County Attorney Vince Ryan obtains court order Against Alief shopping center where Kush is sold

   Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan won a restraining order Wednesday from a Harris County civil district court against the owners of an Alief shopping center and their tenant to close the store and stop the sale of synthetic marijuana.
   Judge Randy Wilson, of the 157th Civil District Court of Harris County, ordered the owners of the Smoke & Tote Shop located at 12127 Bissonnet to cease operations, finding the store participated in criminal activity. He also ordered the Lock Lim Management Trust, the owner of the shopping center, to take measures to close the store immediately.

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Wrongful conviction lawsuit dismissed

   A federal district judge has dismissed all claims against Harris County and a former district attorney by a woman who claimed she was wrongfully convicted for possession of cocaine because of a defective field test kit. Judge Ewing Werlein, Jr. held that the county's employees who were involved in the prosecution were "acting in the prosecutorial capacity to enforce state penal law" as agents for the State of Texas and the county cannot be liable for any constitutional violations that may have occurred.  The judge also ruled that any claims against the district attorney are barred by absolute prosecutorial immunity.  The case is Albritton v. City of Houston, et. al. http://www.harriscountytx.gov/cmpdocuments/caoimages/AlbrittonVCityofHoustonOrder.pdf

Harris County files lawsuit against Baytown gas station allowing illegal activity

BAYTOWN, Texas - The Harris County Attorney’s Office said on behalf of the State of Texas, it has filed a lawsuit against a Chevron truck stop accused of not stopping illegal activity.

According to the lawsuit that was filed on Thursday, it states that the gas station, located at 1901 East Freeway, is well known to the community and law enforcement for drugs, prostitution, assaults on the property and illegal gambling.

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Harris County Attorney Ryan Wins Court Order Closing Unlicensed Night Club

Club had been location of numerous crimes, including murder

   Harris County Attorney Ryan has won a temporary restraining order closing down an unlicensed club that was the scene of many serious criminal offenses, including a murder. The lawsuit against Club Life at 3704 Fannin also accuses the club of selling alcohol without a state license.
   Judge Sylvia A. Matthews of the 215th District Court ordered the club closed in an order signed March 20, after the County Attorney filed a lawsuit which outlines the numerous crimes that have been committed at the club. These include a murder late last year where police found 30 shell casings outside the club, assaults by both club employees and customers, sexual assault and weapons offenses. Club Life does not have a permit to sell alcohol from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, yet it continues to sell alcohol and advertises that it sells alcohol.
   “Club Life is a danger to the patrons, employees, residents living nearby, and to law enforcement,” said County Attorney Ryan. “The frequent assaults and liquor violations result in serious and sometimes fatal injuries and incidents that harm the public.”
  Defendants are the owners and operators of the club, the owner of the property where it is located, as well as the property itself. Sticky Productions LLC, which is employed by Club Life to promote the club, is also a defendant in the suit. Sticky Productions was a defendant in a previous lawsuit involving a club called Limelight and was ordered to stop promoting Limelight.

A hearing is set for March 30 in the 215th District Court.

Follow the links for the petition and temporary restraining order.

Judge Rules for Harris Health in nurse's ADA claim

   A U. S. District judge has ruled that Harris County Hospital District did not violate the Americans with Disability Act when it discharged a nurse who could not perform her duties. Ajeleti, a long term nurse in the Obstetrics Unit at Ben Taub suffered a back injury at work and was medically restricted from performing tasks such as standing and lifting.  As an accommodation, Harris Health transferred Plaintiff to a sedentary position in the Ask My Nurse unit where her primary job duty was telephone triage of patients.  During the 90 day orientation period, Plaintiff had difficulty performing job duties related to telephone triage including problems navigating in EPIC, performing internet searches, and correctly documenting calls.  Plaintiff alleged that Harris Health’s comments related to her back injury, and resulting termination were pretext for disability discrimination. Plaintiff was terminated from her position due to her inability to perform nursing clinical duties in the Ask My Nurse department. Ajeleti filed suit alleging that she was terminated because of her disability in violation of the Americans with Disability Act. On January 24, 2017 Judge Alfred Bennett granted Harris Health’s Motion for Summary Judgment stating that “a reasonable juror could not find that Harris Health’s proffered reason for Plaintiff’s termination, namely, poor performance during the orientation period, was pretext for discrimination.”

