a motion to reimburse Harper "for his legal fees stemming from" the civil lawsuit filed by Darrell Best.
In the March 2016 hospital board election, Harper filed in an attempt to retain his seat. The top five hospital board candidates received no fewer than 542 votes each, while Harper and one other candidate received 95 and 91 votes, respectively.
In an April 2016 article in The Reporter, it was reported that Chief Justice Tom Gray of the Texas 10th Court of Appeals ruled that the 249th District Court in Somervell County incorrectly ruled against Harper in his motion to dismiss the removal petition filed by Darrell Best.
That article goes on to quote Judge Gray: "Having determined that the trial court erred in failing to dismiss the State’s petition for removal, the trial court’s order denying Harper’s motion to dismiss signed March 11, 2015 is reversed. This proceeding is remanded to the trial court for rendition of an order granting Harper’s motion to dismiss and for a determination of Harper’s request for court costs, reasonable attorney’s fees, and sanctions."
That 2016 article in The Reporter also explained: "The original petition, which is a civil suit and not a criminal matter, was brought about when Best felt Harper was out of line after suggesting a possible cut or even elimination of the SCHD’s tax, previous reports state. According to the opinion, the State then intervened and amended the suit to add a claim that Harper violated the Texas Open Meetings act when he sent a series of text messages to three other board members and mentioned conversing with a fourth outside of a board meeting."
That article included a quote from Paul Harper, stating, "We at the Harper household are very pleased with the 10th Court of Appeals opinion and judgement against the state of Texas."
Among the information Paul Harper provided to the Glen Rose Reporter in April 2016 when he was running for re-election to the hospital board stated that he was "currently an engineer at Trend Micro and formerly an engineer at Microsoft for 20 years fixing problems."