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Hernandez lawsuit - the last word

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

After an exhaustive investigation - and several Texas Open Records requests - the Bandera County Courier has been unable to confirm the amount of a monetary settlement made months ago to Mario Hernandez, a former deputy with the Bandera County Sheriff's Office.

In response to his alleged wrongful termination, Hernandez filed a complaint with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against ex-Sheriff Weldon Tucker and Bandera County in April 2009. In documents forwarded to the EEOC, Hernandez charged discrimination and harassment based on national origin, citing instances where he was repeatedly referred to in racially derogatory terms.

The EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws that make it illegal to discriminate against a job applicant or employee because of the person's race; color; religion; sex, including pregnancy; national origin; age, specifically 40 years or older; disability; or genetic information.

In 2011, the county settled a so-called "whistle blower" lawsuit filed by former Deputy Scott Sharp for a reported $270,000. Sharp's lawsuit contented that Tucker had unlawfully terminated him in May 2009 for "reporting acts of corruption and wrongdoing" within the sheriff's department. That settlement caused the county's insurance premiums to rise appreciably.

Subsequently, Tucker resigned in disgrace to forestall a trial in district court for felony abuse of official capacity. Tucker pleaded guilty for repeated personal use of a county rescue boat.

In June 2011, the Texas Association of Counties (TAC) Risk Management Team increased Bandera County's liability insurance premiums by $135,000 due to "excessive claims" that had apparently arose out of Sharp's settlement. TAC carries professional liability insurance for Bandera County public officials.

Bandera County Judge Richard Evans described the increase as a "contribution due for a retrospective-rated premium," meaning that continuing litigation and pay-offs necessitated the one-time payment.

"We contribute to a risk pool for defending us in lawsuits," Evans explained. "When we joined the risk pool, we have it in our contract that we would be subject to the retrospective (payment)."

In Hernandez's case, however, neither Bandera County nor attorney Robert T. Bass of Allison, Bass & Associates, LLP of Austin, the firm that defended the county in the federal lawsuit, was officially privy to the monetary settlement - or their lips remain definitely zipped.

The rumor mill put Hernandez's monetary settlement at anywhere from $50,000 to $75,000, but the Courier was unable to confirm a definitive amount. However, the sum seemed hardly sufficient to cause a blip in the county's insurance premiums.

Apparently, TAC insurance adjusters settled the lawsuit without involving county officials - or attorney Bass.

Hernandez also received a $20,000 settlement from the City of Bandera after charging his fellow police officers with discrimination. He is currently employed as a law enforcement officer near Seguin and declined to comment for this article.

And, that - as they say - is finally that.