Advocate fights Calhoun County to reveal settlement details

Jessica Priest By Jessica Priest

Aug. 24, 2013 at 3:24 a.m.

Although Calhoun County fears it will be sued again if it releases an employment discrimination case settlement amount, that former employee's attorney says the fear is baseless.

"The confidentiality clause was not at our request," Austin-based attorney John Melton said Friday. "We're not supposed to release the agreement unless ordered by the court, and that is what we plan to follow. We have no plans to sue the county."

Melton represents Amanda Guillen, a Port Lavaca woman who claimed three years ago that Precinct Commissioner 2 Vern Lyssy filmed her undressing in an office they shared and then fired her for complaining about it.

The Victoria Advocate filed a Texas Public Information Act complaint with the Texas attorney general's office July 26 after the county refused to release the case's settlement agreement, which would shed light on how much money the parties exchanged.

The attorney general's office replied Aug. 15, providing three rulings that support making public settlement agreements of which a governmental body is a party.

The rulings involved the city of Harlingen, the La Joya Independent School District and Harrison County.

Harrison County claimed it could withhold a settlement agreement in a case that it was a party in because a judge sealed it. The judge did not have discretion to prohibit its release, the attorney general's office ruled July 12.

Calhoun County Assistant District Attorney Shannon Salyer said from the beginning that he did not possess a copy of the agreement - the insurance company, Hiscox, did, so he could not release it. Now, he is more concerned about the repercussions of doing so.

"I've been sued by Amanda Guillen once, and I'm wondering if I am going to be sued by her again when I breach this confidentiality agreement in order to satisfy you and the AG's office," Salyer said Thursday.

Neither he nor Lyssy object to releasing it, but they would need Guillen's permission to do so, he said.

Already, Salyer requested a copy of the settlement agreement from the attorneys but with the settlement amount redacted. The Advocate requested a copy of the settlement agreement, which would include the settlement amount.

Assistant Attorney General Karen Hattaway, who is processing the complaint, will call Calhoun County on Monday, said Tom Kelley, a spokesman for the attorney general's office.

If the county chooses not to release the records, it could request a ruling, which would be issued in 45 days. During that time, the Advocate could file briefs, or letters in support of its position, Kelley said.

"(The newspaper) could also bring its own case against the parties alleging, through a writ of mandamus, to compel them to release (the records) before we are asked to rule, depending on what happens Monday or Tuesday," he said.



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