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District Judge Lynn Ellison put his signature to a summary judgement Wednesday, September 29, effectively ending a lawsuit filed by a former councilor against the city of Cotulla.
Luis Allala had alleged in his 2020 suit that the city acted improperly in providing him with a number of documents that were filed in the public record, and that the city violated the Texas Open Meetings Act in scheduling a council meeting in 2019.
That meeting, according to City Hall, was one at which discussions were held over the hiring of Administrator Larry Dovalina.
Named as defendants in the suit were the city itself, Dovalina, city secretary Bianca Maldonado, and Councilor Gilbert Ayala.
Both councilors involved in the lawsuit left office as elected officials while the suit was pending; Gilbert Ayala chose not to seek re-election last year and Luis Allala was defeated earlier this year in his bid for another term.
The city of Cotulla had earlier rejected a claim by then-councilor Allala that a number of violations had been committed because Allala had lodged the complaint in his official capacity as an elected alderman of the city. Such a move, according to Attorney Steve Pena at the time, was in itself improper because councilors are prevented by law from acting independently.
Allala’s 2020 lawsuit, however, was filed “in his individual and official capacity as Alderman, Place 4” against Councilor Ayala, Administrator Dovalina, and secretary Maldonado in their respective official capacities.
An August 26 hearing by the district judge resulted in the announcement that the city would likely prevail in its defense. That decision was sealed with the Sept. 29 signature.
Judge Ellison denied the plaintiff’s motion and said that he found “no genuine issue of material fact regarding whether defendants provided all documents in existence” as the response to Allala’s Public Information Act request on May 14, 2019.
The judge also said that the court found no defect in the city of Cotulla’s notice for the May 9, 2019 council meeting over which Allala complained. It was the meeting at which the position of city administrator was addressed.
“The court further finds that, even if any defects were present, the subsequent actions by the city council on August 8, 2019, and June 4, 2020, re-affirmed the action taken at the meeting on May 9, 2019,” Judge Ellison wrote, “and rendered [the] plaintiff’s claim alleging a Texas Open Meetings Act violation moot.”
In a brief statement to the city council in early September, shortly after Judge Ellison first announced his finding, Atty. Steve Pena said he believed the judgement would come as a relief to City Hall in that it would signal the end of the lawsuit.
The attorney also noted that documents Allala had asked for had, in fact, been provided. Pena said he did not believe a judge would find fault in the city’s provision of documents under the Public Information Act.
“The judge ruled specifically that notice was sufficient for hiring Mr. Dovalina in 2019,” Pena said of the initial hearing at which Judge Ellison announced his intentions. “There was no violation of the Open Meetings Act and there was no merit to the open records complaint.
“It was a good result,” Atty Pena added. “The city has been vindicated, despite what may have been written about it. Hopefully that’s the end of this three-headed monster.”