Judge agrees with jury in Tercero $13.1M verdict

February 16, 2019

The final judgment is in: former Texas Southmost College president Lily Tercero’s $13.1 million jury verdict stands.

U.S. District Judge Fernando Rodriguez issued his final ruling on Feb. 11 awarding Tercero $13,147,878.66, along with $117,685.67 in attorney fees. TSC can appeal his ruling, though if the college does, the jury award will collect interest.

After a four-day jury trial, the federal jury awarded Tercero on Nov. 8 $674,878.66 for lost earnings from her breach-of-contract claim and $12.5 million for diminished earning capacity and mental anguish.

The litigation began in Nov. 2016 after TSC fired her in September of 2016 for deliberately and recklessly failing to obtain windstorm insurance with board approval and 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.

Tercero accused the school of pre-determining the outcome of her termination hearing, arguing she never had a fair shot during the public meeting.

The jury ruled that trustees did not have good cause to fire Tercero, that TSC breached her contract and that the trustees had already made up their minds to terminate the former president.

During the trial, former and current trustees testified as Tercero, who said she filed the lawsuit because she wanted to share her side of the story and because she felt the board’s accusations were unfounded and malicious.

Since the verdict, both TSC and Tercero have filed motions arguing over attorney fees.

Tercero’s attorney, Richard Illmer, asked for $448,306 in attorney fees, including $178,306.50 in fees for work done up until the verdict and $270,000 for post-verdict fees, including costs for potential arguments in front of the Supreme Court.

Rodriguez awarded Illmer $117,685.67, $60,620.83 less than he had asked for and denied the post-verdict fees, calling them speculative.

Illmer’s and his teams’ rates were reduced to come into line with average fees charged in Brownsville, as opposed to Dallas, where Illmer is based.

TSC asked for $43,993.50 in attorneys fees, arguing that it was entitled to those fees because several of Tercero’s claims against the college were dismissed. Rodriguez disagreed and awarded TSC nothing.

A Texas Public Information Act request revealed TSC spent $62,509.67 defending itself against Tercero’s lawsuit.