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Jo Clifton is the Politics Editor for the Austin Monitor.
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Wednesday, January 29, 2020 by Jo Clifton
City pays MPT Garza’s bar dues
The city of Austin paid Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza’s bar dues in 2018 and 2019, according to information the city provided to attorney and activist Bill Aleshire through a public information request. Garza, who announced that she would not run for reelection and is seeking the Democratic nomination for Travis County attorney, deactivated her law license from October 2014 to August 2018, according to records Aleshire obtained from the State Bar of Texas.
City records show that in August 2018, a city credit card was used to pay $300 for bar dues to the State Bar of Texas. The city also paid $215 for Garza’s dues to the Austin Bar Association in June 2019 and $240 for her State Bar dues that same month.
In addition, the city paid $400 in May 2019 for Garza to attend a bench bar conference put on by the Austin Bar Association. Garza protests that there is nothing unusual about the city making those payments.
Aleshire told the Austin Monitor via email, “I cannot fathom how it is legal for Delia Garza to charge city taxpayers for her 2018 and 2019 bar dues when she reactivated her bar license in August 2018. Since she is not an attorney for the city of Austin, this is a personal expense she should have paid.”
After hearing about Aleshire’s complaint, Garza said, “It’s not unheard of for this to happen,” adding that she is an employee of the city of Austin and employers pay fees for their employees, including attorneys, architects and engineers. (Council members are specifically not city employees.)
Aleshire also noted that the State Bar threatened to suspend Garza’s license during the time it was deactivated because she failed to pay the reduced bar dues that inactive attorneys pay. Asked about her failure to pay on time, Garza told the Austin Monitor, “I think people pay late bills all the time. I was busy, I was a Council member and a new mom. It wasn’t the number-one priority at the time and I paid those late fees out of my own pocket.”
Two other lawyers on Council indicated that the city was not paying their bar dues. Ann Kitchen said as far as she can recall, the city has never paid her dues. Mayor Steve Adler told the Monitor via text his law license is inactive while he focuses on being mayor. Adler does not even ask for travel reimbursement, though he noted he does not want future mayors to avoid travel because they can’t afford to pay for it. “But I don’t get reimbursed because I want to avoid the risk of our community getting distracted with a media article if the city pays for my business purpose travel.”
Garza later texted to say, “I decided to go active so I could participate in the many immigration citizenship clinics that were happening. I also went to the Karnes detention center to help prep women on their asylum cases pro bono.”
Three other candidates – Dominic Selvera, Laurie Eiserloh and Mike Denton – are running for the Democratic nomination.
Selvera, who is in private practice, said he has paid bar dues on time himself.
Eiserloh, who heads up the labor section of the Travis County Attorney’s Office, said that the county pays the basic bar dues for all attorneys in that office, but she and others pay their own section fees, which provide for additional education.
The Monitor could not reach Mike Denton, who until recently was a county court at law judge. However, County Court at Law Judge Nancy Hohengarten told the Monitor that judges do not have to pay bar dues.
Photo by John Flynn.
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