Please click here to view the court order.

Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan Seeks to Stop Century-old Pasadena Refinery's Pollution

The hits just keep on coming for Pasadena Refining System Inc., one of the oldest refineries in Texas.


   Shortly after being slapped with a federal lawsuit in which two environmental groups alleged the century-old refinery has violated the federal Clean Air Act, the company, owned and operated by Petrobras, the state-run Brazilian petroleum company, has been tapped again, this time for alleged violations of state environmental laws. Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan recently filed an enforcement action in state district court seeking to hold the company responsible for repeated violations of state environmental protection laws.
Ryan's filing came hot on the heels of the federal lawsuit filed last Thursday by the Sierra Club and Environment Texas, as we previously reported. Their suit is a citizen-enforcement claiming the refinery company has violated the Clean Air Act "thousands" of times, releasing sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions in amounts that violate hourly and yearly limits set by the law.

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Houston gentleman's club accused of violating city, state regulations

John Suayan, Southeast Texas Record
Feb. 21, 2017

   The State of Texas is pursuing legal action against one of the city’s gentleman’s clubs for alleged violations of city and state regulations, recent Harris County District Court records show.
   A lawsuit filed Feb. 17 in the Harris County 80th District Court claims that Xplicit Entertainment, LLC, doing business as Xplicit, operates an after-hours strip club located at 9373 Richmond Ave. that lacks proper permits and is privy to criminal activity.
   The state asserts that Xplicit does not have a permit from the City of Houston to operate as a sexually oriented business. Xplicit is further faulted for selling and serving alcoholic beverages without a Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission-issued permit.
   Shootings, aggravated assaults, robberies, and other criminal activity have occurred at the establishment with the most recent incident being the shooting of two people in the parking lot last month, the original petition says.
   Consequently, the state seeks temporary and permanent injunctive relief.

Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan filed the suit on behalf of the state.
Harris County 80th District Court Case No. 2017-11314  

County dismissed from videotaping lawsuit

Federal Judge Gray Miller has dismissed Harris County from a lawsuit filed by a man who claimed his constitutional rights were violated when he was arrested while videoing a deputy sheriff’s interaction with a motorist during a “seat belt” check. The court found that the plaintiff’s conclusory argument that there was no policy and little training in place was not sufficient evidence to establish the lack of a policy was a deliberate or conscious decision on the part of Harris County.  The court found that the plaintiff failed to provide any evidence that Harris County deputy sheriffs retaliating against civilians is a widespread practice or custom in Harris County.  The case is Basler vs. Harris County. Assistant County Attorney Laura Hedge represented Harris County.

 

Houston's ClubAtlanta hit with restraining order days before Super Bowl

    A Houston judge issued a Friday order forbidding the Galleria-area ClubAtlanta from serving alcohol, even with the big-business Super Bowl weekend just ahead.

   After police accused the club of blatantly advertising all-night hours in violation of state law, Judge Patricia Kerrigan slapped the troubled watering hole with an order "necessary to prevent the threatened or ongoing violation of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code," according to court documents.

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With Texas Bar's Hands Tied, Harris County Prosecutor Aims to Stop Houston Lawyer in Alleged Fraud of Immigration Clients

 While the State Bar of Texas is normally responsible for stopping lawyers from defrauding the public, in an unusual move, the Harris County Attorney's Office has stepped in to stop the practice of a Houston immigration attorney who allegedly took $140,000 from over 50 clients and offered them no legal work in return.

   The prosecutor's office recently filed the deceptive trade practice and fraud action in Harris County District Court against Prince Uchechi Nwakanma and The Prince Law Group and obtained a temporary restraining order that prevents Nwakanma from practicing as a lawyer and freezes the assets of his firm.

