South Texas Lawyers Angry That an Alleged Judge-Briber Still Practices Law
By: Angela Morris
For nearly a year now, McAllen solo practitioner Pat Nitsch has grown angry when he visits the Hidalgo County Courthouse and sees Edinburg attorney Noe Perez, who’s pleaded guilty in a criminal case alleging he paid bribes to a judge in exchange for favorable rulings.
“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.”
Perez, who didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment, allegedly bribed 93rd District Judge Rodolfo “Rudy” Delgado of Hidalgo County in exchange for favorable rulings in his clients’ cases, alleged the May 3, 2018, information in United States v. Perez, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas in Houston. Between January 2008 and November 2016, he allegedly once gave Delgado a $15,000 truck, and 20 other times he’d pay between $250 to $350 in bribes. Delgado would then allegedly take actions like dismissing charges, dismissing cases, releasing defendants from prison, reinstating community supervision and issuing bonds.
The judge still awaits trial on a federal charge, and has pleaded not guilty. The State Commission on Judicial Conduct has suspended him from the bench. He declined to comment Thursday.
Perez, meanwhile, was arrested and released on bond May 11, 2018, for a charge of conspiracy to commit bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds. He’s pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with the government’s investigation, according to a settlement agreement in the case. He faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine, although the government agreed to request a lesser sentence under the settlement agreement. After his sentencing, currently set for June 13, his conviction will become final.
‘Insulted by the Whole Thing’
Nitsch said he’s tried to no avail to push the State Bar of Texas Chief Disciplinary Counsel’s Office to take quick action to suspend Perez’s law license, as it awaits his final conviction.
“This is an ongoing source of frustration and anger for attorneys practicing law in the Rio Grande Valley,” Nitsch wrote in an April 2 letter to State Bar president Joe Longley.
Nitsch isn’t the only one who wishes the bar would jump into action.
“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.”
Yet Whittaker received a response that dismissed the grievance, because the chief disciplinary counsel’s office was already monitoring Perez’s case to seek compulsory discipline against him.
“An action for compulsory discipline is not ripe unless and until the lawyer is convicted and sentenced,” said the July 6, 2018, letter.
Nitsch feels that the bar should use a procedure called interim suspension so that Perez can’t practice law as he awaits his conviction.
In a similar case in 2014, the bar did secure an interim suspension against San Antonio attorney Alberto Acevedo Jr. for bribing then-District Judge Angus McGinty. The lawsuit seeking Acevedo’s suspension said bribing a judge is a serious crime involving moral turpitude that reflects adversely on a lawyer’s honesty and trustworthiness, which is one of the elements required to trigger an interim suspension. The bar won—fast. It took a mere four days for a judge to suspend Acevedo’s license.
Chief Disciplinary Counsel’s Office spokeswoman Claire Reynolds, who didn’t return a call about Perez, told Texas Lawyer back in 2014 that the office can use a “two-step process” to first seek a lawyer’s interim suspension in a district court, prior to filing a compulsory discipline case with the Texas Board of Disciplinary Appeals, which comes after a lawyer’s criminal sentencing.
Nitsch argues that there’s no reason for the bar to seek an interim suspension against Acevedo, and not Perez.
Yet Guy Womack, an attorney at Houston’s Guy L. Womack & Associates, who represented Perez until late February, said that there’s no need for an interim suspension in Perez’s case.
“There’s nothing about his plea that I think rendered him ineffective as counsel,” Womack said. “This is a federal matter and I think they will let the federal court decide the issue first, before the state gets involved.”
Jason Panzer, a partner in Herring & Panzer in Austin who represents lawyers in disciplinary matters, said he is not surprised to hear the bar would wait to seek compulsory discipline, a very simple process, rather than pushing for an interim suspension, which requires proving a tougher standard in a district court.
“That is very rare,” Panzer said. “And I’ve only been aware of that being used a couple of times.”
We’ve corrected this story to show that Noe Perez already pleaded guilty to his charge of conspiracy to commit bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds. Texas Lawyer regrets the error.