Denton Energy Center

The Denton Energy Center. 

The city of Denton and two of its former employees failed to reach an agreement following a second, court-ordered mediation in their long-running wrongful termination case, according to City Attorney Aaron Leal.

The talks took place under a cloud that a jury award in the case could be sharply reduced. A state law on the books since the mid-1990s caps judgments for government whistleblowers. The impasse means the case is expected to be back in the 68th District Court for another hearing, although Dallas District Judge Martin Hoffman has not scheduled that hearing yet.

In February, a Dallas jury sided with Michael Grim and Jim Maynard and awarded them $3.9 million in their wrongful termination case. The pair filed suit in 2017, claiming they had been fired in retaliation for reporting that council member Keely Briggs leaked confidential information about the Denton Energy Center deal to the Denton Record-Chronicle. The newspaper story ran in September 2016. Grim and Maynard were fired in July 2017 after an investigation into how the controversial deal came together.

The Denton City Council has discussed the case behind closed doors for several hours over the past few weeks. The city has already signaled its intent to appeal the judgment on several grounds should Hoffman not set aside the jury’s verdict.

Attorneys for Grim and Maynard did not respond to a request for comment, so it is unclear whether they, too, will pursue an appeal if Hoffman allows the jury’s verdict to stand but reduces the award because of the cap. They previously argued that the cap violates the state constitution because it goes against traditional legal principles (known as common law) and functions as a special law. In addition, they argued that an amendment to the state constitution that changed the caps for medical malpractice claims applies to their case.

State law limits the payout for cities of Denton’s size to $250,000.

The Texas Attorney General recently intervened in the case, filing a 16-page response that disputes the pair’s claim that the state’s cap is unconstitutional since it balances the taxpayers’ interest in having public employees come forward to report wrongdoing without having taxpayers also foot the bill for the wrongdoers.

Proceedings in the case are available online at courtsportal.dallascounty.org.

PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881 and via Twitter at @phwolfeDRC.

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