Jury deliberating in trial between TSC and former president
The attorney for former Texas Southmost College’s president asked a jury to award her nearly $675,000 and determine an amount appropriate for diminished earnings and mental anguish Thursday afternoon during closing arguments in the four-day long trial.
Lily Tercero sued TSC after its Board of Trustees fired her in 2016 during what she alleges was a sham public hearing.
On Thursday afternoon, Tercero’s attorney Richard A. Illmer and TSC’s attorney Eduardo G. Garza presented closing arguments to an eight-member jury that adjourned to deliberations shortly after 3 p.m. As of deadline Thursday, the jury continued to deliberate.
In his closing, Illmer asked the jury to find that the trustees did not have good cause to fire Tercero and breached her contract while firing her during a sham hearing when the trustees had already made up their minds to terminate the former president.
“They were trying to manufacture good cause where it didn’t exist,” Illmer said.
TSC trustees fired Tercero with cause in September 2016 for deliberately and recklessly failing to obtain windstorm insurance with board approval in compliance with state law; for allowing TSC checks to be stamped with signatures of people who were no longer trustees; for failing to timely search and fill the position of vice president for finance and administration; for failing to inform the board of the ailing nursing program and its pending suspension; for refusing a board member’s request that he personally sign and review checks in the amount of $10,000 or more and for not complying with a request for information sought by another member.
During the trial, Illmer challenged those points, presenting evidence suggesting board members were informed of the nursing program’s status, that the checks were being stamped with prior board member signatures because new ones had not been ordered and that Tercero thought she had the authority to renew the wind storm insurance and did so because hurricane season was approaching.
“What would be reckless would have been not to insure the school,” Illmer said.
Tercero later learned of her mistake about the renewal and informed the board, Illmer has said during the proceedings.
Garza, however, presented a much different story to the jurors, using the analogy of a check engine light. Garza said that if his daughter was driving and noticed the light come on and didn’t tell him, then months later the engine is shot, his daughter would have been reckless for not first reporting the check engine light to him.
Garza said Tercero knew both about not being able to renew the windstorm insurance and was aware that the nursing program was facing suspension.
“She knew it, but didn’t say anything about the nursing program,” Garza said.
TSC’s attorney also challenged Illmer’s argument about the stamps, saying that using the signatures of board members who were no longer trustees for the college created a liability.
However, Garza did admit that Tercero was fired quickly once a new board was elected and took a majority, but that’s because all of the issues with insurance, signatures and the nursing program came to light all at once.
“Maybe the board was just opening their eyes,” Garza said.
He also challenged the allegation that Tercero was fired during a sham hearing, telling the jury that trustees deliberated for 41-minutes to make up its mind and reminding the jury that there is an audio recording that captured a debate that included disagreements, discussions of alternatives to termination and even one trustee voted against firing Tercero.
However, both sides agreed that Tercero’s office was cleared out of her belongings before the hearing ever occurred and that TSC’s then-interim president Mike Shannon told The Brownsville Herald in August that the college was searching for a new president.
The trustees suspended Tercero with pay in August 2016 and fired her in September of that same year.