State Rep. Ron Reynolds, D-Missouri City, will be back in a Montgomery County courtroom a week before the 2015 legislative session gets underway. The legislator, who just won his third term in office, is facing a new trial related to allegations of “ambulance chasing.”
On Monday, a judge declared a mistrial in the latest case against Reynolds, who was found guilty Friday of six misdemeanor counts of solicitation of professional employment.
Steve Jackson, one of Reynolds’ defense attorneys, said state district Judge Lisa Michalk granted a request for the mistrial because of a “juror experiencing what she said was outside influence that affected her saying ‘guilty.'”
Reynolds, a Houston-area personal injury attorney, was facing 10 felony counts of barratry. He is accused of illegally offering legal services to accident victims within 30 days of their incidents.
Reynolds has denied any wrongdoing, saying that the case against him has been a miscarriage of justice and that the charges were “selective prosecution by a very conservative delegation” in Montgomery County. “The only thing they wanted was me to do was resign my seat,” Reynolds said Monday in an interview.
Kelly Blackburn, the assistant Montgomery County district attorney trying Reynolds’ case, confirmed the mistrial and said that a new trial had been set for Jan. 5. He said the judge declared a mistrial based on a juror stating that the verdict was influenced by fellow jurors talking about “outside information” during deliberations. “All other 11 jurors denied this and stated that they reached their verdict based on the evidence that was submitted during the trial,” Blackburn said.
He said that his team is working to determine if it can legally retry Reynolds on felony barratry charges.
Michalk declared a mistrial after the jury’s only African-American member, identified only as juror No. 2, told a bailiff that before the verdict was reached, another juror told her about plea deals accepted by five other Houston-area attorneys arrested in the same sting operation.
Juror No. 2 told Michalk that this information had influenced her decision, but she was unable to identify the juror who told her about the pleas.
Some of the 11 remaining jurors said they, too, had heard the remark about the plea deals, but not until after the verdict was rendered and before testimony was heard in the punishment phase. Reynolds faced a maximum penalty of a year in prison and a $4,000 fine for his misdemeanor convictions.
Prosecutors contend the mistrial may open Reynolds to a possible felony conviction on the barratry charge again.
“We will all be researching it,” said Montgomery County Assistant District Attorney Phil Grant.
Kelly Blackburn, the lead prosecutor, called the mistrial an “unfortunate incident,” stressing that it had “nothing to do with the actual facts in the case.”
Geoff Corn, a law professor at the South Texas College of Law, said it was unusual to declare a mistrial after a verdict was reached.
Since a jury found Reynolds guilty of the misdemeanor, the jury had found that he was not guilty of felony barratry, Corn said.
“The prosecution had their chance,” he said, but didn’t meet the burden of proof required to convict.
“It’s going to be an interesting battle,” he said. “One of the things that most lawyers will tell you about double jeopardy is it’s so convoluted, you never know for sure.”
Years of watching Law & Order has not adequately prepared me for this. I wonder if there’s any precedent for the double jeopardy question. In any event, even if Rep. Reynolds avoids a redo on the felony charges, he’s still got more trouble than just the misdemeanors.
The State Bar of Texas’ civil case against Reynolds, alleging professional misconduct in connection to the barratry scheme, is set for trial to start on Dec. 15. A ruling against him could lead to his disbarment.
My suggestion to Rep. Reynolds stands. Good luck, but get your house in order.