A Fort Bend County lawmaker is waging a public counter-offensive against prosecutors in nearby Montgomery County after his unusual conviction for illegally soliciting clients for his law practice, saying that he was the victim of selective prosecution and racial bias.
“I believe this was a modern-day lynching,” state Rep. Ron Reynolds, 42, said in a statement after being released from jail on bond. He is the first African-American since Reconstruction to be elected to the Texas House from Fort Bend County.
But prosecutors say Reynolds is wrongfully crying racism rather than accepting that he did something wrong. He has a history of bad conduct as an attorney, they say. And the other lawyers charged in a scheme that employed a convicted felon to recruit clients accepted plea deals, while he went to trial and lost.
“It’s a desperate ploy by someone who has been convicted in a full and fair jury trial,” Montgomery County prosecutor Joel Daniels said.
Texas law prohibits lawyers, among others, from soliciting clients for claims within 31 days of an accident. The rule is meant to protect victims from fraud and swarms of attorneys. But experts said proving barratry is tough because potentially illegal solicitations also could be considered free speech in some instances.
In the trial, Robert Ramirez Valdez Sr., a four-time felon, testified that Reynolds paid an average of $1,000 for each client he recruited for him.
Afterward, Reynolds said in a statement that the jury disregarded evidence showing that he didn’t know cases referred to him by Valdez had been illegally solicited. He said that will be the basis of his appeal.
“In 2015, it’s a crying shame that discrimination still takes place,” Reynolds said. “I have never made my career about race until this case. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once eloquently stated, ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’ I experienced a gross injustice in Montgomery County, one of the most conservative counties in Texas.”
Reynolds also criticized County Court-at-Law Judge Mary Ann Turner for not proceeding with a bond hearing immediately after his sentencing – a decision that led to him spending a night in jail. And he objected to wearing a jail uniform and shackles on his hands and legs for the hearing the next day, when television cameras were present.
Turner said she could not comment because the case is pending.
Reynolds said he was “singled out because of my status as an African-American elected official.” But his statement didn’t provide specific examples of how race played into his conviction.
See here and here for the background. I mean, sure, there could be bias at work here. I don’t know why Montgomery County would care that much about a legislator for Fort Bend, and there’s the uncomfortable fact that this isn’t Rep. Reynolds’ first brush with barratry; he also has a past history of other ethical issues. As I said, anything is possible, and if Reynolds has evidence of bias to show, I’m more than willing to listen. But I think it’s fair to say that the burden of proof is on him.