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HCDE trustee seeks emergency injunction to avoid censure vote

April 17, 2019

Harris County Department of Education Trustee Michael Wolfe has filed a lawsuit seeking a temporary restraining order to keep his fellow trustees from voting to censure him over sexual harassment claims.

The board is scheduled to vote on the censure at a 1 p.m. board meeting Wednesday.

Wolfe’s petition offers a first glimpse at his version of events that culminated in a third-party investigation alleging he sexually harassed a female job candidate and led to the Harris County Attorney’s office to launch an investigation of its own.

Wolfe argued that the county attorney should be allowed to finish its investigation before the board takes action, which would afford him the ability to better defend himself.

The allegations first came to light in January, when a job candidate who applied to be HCDE’s board secretary told Trustee Eric Dick that Wolfe asked her on a date when she was interviewing for the position.

According to Wolfe’s petition, the female job candidate wrote a post on the MLK Association of Houston’s Facebook page in May 2018, before she applied for the HCDE job, saying the group should support Wolfe’s opponent and that Wolfe was not a “true conservative.” The group’s moderator apparently deleted the post.

Dick invited the woman to Wolfe’s election night party, according to the lawsuit, and she told Wolfe she wanted to meet with him to talk about the post. He declined but said she asked twice more, including a June 28th encounter at the Harris County District Clerk’s office, where the woman alleged Wolfe closed his office door and asked her on a date. Instead, Wolfe’s suit states, she asked again to meet for coffee to discuss the Facebook post.

Wolfe said he agreed in his office to get coffee with the woman “at her request,” after Dick asked him to smooth things over with the then-job candidate.

“Again, it appeared to be Mr. Dick conspiring with (the woman) to get Mr. Wolfe to support her for the secretarial position at HCDE,” the suit says.

Soon afterward, the suit allege Dick asked Wolfe to support three votes: name Dick as board president, support funding for the HCDE HillCo Partners lobbying contract and back a specific candidate to serve as the board’s attorney.

Wolfe said he refused to support the three votes, a move the suit said angered Dick.

The suit claims that after Wolfe refused, Dick told him, “Your political career is over.”

Dick questioned the merits of Wolfe’s lawsuit Wednesday and said it was not based in reality. He said he had a moral and legal obligation to report the allegations after learning of them, and that the suit was a desperate attempt to avoid censure.

“If he was serious he would have filed this last month,” Dick said. “It’s a publicity stunt.”

HCDE Superintendent James Colbert Jr. contracted with Dallas-based labor lawyer Harry Jones to investigate the sexual harassment claims against Wolfe after they were brought to light by Dick. The board voted unanimously, with Wolfe abstaining, to accept Jones’ report in February.

Wolfe’s attorney, Jared Woodfill, sent a letter to trustees soon after threatening to sue if they took action to censure his client, calling the third-party report “hearsay on top of hearsay.”

Board President Josh Flynn wrote in an email to fellow trustees in late March that the letter from Woodfill was “a critical piece of information that needs to be considered prior to moving forward.”

The board is scheduled to consider a vote of censure at its regular meeting Wednesday.

shelby.webb@chron.com

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