Email states city attorney has his facts ‘wrong’

Last month Odessa City Attorney Dan Jones spent considerable time talking to the city council about an “unethical and illegal” contract between the City of Odessa and the Ector County Independent School District.

According to an email written by Odessa Municipal Court Director Kimberly Jozwiak to Jones following the meeting, he not only got several of his facts wrong, but his remedies are unethical.

Jones told the council ECISD has been paying the city attorneys’ office $12,000 a month for the last 10 years to handle truancy cases, which is a clear conflict of interest.

The money should have been going to Municipal Court, he said.

“It’s just like if you were to go down to the district attorney’s office of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, you wouldn’t go and say ‘Here’s $100,000, prosecute my case.’ You wouldn’t do that. It’s unethical,” he said.

Jones also alleged the funds went into the general fund instead of a separate bank account and as a result, they haven’t been properly accounted for.

Jones, who replaced Natasha Brooks after she was fired in December, asked the city council to give ECISD 60 days notice that they’d be canceling the existing contract. He also asked for permission to create a new contract.

Under the new contract, ECISD would pay Municipal Court to handle truancy cases and Jozwiak would use those funds to hire juvenile case managers, who are quasi-counselors, Jones said.

“It’s been going on 10 years?” Mayor Javier Joven asked.

“Yeah, and I mean it should have been dealt with. Now we’re dealing with it,” Jones said.

The city council voted 6-0 in favor of Jones’ suggestion. Councilmember Mark Matta wasn’t present.

Within two hours of the meeting, Jozwiak wrote Jones a lengthy email stating, “I worry that my silence will further promote what appears to be a gross misunderstanding of all that has occurred to date.”

Jozwiak pointed out it hasn’t been a crime to skip school since September 2015.

The statute creating the criminaloffense of truancy and failure to attend school were repealed at that time and replaced with the civilallegation of truant conduct. In addition, the legislature decided all Municipal and Justice Courts are also civil Truancy Courts. Moreover they ordered prior truancy cases to be expunged.

So, Jozwiak wrote, as of 2015 the interlocal agreement between ECISD and the city “addressed a criminal offense that no longer existed.”

Moreover, Jozwiak pointed out that not only has ECISD not filed a civil truant conduct case since the law was created, but if they had, the Truancy Court is not housed within the city attorneys’ office. However, the juvenile case managers subject to the agreement with ECISD were employed and housed within the city attorney’s office.

“So basically, what I am relaying is that until this very point in time, there has essentially not been a Truancy Court, so to speak,” Jozwiak said.

ECISD has filed 5,449 misdemeanor “parents contributing to non-attendance” criminal cases within Municipal Court, though.

Jozwiak also informed Jones that despite what he told council members, there have been discussions about amending the ECISD contract given the fact there are no criminal truancy laws on the books.

She also pointed out to Jones that it would actually be unethical if the city were to follow through on his suggestion that ECISD payments be directed to Municipal Court.

In early 2022, Brooks advised her she had initiated a review of all inter-local agreements, contracts and memorandums of understanding, Jozwiak wrote.

The problems with the ECISD contracts were discussed internally and in August 2022, then Assistant City Manager Phillip Urrutia, Brooks, then Senior City Attorney Monique Wimberly, Judge Carlos Rodriguez and herself met to discuss the contract and the need to update it.

According to emails obtained by the Odessa American through the Texas Public Information Act, Scott Randolph, ECISD director of community support services, had sent a letter to then Assistant City Attorney Laurie Means Aug. 1, 2022, noting it needed to updated.

At that time, Jozwiak said she discussed the fact that court administration “had no need of additional funding to perform what is our statutory duty and responsibility to provide to everyone, including the ECISD,” Jozwiak said.

Rodriguez also told the group the judiciary did not require additional funds to perform statutorily required duties, she said.

“There was much discussion about conflicts of interest, sanctions and State Bar complaints,” Jozwiak said. “Everyone agreed that for the Court to accept money from the ECISD for things like office supplies and judicial salaries could likely be construed as, not only unethical, but possibly criminal in nature.”

The City Attorneys’ Office at that time also “no longer wished to maintain the inter-local agreement, especially since the duties of the juvenile case managers had changed so drastically since the inception of the agreement, following the legislative changes in 2015,” Jozwiak said.

There were discussions about giving ECISD 60-days notice and notifying the city finance department since ECISD was mailing it their payments, Jozwiak said.

Before the new inter-local agreement could be finalized, Brooks was fired.

“I have watched misinformation or no information be weaponized against the city and against just regular, every day, hard-working people, and I don’t want that to be the case with the courts,” Jozwiak wrote in her email to Jones. “I am leaving it to you to make sure that whatever information provided is accurate. That looks like the only way to protect the city and its interests.”

She went on to note she is one of the very few people associated with the courts who was impacted by the ECISD agreement left.

“I really felt the need to share everything with you in case my status here were to suddenly change,” Jozwiak wrote.

The city’s legal department has been decimated by departures in the last nine months. In the days after Brooks was fired, three assistant city attorneys quit, leaving two attorneys.

One of those two attorneys has since quit.

The city has hired at least seven outside law firms to help represent its interests with some attorneys billing as much as $450 an hour.