A Houston attorney known for representing lawyers facing ethics complaints has been disbarred for his own unethical actions.
Robert S. Bennett was accused of violating the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct.
On its website, Bob Bennett & Assoc. in Houston states it is focused on "Fighting the denial of medical and law licenses in Texas," and that it is a "law firm committed to offering protection to the professional."
After a March trial, 289th District Judge Carmen Kelsey of San Antonio, a "specially assigned judge," signed a final judgment of disbarment on March 21.
"The attorneys of Bob Bennett & Associates understand how devastating the revocation of a professional license or denial of bar admission can be," the firm's website says. "We use all our knowledge and experience to help professionals in Texas defend their livelihoods against allegations of professional misconduct."
Despite the firm's advertising, the court found Bennett improperly withheld part of a retainer payment from former client Gary O. Land.
"It is further ordered that respondent is prohibited from practicing law in Texas, holding himself out as an attorney at law, performing any legal services for others, accepting any fee directly or indirectly for legal services, appearing as counsel or in any representative capacity in any proceeding in any Texas court or before any administrative body or holding himself out to others or using his name, in any manner, in conjunction with the words 'attorney at law,' 'attorney,' 'counselor at law,' or 'lawyer,'" Kelsey wrote.
She ordered Bennett to immediately notify all current clients in writing of the disbarment, and to return all "files, papers, unearned monies and other property belonging to clients and former clients" and ordered him to notify each "justice of the peace, judge, magistrate, administrative judge or officer, and chief justice of each and every court or tribunal in which respondent has any matter pending" of his disbarment within 30 days.
Bennett has denied the allegations.
Kelsey also ordered Bennett to pay $27,500 in restitution by May 1 to Land.
On Feb. 5, the commission alleged that Land hired Bennett in early 2011 to represent him in a breach of contract lawsuit and in a potential federal civil rights action. Land paid a $50,000 retainer, and he signed a contract on Feb. 10, 2011, that required an arbitration panel selected by the Houston Bar Association Fee Dispute Committee to handle any disputes arising out of the agreement.
The commission alleged that Bennett invoiced Land for about $75,000 in legal services. Land disputed the invoices and fired Bennett.
Land sought an arbitration hearing for a reduction of charges. Bennett consented to it but filed a complaint of his own, seeking to recover fees from Land in addition to the $50,000 retainer, the commission alleged in the petition.
On Jan. 3, 2012, a panel appointed by the Fee Dispute Committee held that Bennett was not entitled to recover the additional $25,680 he sought in fees and was required to refund $27,500 to Land.
As the commission alleged in the petition, Land obtained a judgment on July 23, 2012, confirming the award, but Bennett did not refund the money to Land and appealed the judgment.
The First Court of Appeals in Houston affirmed the judgment in 2013, and Bennett filed a petition for review to the Supreme Court of Texas.
On Feb. 14, the court denied the petition.