Lockhart Lawyer Files Whistleblower Suit Against County

, Texas Lawyer

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Reporting that Caldwell County was using "stolen software" cost a Lockhart attorney his job as county administrator, he alleges in a federal lawsuit. But the county and three of its commissioners want the suit dismissed — or at least clarified.

Ronald Heggemeier "was trying to do this job as an administrator in such a way to keep the county in line and within the law. And, in doing that, he made some of these commissioners angry, and they retaliated against him," says John Judge, a shareholder in Judge, Kostura & Putman in Austin who represents Heggemeier.

"It's too premature to actually discuss anything concerning the case," says Eric Magee, an associate with Allison, Bass & Associates in Austin. He represents the defendants in Heggemeier v. Caldwell County Commissioners Court, et al.: Caldwell County; county commissioners Alfredo Muñoz, Ernest Madrigal and Joe Roland; and the Caldwell County Commissioners Court.

Heggemeier alleges in his Aug. 27 complaint that he reported "the County's failure to purchase sufficient software licenses over the last 10-12 years" to Assistant Criminal District Attorney Mack Harrison in March.

"The County had purchased only 50 licenses for over 250 computers, which at the time [were] being operated with stolen software," he continues. He discussed the issue with commissioners in a March 18 executive session, he continues. In open session, the county commissioners court voted to spend $72,500 for software licenses.

During an executive session the next week, Heggemeier alleges he also told commissioners the county was "violating state law governing purchase of goods and services" and said it needed a purchasing department.

He alleges that Roland placed an item on the April 15 commissioners court agenda "to abolish the County Administrator's Department. . . ."

The matter was delayed, but on May 28, Muñoz, Roland and Madrigal voted to abolish the county administrator's department, eliminate a personnel policy regarding posting job notices, and eliminate policies about the county judge's authority to appoint his office staff and the county administrator, alleges the complaint.

"The Commissioners' attempt to eliminate the County Administrator department during the fiscal budget year is tantamount to firing the County Administrator. . .," notes the complaint.

Heggemeier seeks injunctive relief, actual damages, costs, attorney fees, reinstatement, lost wages, benefits and seniority rights. He seeks to enforce the whistleblower act's $15,000 civil penalty against Muñoz, Madrigal and Roland.

Heggemeier alleges the commissioners court, Muñoz, Roland and Madrigal violated his due process and equal protection rights under 42 USC. §1983 and §1988.

He alleges the county violated the Texas Whistleblower Act.

Ex Parte Young

Further, he brings a federal common law claim under Ex Parte Young (1908). He explains in a later filing that, in Young, the U.S. Supreme Court found that a Minnesota state commission exceeded its authority when setting a merchandise-transportation rate. The attorney general's effort to enforce the rate violated the plaintiff's constitutional rights, so the AG and the state didn't have immunity from the claims.

Heggemeier was appointed by the county judge, and the commissioners court didn't have authority to fire him, he argues in the complaint; he has an "enforceable property right in his position and salary," and the right was taken without equal protection or due process.

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