A Texas state lawmaker faces up to a year in jail after being convicted of five counts of misdemeanor barratry for the illegal solicitation of law clients.
In 2013, state Rep. Ron Reynolds, a Missouri City Democrat, was prosecuted in Montgomery County along with several other Houston-area attorneys on barratry charges, also referred to as “ambulance chasing”. The Houston Chronicle reported that Reynolds was the only one who didn't take a plea deal.
The Texas Tribune reported that Reynolds represented himself. And after a weeklong trial, a six-person jury convicted Reynolds On Friday, Nov. 20. The punishment phase of his trial began on Friday. Reynolds faces a $10,000 fine and possible jail time.
Reynolds was arrested in 2013, following a police raid of Reynolds' law office. At the time, the police were acting on a warrant obtained by Montgomery County District Attorney Brett Ligon. Other attorneys' offices and two chiropractic clinics, who police alleged were tied to the same ambulance-chasing ringleader as Reynolds, were also raided.
The raid turned up evidence that Reynolds and the other attorneys broke a Texas law that prohibits lawyers from soliciting clients for personal injury claims until 30 days after an incident.
Reynolds, who is in his third term in office, told the Tribune he intends to run for re-election. Reynolds is a former municipal judge, and a managing partner at Brown, Brown and Reynolds law firm in Houston.
According to his biography on Texas Legislature Online, Reynolds made history when he became the first African-American elected to the state Legislature in Fort Bend County since the late 1800s, and holds the second-highest ranking position within the Democratic Caucus.
The Chronicle reported that the charges were filed in Montgomery County because, Robert Valdez, the scam's ringleader and former chiropractic clinic owner, solicited car accident victims for Reynolds from his Montgomery County house.
Valdez, who is currently serving a five-year sentence for the scheme, testified in court that Reynolds paid him an average of $1,000 for every client he recruited using information he got from police reports. At trial, Reynolds got Valdez to admit on the stand that he never told Reynolds he was recruiting clients, and also got the six clients who prosecutors presented as barratry victims to admit they never told him Valdez recruited them.
During closing arguments on Friday, Reynolds portrayed himself as a victim of a witch hunt by Montgomery County prosecutors who he said are "wasting the taxpayers' dollars on a very frivolous case" and "the real criminal will soon be allowed to walk free who concocted these stories," the Chronicle reported.
Reynolds plans to appeal his conviction. If the conviction is upheld on appeal, Reynolds will not have to leave office.
Diane Davis, Executive Director of East Texans Against Lawsuit Abuse provided her thoughts to the SE Texas Record in a statement that reads, “Although I have not been advised of all the facts in this particular case, East Texans Against Lawsuit Abuse has and always will support strong barratry laws to help protect and uphold the integrity of our jury system.”