Corpus Christi attorney and case runner sentenced for barratry

Marilyn Tennissen May 28, 2012, 8:10am

Corpus Christi attorney Benito Garza must surrender his law license after being charged with barratry for trying to make a sales call at a grieving woman's home in the middle of the night.

Garza appeared in Jim Wells County district court on May 17 and pleaded no contest to one count of barratry, a third-degree felony offense. He was sentenced to 10 years probation, a $6,000 fine and immediate surrender of his license to practice law.

The Texas Penal Code stipulates that an individual commits barratry if, with intent to obtain an economic benefit, the person solicits employment, either in person or by telephone, for himself or for another. It can refer to a lawyer seeking clients at a disaster site, which is also known as ambulance chasing.

In 2009, the Texas legislature revised and expanded the scope of the barratry cade by including any form of communications with a potential client, including written solicitations and solicitation in person and telephone are also prohibited.

The Office of the Attorney General executed a search warrant for the Garza Law Firm in Corpus Christi in 2010. According to the search warrant affidavit, Garza and his case runner Timothy "Sugar Bear" Trevino unlawfully solicited legal employment from the family members a man who was killed in an auto accident.

The deceased man's mother told OAG investigators that Garza and Trevino arrived at her home uninvited at 1 a.m. to make an unsolicited sales call and offer legal services to the victim's family, according to a press release.

Trevino was found guilty of one felony battery charge on May 22. He was sentenced to three years in prison. Part of Garza's sentence required him to testify against Trevino.

"Soliciting a legal client in a personal injury case immediately after a devastating accident is a crime in the State of Texas," said Attorney General Greg Abbott in a statement. "It is also against the law for lawyers to secure a client's case by paying off their relatives. But that didn't stop the defendants in this case from making an uninvited 1:00 a.m. appearance at the home of a devastated mother – just hours after her son was killed in a tragic accident – so that they could illegally pitch their personal injury practice to the mourning family."

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