Civil and criminal penalties sought against Beaumont attorney

Beaumont attorney Alto Watson III is facing both criminal charges for burglary and possible disbarment for stealing from his former firm and client. As previously reported, the Commission for Lawyer Discipline, an arm of the State Bar of Texas, filed a disciplinary petition against Watson on May 31 in Jefferson County District Court. According to the Beaumont Enterprise, on May 22 Watson was arrested for burglary of a habitation and family violence. He has since been indicted. The commission’s petition says that from September 1998 through July 8, 2012, the Law Firm of Gilbert T. Adams employed Watson. During his employment, the suit alleges Watson wrongfully billed clients separately for his services and personally accepted client funds meant for the firm, depositing the money in his personal accounts for his own use and benefit. For example, the suit claims that on March 2, 2011, Mohd Ali hired the firm for representation in a suit styled Major League Grill Franchise vs. Azam Beaumont Enterprises. Ali agreed to pay the firm $10,000 — $5,000 of which Watson asked the client to pay directly to him. He deposited the funds into his personal account and failed to inform the firm, according to the lawsuit. Also, Watson requested the court amend an order to include him as a payee from the court’s registry. On March 30, 2012, unknown to Ali and firm, Watson took $11,348 from the court’s registry and deposited the funds into his personal account, the suit alleges. An additional $5,472 was allegedly taken from the court registry by Watson on June 14, 2012, according to the suit. In a separate case, on Jan. 27, 2012, Tina Whitacre hired the firm for representation in a potential medical negligence case. Without the firm’s knowledge, Watson requested she pay $2,500 directly to him, which she did, the petition states. In its suit, the State Bar maintains Watson has engaged in fraud and has violated the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct by holding funds belonging to clients or third persons. The organization is asking the court to discipline the attorney by reprimand, suspension or disbarment. Linda Acevedo, chief disciplinary counsel, represents the Bar. Judge Milton Shuffield, 136th District Court, is assigned to the case. Case No. D194-399

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