A Black and White Issue
Let us give you a scenario:
A lawyer is caught bribing a judge with cash and other gifts in order to secure favorable decisions, such as dismissing criminal charges against the lawyer’s clients. This happened at least 20 times over the course of eight years.
This kickback scheme is eventually exposed. The judge is charged with a federal offense and is awaiting trial, and has been kicked off the bench (although, in a mind-boggling turn of events, is allowed to remain on the ballot in the 2018 elections and wins a seat on the court of appeals).
And the lawyer? You assume he’s been sent to jail, or at least lost his license to practice law.
For one South Texas lawyer, that is not the case.
According to an article in Texas Lawyer, Noe Perez (the attorney in question) was arrested and charged in May 2018 with conspiracy to commit bribery, to which he pleaded guilty. He’s awaiting sentencing for his crime. But in the meantime, he is still practicing law in the very courthouse where he was caught bribing a judge.
This has rubbed some area lawyers the wrong way. From Texas Lawyer:
“‘This is an ongoing source of frustration and anger for attorneys practicing law in the Rio Grande Valley,’ [McAllen attorney Pat] Nitsch wrote in an April 2 letter to State Bar president Joe Longley…
‘I’m insulted by the whole thing; that he’s been cheating the system,’ said McAllen solo practitioner Lennard Whittaker, who last summer organized 26 local lawyers to sign a grievance against Perez. ‘This community does not accept his behavior.’”
So why hasn’t the State Bar moved to rescind Perez’s law license?
The State Bar’s Chief Disciplinary Council’s Office says it cannot act until Perez’s conviction and sentencing are final.
What about the fact that the State Bar has used an interim suspension procedure in the past to prevent an attorney convicted of a crime from practicing law while waiting for sentencing?
Last session, when we were trying to stop storm-chasing lawyers from ruining the Texas insurance market, we were told the problem could be cured by the State Bar using its power to punish unethical client solicitation. Those storm-chasing lawyers, we were told, should be disciplined by the State Bar for their barratry and frivolous lawsuits. Our response was that the State Bar seldom moves timely and effectively against unethical lawyers and has no record of preventing lawyers from fomenting needless litigation.
The State Bar of Texas needs to do a better job of policing lawyers who break the laws of our state and the ethical rules of their profession. We wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Nitsch:
“It’s frustrating, to say the least, to think there’s an attorney who’s pleaded guilty to bribing a judge, and he’s been allowed to keep practicing law,” Nitsch said. “It’s a black-and-white issue, as far as I’m concerned.”