Austin-Area Lawyer Facing Disbarment After Conspiracy Conviction
Manor attorney Jamie Balagia’s conviction is likely to bring compulsory discipline by the State Bar of Texas, and the nature of his crimes will probably mean disbarment, according to legal ethics attorneys.
Aside from facing a 30-year prison sentence, Austin-area attorney Jamie Balagia will probably be disbarred because of his conviction Tuesday in a case that alleged he scammed Colombian drug traffickers whom he represented.
Prosecutors showed Balagia, a Manor attorney who bills himself as “The DWI Dude,” and three co-conspirators swindled three clients, charging them hundreds of thousands of dollars, and telling them they could bribe judges and prosecutors in the U.S. to dismiss the clients’ charges or get them lenient sentences.
In reality, there were no government officials who were bribed.
The attorney has a public disciplinary history that includes a 2003 public reprimand and a 2014 fully probated suspension—the latter involved a client who’s also mentioned in Balagia’s indictment.
His conviction is likely to bring compulsory discipline by the State Bar of Texas, and the nature of his crimes will probably mean disbarment, according to legal ethics attorneys.
“It’s kind of hard to remain a lawyer if you’re convicted of telling drug dealers that you can bribe a judge. That’s pretty bad,” said San Antonio ethics attorney Carl Kolb. “On a scale of one to 10, what he’s done is a nine, maybe a 10.”
The attorney-discipline case will probably wait until Balagia’s sentencing and final judgment, noted Wayne Paris, partner in Gillis, Paris & Heinrich in Houston. The Texas bar’s Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel will then get the final judgment and file it, along with a compulsory discipline petition to the Texas Board of Disciplinary Appeals in Austin.
“The only real distinction in compulsory discipline is the difference between a serious crime and an intentional crime, and if these are intentional crimes, you get disbarred,” Paris said. “Based on the nature of the conviction, I think these are intentional crimes, so they would result in disbarment.”
A federal jury found Balagia guilty Tuesday after a two-week trial before U.S. District Judge Amos Mazzant of the Eastern District of Texas. Balagia was found guilty of conspiracy to commit money laundering, obstruction of justice, violation of the Kingpin Act, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to obstruct justice.
The jury also found that Balagia should have to forfeit nearly $35,000 and one of his properties in Manor, which is listed as the address of his law office in State Bar records, because the property was part of the criminal violations.
His attorney, Gaylon Perry Riddels, didn’t return a call seeking comment before deadline.
“This defendant and his group were running a scam on drug dealers—some of the biggest drug dealers in the world,” said U.S. Attorney Joe Brown of the Eastern District of Texas in a statement. “It is important for the American justice system that we prosecute those who represent that the justice system is for sale. The Colombians, and criminals in every other country that we deal with, need to understand things don’t work that way in the United States.”