Texas AG asked about use of forfeiture funds

Chris Rizo Mar. 27, 2010, 2:10pm

AUSTIN, Texas (Legal Newsline)-Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has been asked to issue an opinion on whether a county attorney may use forfeiture funds to pay a private law firm for representation in a civil lawsuit.

The request came as Cameron County District Attorney Armando Villalobos is asking to use Fund 900 monies to pay lawyers who assisted in the lawsuit he filed last year against the county commissioners.

Cameron County Auditor Martha Galarza asked Abbott to issue an opinion on whether forfeiture funds can be used to pay Villalobos's legal fees.

Galarza said sought the attorney general's advice after she received a purchase order from the county attorney's office to pay $12,500 to the law firm of Gonzalez Palacios LLP of McAllen for legal services.

Villalobos sued the county commissioners in December in an effort to bring the Cameron County Civil Legal Division under his jurisdiction. Until the case went to the Thirteenth Court of Appeals in January, the lawsuit was handled by Villalobos's staff attorneys.

In her request to Abbott, the county auditor noted that the attorney general opined earlier this year that a county attorney cannot use forfeiture funds to pay for an official's legal defense, under the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure.

"Although the requested expenditure by the county attorney is not for his legal defense, it is an expenditure for legal expenses concerning a lawsuit instituted by him in a civil matter," Galarza wrote.

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