   According to the petition in Texas v. Nwakanma, Nwakanma graduated from Texas Southern University Law School in 2002 but failed the Texas bar exam twice and has never been licensed in the state. Instead, he obtained a law license in Kansas and set up an immigration practice in Houston in 2003. Lawyers are permitted to use out-of-state licenses to practice in federal immigration courts.

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County Attorney Ryan Wins Court Order To Stop Lawyer Defrauding Clients: Charged Thousands for Immigration Work Not Done

   Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan has won a court order against an attorney who was charging his clients thousands of dollars for immigration legal work that was never performed.

   The lawsuit, filed by Ryan on behalf of the State of Texas, accuses Uchechi Okechukwu Nwakanma and his agents of violating the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act by defrauding local residents of thousands of dollars for legal services related to immigration matters. The suit says Nwakanma charged unsuspecting clients for legal services that were never performed.

   Nwakanma is also accused of engaging in false, misleading and deceptive trade practices by promising wholly unrealistic or even legally unattainable results in immigration matters, charging thousands in legal fees based on those false hopes and refusing to refund his clients’ money when they discovered they had been deceived.

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Super Bowl, human trafficking super problem

 The Super Bowl is days from kick off right here in Houston. Unfortunately, big sporting events often bring big problems with human trafficking. What's being done to fight it? Well, Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan is saying, 'not in my town.' He’s launching a new effort that's the first of its kind in the country.
                       
   He released a whole list of companies that Ryan says are run by criminals who are making money using sex slaves.  ”Often they're under age.  Often they have no choice but to continue to do this if they want to survive.  Clearly they're unlicensed massage parlors.  That is not legal.”

   ”There are over 300 of these illicit massage parlors.  There are more illicit sexually oriented businesses in our town than there are Starbucks and we need to be ashamed of that,” adds Dr. Bob Sanborn with Children At Risk.  The county attorney is working with the non-profit Children at Risk to identify the alleged bogus businesses that are often in plazas operating in plain sight as police work constantly to shut them down.

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County Attorney Ryan, Children at Risk Collaborate on Human Trafficking Project AWESOME

Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan and Children at Risk today announced a collaboration to fight the horrific crime of human trafficking.

Project AWESOME—Attorneys Working to End Sexually-Oriented Massage Establishments—will partner the County Attorney’s Office and Children at Risk with lawyers from the Reed Smith law firm to close down unlicensed massage parlors which often are fronts for prostitution and human trafficking that force women and children who have been trafficked to work as prostitutes.

Reed Smith will provide volunteer lawyers to supplement the work being done by the County Attorney’s Office to shut down these businesses by various means as public nuisances.  Children at Risk has initially identified over 200 unlicensed establishments which will be targeted immediately.

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Judge finds for Harris Health in ADA claim

   Federal District Court Judge Alfred Bennett granted judgment in favor of the Harris County Hospital District in a case in which a nurse claimed she was fired as the result of a back injury she suffered at work. After her back injury, which prevented her from standing or lifting, the District as an accommodation, transferred the nurse to a sedentary position in the Ask My Nurse unit where her primary job duty was telephone triage of patients. During the 90 day orientation period at Ask My Nurse, her supervisors reported that she had difficulty performing job duties related to telephone triage including problems navigating the District's computer system, performing internet searches and correctly documenting calls. She alleged that the Hospital District's termination for her inability to perform her new job was a pretext to hide disability discrimination. The Court determined that a reasonable juror could not find that Harris Health's proffered reason for Plaintiff's termination, namely, poor performance during the orientation period, was pretext for discrimination and granted Harris Health's Motion for Summary Judgment. Assistant County Attorney Sara Thomas represented the Harris County Hospital District. The case is Ajeleti v Harris County Hospital District. The opinion is available here.

County Attorney Vince Ryan, Attorney General, City win court order to stop Kush at Telephone Road Tobacco Shop

Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan, joined by city officials and the Attorney General’s Office, won a restraining order against Texas Tobacco and Smoke Shop to stop the sale of synthetic marijuana, an illegal drug known on the streets as “Kush.”

