Government prosecutors in Hunt County are seeking this astronomical amount from Kirk Grady and Republic Waste Services of Texas, alleging that Grady violated 13 Texas water and health codes by keeping a pile of wood on his land before selling it to Republic Waste in 2002.
The lawsuit claims that Grady engaged in unlawful waste disposal by storing the wood on his property for 6,208 days. Each of the 13 alleged violations come with a penalty of $50 to $25,000 – per day.
Why such an uproar over a pile of wood? Because it’s worth more than kindling to Baker Wotring, the firm hired by the Hunt County prosecutors to bring the case on a contingency-fee basis. Baker Wotring will get up to 35% of the damages received from the case.
Contingency-fee contracts are often used when the county prosecutors claim they do not have the expertise or personnel to effectively handle a case. But the county isn’t seeking out plaintiffs’ firms to bring cases, the firms themselves are pitching lucrative cases to county prosecutors – a door-to-door sales team of sorts.
According to Baker Wotring’s website, this is at least their fourth contingency-fee case, and not their first time working with Harris County. In 2014, the firm was hired to prosecute AT&T for alleged violations of the Texas water code, resulting in a multi-million dollar settlement.
These contracts provide an incentive for the county to take on cases that it normally wouldn’t, as there is no loss to them if the case is not successful and, if it is, both the county and the private firm walk away richer.
Unfortunately, the defendants in these cases aren’t so lucky. Private firms have an incentive to drive up the damages sought from a defendant in order to increase their own payout. The case becomes a pursuit of dollar signs rather than justice.