Another example of how badly private corporations can perform government services
And, as usual, the problem stems from a private corporation’s amazing greed. Kevin Krause reports in the Dallas News:
Flower Mound resident Kirk Grady owned some Hunt County property with a woodpile for about three years before he sold it in 2002.
Hunt County now wants to collect as much as $2 billion from him in fines for improper waste disposal, he says. Hunt County sued Grady in Travis County last year, and Grady is fighting back with a federal lawsuit.
Grady’s Dallas attorney, Michael R. Goldman, blames the “ridiculous and unconscionable” legal action on the county’s hiring of a private law firm to prosecute the state lawsuit with a contingency-fee provision. That means the law firm gets to keep a percentage of whatever is collected.
That has given the firm a perverse incentive to sue for as much money as possible, said Goldman. And critics say some elected officials could use the law to reward lawyers who give money to their campaigns, as was alleged in a Dallas case.
Such contingency-fee arrangements are legal under Texas law. The law, passed almost 50 years ago, gave local governments the authority to file lawsuits seeking civil penalties for alleged violations of the state’s environmental laws.
Grady is challenging that law as unconstitutional in the federal lawsuit filed last month in Dallas.
Goldman said there are currently about 50 such cases across Texas because law firms seeking big payouts are pitching these arrangements to mostly smaller cities and counties. He said the sales pitch is that local governments have zero risk and can earn potentially big revenue from enforcing state environmental laws.
Bexar County is contemplating a similar contingency-fee contract to sue a business over leaky underground storage tanks.
But Goldman said the deals are bad for businesses and an abuse of power. . .