   On Wednesday, January 19th, Judge Jeff Shadwick, 55th Civil District Court, ordered the owners of the Texas Tobacco and Smoke Shop located at 5300 Telephone Road to immediately cease selling any synthetic marijuana. In August, officers with Houston Police Department Narcotics Division conducted an undercover narcotics investigation at the shop.  During the investigation, the officer purchased 25 bags of Kush as well as “Dro”, the street term for hydroponic marijuana. When officers returned to the store with a search warrant, they found the drugs stored in unmarked, white bags, a common practice in order to circumvent law enforcement.

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Sheshtawy v. Harris County

    U.S. District Court Judge Kenneth Hoyt has ordered the lawyers and plaintiffs to pay attorneys fees to Harris County as sanctions for the Plaintiff’s repeated filing of frivolous motions including a Motion for New Trial  presenting “groundless arguments”.  The Plaintiffs originally sued Harris County probate judges, a court coordinator, opposing litigants, opposing counsel, and others claiming that County and its officials conspired to cheat the plaintiffs out of property due them from certain probate and trust estates.  The Court dismissed the lawsuit in October, 2016 calling the plaintiffs’ claims “pure zanyism.” The Court ruled there were no pleadings showing when, how and by whose acts or authority the Harris County Probate Court became an “association” as defined by RICO.

    On December 14, 2016 the judge ordered plaintiffs and their attorneys to pay $10,000 as sanctions resulting from their filing a “frivolous” motion for new trial; $6,750 to be paid by the lawyers and $3,250 to be paid by the individual plaintiffs. The Courtalso conditionally awarded $105,000 to the various defendants to be paid in the event the plaintiffs appeal the sanctions order.

    Laura Hedge was the lead attorney representing the Harris County defendants.  The case is Sheshtawy v Conservative Club of Houston. Click here to view the order of dismiss and here to view the Order Granting Sanctions.

County sues La Porte plant over suspected water contamination

A white residue tinted nearby plants, a gelatinous substance clouded pools of water and aluminum solutions oozed out of uncapped containers onto the ground when county inspectors stopped by Gulbrandsen Technologies last year, according to court papers.

   Nineteen months earlier, a mechanical failure at the company's La Porte plant caused a 400-gallon spill of a neurotoxic chemical that created a fog-like cloud that wafted over to a neighboring plant.

   The spill was a relatively small-scale mishap, but taken in combination with the other incident, it was enough to touch off a lawsuit.

   The Harris County Attorney's Office filed a legal claim last month asking for stiff civil penalties and injunctive relief that would force the chemical company to implement a site-specific Storm Water Pollution Prevention Plan, decommission a problem reactor and comply with its existing air emission permit.

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County Attorney Vince Ryan wins court order to shut down Crosstimbers Store selling kush

Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan, along with Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and the City of Houston won a court order to shut down an East Crosstimbers convenience store in the ongoing battle against synthetic marijuana.

   Earlier this year, County Attorney Ryan filed suit against the owners of the Brothers Meat Market at 3134 East Crosstimbers to stop the sale of synthetic marijuana. Narcotics officers with the Houston Police Department, working undercover, purchased synthetic marijuana hidden under the counter from the store clerk. The store clerk, Omar Jaber and one of the owners, Ali Jaber Faiz, were arrested and charged with felony possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver.

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Judge dismisses deputy's ADA suit

   In an order signed December 7, 2016 a federal district judge found that Harris County was not liable for the Sheriff’s administrative dismissal of a deputy sheriff who  had been on medical leave continuously for more than six years.  The Plaintiff suffered severe injuries in an off duty motor vehicle accident in 2006 and had not worked since that date. The deputy claimed the Sheriff violated the ADA in deciding to end his employment.  The Court found that although there was no dispute that Plaintiff had a disability and that he was subject to an adverse employment decision on account of his disability, there was no evidence that he was physically able to perform the duties of a deputy sheriff even with a reasonable accommodation.

The court dismissed plaintiff’s claims with prejudice. The case is Robertson vs Harris County.  The order can be viewed at

http://www.harriscountytx.gov/cmpdocuments/caoimages/RobertsonVHarrisCountyOrdergrantingMSJ.PDF