TEXAS CITY — Since 2007 the College of the Mainland has spent more than $3 million on legal expenses.

That figure includes expenses on lawsuits, as well as expenses on routine matters such as trademark issues, land and equipment purchases and maintaining the policy manual, college President Beth Lewis said.  

Lewis said the college did not have a dollar amount for how much had been spent on lawsuits alone.

Lewis said the college’s legal tab was not out of proportion for a college with a $32 million annual budget, more than 300 full-time employees and 200 part-time employees

“We are like a small company,” Lewis said.

Along with the approximately $3.2 million in legal expenses in past seven years, the college has also had to pay out about $129,500 in settlements, according to the college’s records.  

The college has also received about $25,000 in settlements.

Lewis said that when it comes to spending money on lawsuits the college has no choice.

“You have to respond,” Lewis said. “You have to hire a lawyer to defend yourself.”

Since 2005, 24 lawsuits have been filed against the college, according to a summary of lawsuits provided by the college. Of those, 12 have been dismissed, four are active, four are awaiting decisions by the court and five have ruled for the plaintiff, according to the data provided by the college. “What you can see is that 50 percent of these lawsuits get dismissed in summary judgments, which means there was nothing to them to begin with,” Lewis said.

The college was been mired in a series of lawsuits since 2005 that include allegations of wrongful termination and of race, gender and sexual discrimination. Some involve claims of violations of First Amendment rights.

Lewis said the college and its attorney felt strongly the pending lawsuits would be dismissed.

“I think the courts bear us out that we are not doing anything wrong,” she said.

The college is also taking steps that Lewis said would help reduce lawsuits.

A lot more supervisor training is being done, she said.

Those supervisors are also being supported by the administration when they take disciplinary action against bad or underperforming employees, Lewis said.

She said a culture change is occurring at the college, where, in the past, no one could get fired no matter how badly they performed.

“We sort of sanctioned incompetence and laziness,” she said

Lewis said that is changing. Supervisors have been told that if they have someone who is not doing the job they should follow the process of pointing out the problem and then following with higher levels of discipline, she said.

The college wants to keep good workers, but those doing a bad job are not going to be shuffled from one department to another, she said.

Of the cases that the college has had to settle, two have been First Amendment lawsuits brought by former Professor David Michael Smith.

Smith was fired in August and has filed a lawsuit against the college. He continues to be the president of COM-Unity, an employee union.

Smith said he disagreed with the college’s count of lawsuits, saying the college had been sued 23 times and 11 were dismissed since 2005.

He would also challenge some of the dismissals issued by judges in regards to those cases, Smith said.

But by whatever count, Smith said five settlements were still an indication that “something was grievously, grievously wrong at (College of the Mainland).”

“Any higher education institution which is sued this frequently and which had to settle about one-third of the lawsuits has some grave problems that cannot be explained away,” Smith said.

The change in culture, Smith argued, was a rolling back of basic and legal right and a promotion of fear and intimidation.

“As long as the board and administration continue to mistreat people, they will face union opposition, grievances, legal action, open criticism and further erosion of public support,” Smith said.

Contact reporter Christopher Smith Gonzalez at 409-683-5314 or chris.gonzalez@galvnews.com.

At a glance

24 lawsuits have been filed against the college since 2005

12 dismissed in summary judgment for College of the Mainland

5 ruled for plaintiff

4 awaiting decisions by the court

4 active lawsuits

The college has spent about $3.2 million in legal expenses since 2007.

The college has spent $129,500 to settle five lawsuits since 2005.

*SOURCE: College of the Mainland


(9) comments

Victor Krc

Here we go again!

I am just flabbergasted at the spin that Smith puts on the issues here.

First, there is the issue of lawsuit settlement. The spin is that COM "had to settle" about one third of the lawsuits. COM did not "have" to settle any lawsuit. The Plaintiff's did not have to accept any settlement offer, they could have gone forward with the litigation and probably gotten more than an average settlement of $25,900 per lawsuit since things are so "grievously, grievously wrong" at COM. But they did not. Why not?

The fact is the Plaintiffs decided to settle since they reasoned that that was the best they could do given the merits of their cases. Settlement of a lawsuit in no way indicates culpability of the defendant, it is the result of a reasoned cost - benefit analysis given the cost of legal defense, and, again, plaintiffs did not have to accept.

I think that there is a prima facie case to be made that there has been a campaign of harassment against COM since efforts have been made to weed out the lazy and incompetent members of staff. The are "shotgunning" these lawsuits so they can get press coverage.

Another bit of verbal puffery by Smith: "He would also challenge some of the dismissals issued by the by the judges in regards to those cases, Smith said". What does that mean? Since he used the passive voice, I am assuming he means that there is nothing substantial to his challenge to these dismissals, he just thinks the dismissals were wrong because his side lost. So what?

I am still open to any evidence of gross mismanagement at COM, but so far I have not seen any. All I have seen so far is an active campaign of harassment at the public's expense driven by self - serving, self - centered opportunists.

Ann Derek

And it's worth every penny spent if it gets rid of profs like avowed communist David Michael Smith, who now works for the Galveston Daily News. People like him have no place in academia, but unfortunately they are more the norm than the exception.

Victor Krc

I did not know that he is working for the Daily News. One other thing to be annoyed at the News besides that irritating Ashley Furniture pop - up ad flashing in my face when I navigate around the website.

Seriously, if that is the case, and I have no reason to doubt you, that can explain the slant on the Daily News coverage in the past. There was always a lot of innuendo but very little substance in those "guest columns" regarding COM that were published in the past.

Victor Krc

Also, another observation:

If Smith is indeed an employee of the News then why wasn't a disclosure of that fact printed in connection with the story?

Taylor is always banging on about the difficulties that he is having in getting public records released, probably rightly so. But it seems to me to be a tad hypocritical in this case to not disclose when an employee of the News is a principal player in a news story.

lauraelder Staff
Laura Elder

Former professor David Michael Smith does not work for The Galveston County Daily News. And he never has. He contributes guest columns, just like other members of the public.
Michael A. Smith is the associated editor. They are not the same people.

Victor Krc

Thank you for the clarification, Ms. Elder. I will now drop my subscription renewal check in the mail tomorrow morning in spite of the annoying in - your - face - pop-up ads. People who pay for access should not have to put up with this type of advertising.

lauraelder Staff
Laura Elder

Glad to hear your renewing!

Miceal O'Laochdha

I suggested the Editor hire Smith back when the community college canned him, since he has shown a real talent for getting attention for this newspaper. Plus, as an individual who has pursued his professional career at the community college level, he surely works cheap.

So, maybe GDN took it seriously and hired him?

COM ain't Berkley; Smith ain't Abbie Hoffman and...GDN ain't the Daily Worker, either.

David Smith

Ill join the " what a great job revue club " when she quits spending taxpayer money to fund a college in an area of the county that contributes nothing to it ...not one red dime...until then.....

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