Conroe, February 1 – J.D. Lambright is the most expensive County Attorney in Texas history. It’s not just his high salary that makes him the most highly paid elected official in the entire State of Texas. He’s not just the most expensive in Montgomery County. Lambright’s mistakes are so massive that he’s the costliest County Attorney in the history of the entire State of Texas.
This Part 1 of a 3-part series in The Golden Hammer addresses two of the many issues that make Lambright the most expensive (and wasteful). In this Part, we discuss his Stratospheric Salary and his Clear Misunderstanding of His Job Duties.
At $196,144.57 in salary per year, Lambright is the highest-paid elected official in Texas at the local, state, and federal levels. He also receives County benefits in excess of 12.27%. He makes more than any other County Attorney, County Judge, or other local official. Lambright claims a higher salary than the Governor of Texas ($150,000 per year) and the Texas Attorney General ($150,000 per year). In contrast, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton supervises over 4,000 employees, in eighteen divisions, while Lambright supervises thirty-one employees, in one county department. Lambright earns a higher salary than United States Senators and Congressmen who earn $174,900 per year. United States Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell earns a salary of $193,800.
The contrast in backgrounds between General Paxton and Lambright is striking. Paxton is a 26th year attorney who worked as a management consultant and earned a Master’s in Business Administration from the Baylor University School of Management before he attended the University of Virginia Law School, generally ranked among the top ten law schools. Paxton worked for a major private law firm, Strasburger & Price, before working as in-house counsel for J.C. Penney Company. Paxton took and passed the Texas Bar Examination on his first try in 1991. Lambright is a 16th year attorney. He worked as a middle level manager for Shell Oil prior to going to law school and graduating in 1997 from South Texas College of Law. It took Lambright four attempts to pass the Texas Bar Examination. He failed the examination the first two times, didn’t show up for the third time he signed up to take it, and finally passed the examination two years after he graduated from law school in 1999. Lambright struggled in a general law practice until he ran for different offices several times and finally won election to the County Attorney’s Office in 2012. Paxton has been a major fundraiser for the Republican Party of Texas. Lambright attends social events almost every night.
When the Salary Study Committee, under the leadership of former County Human Resources Director Diane Bass, met during the summer of 2016, Lambright secretly pleaded, by written statement, for a substantial increase in his salary. Lambright then falsely claimed to the public that he had not done so. The written documents contained in the Salary Study Committee report revealed that Lambright had pleaded for a raise in a three-page, single-space, typed letter. The Salary Study Committee recommended no raises for elected officials. The Commissioners Court rejected the Salary Study Committee recommendation and gave themselves and all other County elected officials, including Lambright a three-percent (3%) across the board pay raise.
The United States Secretary of Defense, General James Mattis, earns slightly more than Lambright at $203,700 per year in salary. Mattis supervises more than 85,000 civilian employees in the Pentagon in addition to more than 1.4 million active duty military personnel.
Clear Misunderstanding of His Job Duties
The Texas Association of Counties’ Guide to Texas Laws for County Officials 2016 tracks the language of the Texas Government Code and the Texas Local Government Code for the duties of a county attorney:
“The county attorney is the chief legal advisor to the county. The county attorney’s office generally handles county requests for legal opinions from the Attorney General’s Office. The county attorney may also represent the county in suits affecting payment of taxes and eminent domain.”
The critical point that Lambright has misunderstood is the first sentence of the duties described above. Since the citizens of Montgomery County elect Lambright, rather than County employees choosing him, Lambright is the “chief legal advisor to the county,” not to individual county employees. Lambright might represent those employees if someone sues them in their official capacity, but Lambright’s duty is to Montgomery County itself.
Similarly, the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct (the “DRs”) govern the professional behavior of attorneys licensed in Texas. Despite his numerous failures to gain licensure as an attorney, Lambright eventually succeeded. Therefore, the DRs do, in fact, govern his conduct. Rule 1.12 of the DRs provides: “A lawyer employed or retained by an organization represents the entity.”
While the State’s ethics rules governing attorneys permit an attorney who represents an entity, such as Montgomery County, to receive some direction from authorized agents, such as an individual County elected official or employee, in the ordinary course and scope of his employment as County Attorney, Lambright’s duty is to Montgomery County, not to those authorized agents, even if they happen to be the County Judge, a County Commissioner, or some political ally of Lambright.
Rule 1.12(b) of the DRs makes clear that Lambright has a duty to take reasonable remedial actions whenever he learns that a County employee has committed or intends to commit a violation of law or a violation of an obligation to the County, if that violation is likely to result in substantial injury to the County.
A comment to Rule 1.12 of the DRs warns attorneys, such as Lambright, who represent an entity, such as the County, that they must be “concerned whether the intermediary [i.e., an individual elected official] legitimately represents the organizational client.”
Lambright suffers from great confusion over who his client is as the County Attorney of Montgomery County. The people elected Lambright to represent the entity, Montgomery County. While Lambright might fear County Judge Craig Doyal (since Lambright originally was on Doyal’s “Hit List” after the 2014 Republican Primary Runoff Election) or Lambright might seek to please the County Commissioners Court members, Lambright’s duty is to the County, not to those individuals.
Later parts of this series will discuss Lambright’s costly failures to abide by his professional responsibility to Montgomery County. One clear example deserves mention here.
The Golden Hammer’s publisher confronted Lambright and, in a cordial meeting three days after the first Golden Hammer Award, asked Lambright to show leadership by refusing his exorbitant salary and asking the Commissioners Court to lower his compensation. Lambright’s response was that he could not do so, because his clients include the County Judge and County Commissioners and by seeking to lower his own salary, Lambright would embarrass his clients (Doyal and cohorts) with respect to theirs.
Lambright’s response regarding his salary revealed his misunderstanding of who his client actually is. Lambright’s duty is to the entity, Montgomery County, which would obviously benefit by his actions to reduce his salary. Instead, Lambright chose certain individuals’ best interests over those of his client.
Clearly, Lambright needs to study Rule 1.12 of the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct, the Texas Local Government Code, and the Texas Government Code, so that he’ll possibly come to an understanding that his client is Montgomery County, not Craig Doyal, not Charlie Riley, not Mike Meador, not Todd “Boss” Hayden, and not any County Department head seeking to hide information from citizens.