Lawsuit: HISD's auditor booted after talking to cops, feds

Saturday, August 6, 2016

HOUSTON (KTRK) -- One day after being summoned back to work after being suspended for months, Houston Independent School District auditor Richard Patton filed a lawsuit against the district, saying that when he started talking to police and the FBI about district officials possibly breaking the law he was silenced.

"They retaliated against him for reporting violations of law," Patton lawyer David Feldman said Friday.

Read the lawsuit here.

In addition, records obtained by Ted Oberg Investigates Friday show that the new position that Patton is walking back into is a curtailed one, with HISD trustees putting its auditor on a tight leash.

HISD has an entire department dedicated to making sure that HISD trustees comply with campaign finance rules. Patton ran that office. It's now been yanked out from under him under what HISD officials called a "reorganization."

For example, emails from from that department his year show that HISD board chairman Manuel Rodriguez and Diana Davila accepted campaign contributions from vendors requiring them to recuse themselves from participating and voting on matters concerning those vendors.

Also, district emails show numerous companies gave campaign cash given to trustees and the HISD ethics department asked trustees to return campaign cash donated in violation of district policy.

In another instance school ethics officials found three school trustees -- Davila, Jolanda Jones and Rhonda Skillern-Jones who took a trip to a California conference initially paid for by a vendor. The district has since paid using district travel funds.

This ethics and compliance office has been transferred away to district lawyers.

Under the so-called reorganization this means that none of this would be public, because the district could claim attorney-client privilege.

"By moving it to legal, you are burying it," Feldman said.

Months ago, school board chief Manny Rodriguez said Patton's suspension had nothing to do with Patton's FBI conversations.

"You'll just have to take my word for it," he said at the time.

Reached by phone today, Rodriguez told abc13 "all of this arose from Mr. Patton's misuse of school resources."

The only "misuse" of school resources Ted Oberg Investigates could find in connection with Patton was scanning three personal records on a district copier.

The district spent $17,000 tax dollars to investigate it. The investigative report has yet to be released and the district has been fighting to keep the report under wraps.

Asked for more clarification, Rodriguez hung up on abc13.

"To be that public watchdog, you have to be able to call it like you see it," Feldman said. "We believe that was Richard Patton's undoing."

Patton's lawsuit reveals he discussed them with Houston Independent School District police, the Harris County District Attorney and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Three days after the district found out Patton was talking to the FBI, the school board suspended him.

In part, Patton seeks in his lawsuit protection from retaliation from the district, as well as a multi-year contract.