JUDICIAL SUSPENSION; JUDGE ADMITS TO BEING ON THE TAKE (BRIBERY)
On March 27, 2019, the State Commission on Judicial Conduct issued an order of suspension to Leonel Julian Lopez Jr., municipal judge for Rio Grande City in Starr County.
FORMER JUDGE LEONEL LOPEZ Jr. PLEADS GUILTY TO FEDERAL BRIBERY CHARGES
When now-former Rio Grande City Municipal Judge Leonel Lopez Jr. pleaded guilty to federal bribery charges, he automatically lost his job with the city. Starr County commissioners, however, pondered whether Lopez should keep his newly acquired position with the county.
Following Lopez pleading guilty to his role in a bribery scheme relating to Weslaco’s water treatment facilities, Starr County Judge Eloy Vera met with county commissioners about possibly defunding the position. But Vera said he received little support.
“When he got hired, we were not aware of the situation that he found himself in, so it was discussed amongst us as to whether he should stay with us or not,” Vera said. “The majority of the board felt that he should go ahead and stay, so he did.”
Vera said he had not been in favor of keeping Lopez since he had not yet served the sentence for his conviction.
“If he had already served whatever the court decides and he’s looking for a job, then certainly, I don’t have any problem with it,” Vera said, “but until he serves society or pays society back, then I feel we should not hire him.”
Lopez was serving a two-year term as the municipal judge for Rio Grande City when he pleaded guilty to a bribery charge stemming from a plot to bribe two Weslaco city commissioners in exchange for awarding contracts to specific companies for work on the city’s water treatment facilities.
His guilty plea prompted his automatic resignation as the municipal judge because his contract stipulated that “the conviction of a misdemeanor or felony crime will be considered an automatic resignation by the judge.”
During his re-arraignment hearing on March 22, Lopez told U.S. District Judge Ricardo H. Hinojosa that he had accepted a job with the county in anticipation of his resignation with the city.
After news broke of Lopez’s guilty plea, Commissioner Ruben Saenz, who represents Precinct 4, confirmed he had hired Lopez as the programs department manager for his office and said he saw no reason why it would affect his position with the county.
Neither Saenz nor Lopez could be reached for comment.
Commissioner Raul “Roy” Peña III, commissioner for Precinct 2, offered little on whether Lopez should maintain his job with the county, saying he was not very familiar with the situation and was preoccupied with other matters in his precinct.
“I haven’t even discussed it with the judge,” Peña said. “I’ve got a lot of stuff on my own; I think that’s more internal over there than anything having to do with me.”
However, Precinct 3 Commissioner Eloy Garza was strongly opposed to defunding the position.
“We cannot be interfering with any commissioner employees because then everybody can just come and fire my employees, which is not right,” Garza said.
“He’s a convicted felon but he’s not the only one we have on the list,” Garza added. “He’s not the only convicted felon we have working for the county.”
If the county were to fire Lopez because of his conviction, Garza wondered what the county would do with those other employees.
“That would be discrimination in my opinion,” he said.
Garza also pointed out that one of the conditions of Lopez’s release was that he seek or maintain employment, adding that he wasn’t opposed to Lopez working at the county if that was what Saenz desired.
“He’s not the only felon that we have working for the county,” Garza reiterated. “It’s up to the commissioner. If he wants to keep him, he’s got my vote.”
Lawyers Are Leaders: Applying the Air Force’s Core Values to Your Daily Practice
By Lt. Col. Aaron Jackson on June 4, 2019
Several months ago, I read an article published in the Texas Bar Journal that identified the waning perception of lawyers as leaders in society (“Lawyers as Citizen Leaders,” by Leon Jaworski, February 2018, pp. 90-93). This reality continues to haunt me. In a world desperate for leadership, lawyers are—and must continue to be—leaders. Members of the Judge Advocate General’s Corps provide a seminal example of leadership in the legal profession. For military officers/JAGs, leadership is an inherent duty. Unlike military officers, however, lawyers are not taught leadership nor equipped with a given set of principles in which to apply to one’s daily practice. This article seeks to change that. For members of the U.S. Air Force, three “core values” provide the bedrock of service and leadership. These principles equally apply to the larger legal profession. Incorporating these “core values” into your daily practice offers an excellent way to work toward leaving a legacy of leadership for our society and future legal practitioners.
