DONNA — Javier Villalobos, the McAllen-area attorney with extensive experience representing Rio Grande Valley municipalities and other local public entities, has stepped down as Donna’s city attorney.
Villalobos notified the city of his decision to resign in a letter dated Nov. 6, citing “other public service commitments” in conflict with his schedule availability.
“(W)ith excessive events, it has become a bit burdensome on my schedule,” Villalobos wrote in his letter, which was addressed to Donna City Manager Carlos Yerena. “As such, I respectfully submit my resignation to be effective December 1, 2019.”
The same day Donna received Villalobos’ letter, the city posted notice of a special council meeting to be held at noon Saturday to accept the resignation and appoint Villalobos’ successor.
By a unanimous vote of those present, the council accepted the resignation before appointing attorney Ricardo Perez, of Pharr, to the position, effective immediately. Mayor Rick Morales and Place 4 Councilman Eloy Avila Jr. were not present at the Saturday meeting.
Perez already serves as the city’s bond counsel for outstanding debt obligations related to the Donna-Rio Bravo International Bridge and several public infrastructure improvement projects. The city appointed Perez to that position in June, after it terminated its agreement with Winstead PC.
Perez declined to comment Saturday about his new position as city attorney.
However, the city manager spoke highly of Perez. “I know he was the attorney with (the city of) Hidalgo. He’s also represented (Donna) as our bond counsel, so, we’re pretty comfortable with his qualifications,” Yerena said of Perez’s bona fides.
For his part, Villalobos served the city for approximately a decade — first, in an eight-year stint that began in 2001, and then most recently over the past two years.
Reached by phone Saturday afternoon, Villalobos — who also serves as the District 1 McAllen city commissioner — said he is reaching the point in his career where it’s time to slow things down. “I’m kind of weaning myself out of this stuff … even trial work,” Villalobos said.
Along with the city of Donna, Villalobos has served as the city attorney for the cities of San Juan, Edcouch, Elsa and Progreso. He has also served as legal counsel for the Edcouch-Elsa and Progreso school districts.
And he represents Crystal City, a town approximately 90 miles north of Laredo, in some of its litigation, he said.
San Juan fired Villalobos as its city attorney in 2017 after a new majority took over the city commission. And Edcouch ousted him in December 2018 after a brouhaha regarding the eligibility of a political candidate led to the city being on the hook for the legal bills generated by the dispute.
Last month, the attorney agreed to provide legal services to the La Joya Housing Authority at a rate of $150 per hour, though Villalobos said the agreement is on an as needed basis and that he has thus far not charged the housing authority.
Villalobos leaves Donna as the city grapples with several ongoing lawsuits, including disputes with Hidalgo County, former contractors, and former high-level city staffers.
In some of the most recent court action, IAM Insurance Agency — which once contracted with the city to provide health insurance services — sued the city in County Court at Law No. 7 for breach of contract after the city terminated the agreement last year.
On Oct. 31, a judge granted IAM Insurance Agency’s motion for an abstract judgment seeking $300,000 — that after also granting a post-answer default judgment Oct. 28 because Villalobos failed to appear for an August hearing in the case.
Villalobos said he was unable to appear for the hearing due to being then — and still — involved in a case in the 430th state District Court. The higher court’s calling of a case took precedence over a county court, the attorney explained.
“We’re filing a motion for a new trial with an interlocutory appeal,” Villalobos said Saturday. “Those (post-judgment defaults) don’t stand, though. Donna’s not gonna pay anything on that one. It’s a very routine type of deal,” he said.
Villalobos is also involved in two divergent suits brought against Donna by two former city managers.
In the first, former City Manager Oscar Ramirez sued Donna and its former international bridge construction consultant, Ernesto Silva. Villalobos has represented Silva — and his firm, Silva, Otting & Silva — in their individual capacities as defendants since Ramirez filed suit in 2014.
However, approximately two years into that litigation, Silva became Donna’s city manager, while also remaining its bridge consultant. The city later ousted Silva, as well.
In June of this year, Silva sued the city in turn, alleging it owes him more than $2 million — approximately two-thirds of some $3.35 million in work he performed for the city, according to a copy of that lawsuit.
Villalobos has remained Silva’s attorney in Silva’s capacity as a defendant in the suit brought by Ramirez, while also serving as the city attorney for Donna, which is now a defendant against Silva. “In that case, Ernest Silva and the city of Donna are aligned together against the other one (Ramirez),” Villalobos said of the 2014 lawsuit.
Donna ultimately hired outside counsel to represent it in the suit Silva brought forth this summer — attorney Gregory Kerr, who also serves as the city of Weslaco’s District 2 commissioner. “And that’s the reason Gregory Kerr was appointed, because I had a conflict because I represented him (Silva),” Villalobos said.