HARLINGEN, TX. May 16, 2012
Facts of the case
On November 3, 2011, four days prior to the start of Marra’s criminal trial for violating provisions of the Texas Local Government Code §171.004(a)(1) requiring public officials to file an affidavit disclosing conflict of interest relating to property subject to pending Commission action, Marra filed a grievance against Cotroneo in an attempt to tarnish Cotroneo’s reputation and to intimidate Cotroneo notto testify in Marra’s trial. Visiting Judge Manuel Banales refused to admit evidence of the grievance, and Marra was convicted of one count and sentenced to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine. Marra’s trial counsel, Valerie Garcia was sanctioned by the Court for improper behavior. Despite her conviction, Marra supplemented her first grievance with additional false allegations. The first grievance, including the supplement, was dismissed on December 2, 2011 by the State Bar of Texas – Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel, as an inquiry, upon the finding that the information alleged did not demonstrate professional misconduct.
Rather than follow established procedures and file an appeal, Marra filed a new grievance on or about January 24, 2012, which in addition to rehashing and embellishing the allegations made in her previous complaint, Marra also tried to influence the State Bar of Texas by citing the specific rule sections Cotroneo was alleged to have violated. A few days later, Marra again amended her complaint. Upon receiving a full and detailed response to her new allegations, Marra then sought to provide additional information and argument to the State Bar without disclosing that information to Cotroneo’s attorneys, as required by law. The State Bar properly provided the information to Cotroneo’s counsel, and upon receiving the response refuted Marra’s additional allegations. Marra again amended her complaint,this time through her criminal appellate attorney;rehashing the same arguments in a last ditch attempt to continue to retaliate against Cotroneo. By letter dated May 9, 2012,the State Bar of Texas (attached hereto as Exhibit A) confirmed that the Grievance Committee had reviewed the allegations and multiple complaints, and determined that Cotroneo did not act improperly or in violation of the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct. This time, Marra cannot appeal the decision.
While Cotroneo stood steadfast in her claims that at all times she was properly performing the duties of the City Attorney of Harlingen, Texas and that Marra’s claims were without merit, the written analysis and opinion of leading Texas ethics expert Lillian B. Hardwick (a copy of her report and resume is attached hereto as Exhibits B and C) was instrumental in focusing the State Bar on the correct disciplinary rule, and its application to the Marra situation. Hardwick has served as a member of the Drafting Committee for The Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct since 2001, including several years as Chair of the Committee. Hardwick also co‐authors the respected treatise titled Handbook of Texas Lawyer and Judicial Ethics. Hardwick concluded that Cotroneo acted in a highly ethical manner, kept focus on protecting the City of Harlingen, and acted properly in performing her duties asthe City Attorney. Cotroneo is pleased that the State Bar has again cleared her of Marra’s allegations of impropriety, and look forward to continuing to provide excellent presentation to the citizens and City of Harlingen. When asked about the State Bar finding, City Attorney Cotroneo stated: “It is my hope that this decision will finally convince Marra to accept the findings, and stop Marra from continuing to file frivolous, repetitious and retaliatory claims when my conduct has already been determined to be ethical and proper. Marra has cost the taxpayers nearly $70,000 so far, including defense costs.” Cotroneo notes that she is unwavering in her pledge to protect the City and its citizens from situations that would harm it. Click on the link below to read more about this case Cotroneo’s attorney says Marra’s amended grievance will also fail.
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