The Air Force core values begin with “integrity first.” There is a reason it was placed at the front. Above all else, military officers must ensure integrity in all they do. Enshrined in the Air Force Memorial are the words of former Air Force Chief of Staff, Gen. Ronald R. Fogleman: “We’re entrusted with the security of our nation. The tools of our trade are lethal, and we engage in operations that involve risk to human life and untold national treasure. Because of what we do, our standards must be higher than those of society at large.”
The same must be said of legal practitioners. While lawyers do not carry instruments of kinetic destruction, our tools are equally powerful and, at times, equally devastating. For this reason, integrity must be at the heart of our profession, guaranteeing the trust of those we are sworn to protect.A lawyer’s personal life must demonstrate an equal measure of integrity. Military members are continuously reminded that duty to the nation is not a part-time job; it is 24/7, requiring persistent adherence to the principles that make our military great. Similarly, lawyers do not shed their obligations at the end of the workday.
As Gen. George S. Patton once said, “You are always on parade.” Those who know our profession and role in society are always watching. As a result, we have a duty to maintain the highest standards of conduct and civility, both on and off the job. We must always uphold the trust society provides us by living a life of integrity. The American people deserve—and expect—nothing less.
Service Before Self
The Air Force’s second core value is “service before self.” Former Air Force Chief of Staff, Gen. John P. Jumper, once stated, “Service before self is that virtue within us all which elevates the human spirit, compels us to reach beyond our meager selves to attach our spirit to something bigger than we are.” Service requires significant sacrifice, calling service members to routinely place the mission and others above their own lives and well-being.Members of the JAG Corps are no strangers to sacrifice. My time away from home and family is measured in years rather than days or months. Deployments usually last from six months to a year in often austere and dangerous conditions.
My most recent deployment was to an undisclosed location in the Middle East, where I served as staff judge advocate for a combat fighter wing battling the Islamic State. For six months, I had the pleasure of working with the best fighter pilots—and leaders—in the world, averaging roughly 14-hour days, seven days a week. These experiences are nowhere near unique or special to service members across the country. It is simply what we are called to do.
Just like military service members, the law is a calling that demands the very best. We, too, serve something far bigger than ourselves: the defense and sustainment of the rule of law. Lawyers are accustomed to long hours, late nights, and full days in fulfilling this mission. Whether facing criminal charges or civil dispute, clients enter our offices on their worst days seeking our knowledge and legal expertise. They rely upon this advice. We must serve them well, placing their interests above our own when necessary. It is simply what we are called to do.
Excellence in All We Do
The final Air Force core value is “excellence in all we do.” According to former Air Force Chief of Staff, Gen. Michael E. Ryan, “That commitment to excellence is more than desirable; in the profession of arms, it’s essential. Lives depend on the fact that we maintain high standards.” Lives depend on the law as well. Our charge is equally impactful to those we serve. For this reason, we must also ensure excellence in all we do. Whether a brief, motion, negotiation, or closing argument, our profession demands we provide our clients with the highest level of quality and service.We must also remember that this core value reminds us to ensure “excellence in all we do.” It is not simply a charge for your professional life but your personal life as well. We cannot shirk our duties to our family, our friends, and our own well-being. It begins in the home with our spouses, children, and loved ones. While deployed to the Middle East, I committed myself to tucking my children into bed each night despite my distance and demands. Doing so required that I wake at 4 a.m. each day in the hopes of finding a wireless signal.
My wife and children each received daily time, where we would catch up on the events of the day and read our nighttime stories. Regardless of the circumstances—or the time I was finally able to hit the sack—I was up the next morning ready to connect with my family.
It was the most difficult part of my deployment and what I am most proud of accomplishing.Striving for excellence also opens the aperture to unknown possibilities and opportunities. During a deployment to the Darién region of Panama, I witnessed tremendous poverty among a generous, kind, and spirited local population.
My position in this region gave me an opportunity to take action and show like kindness. We began a small, personal campaign that ultimately raised several thousand dollars in food, clothing, and toys for the local children, which we donated to the various indigenous tribes across the region.
When later deployed to the Middle East, we conducted a similar campaign that donated school supplies, clothing, and sports equipment to two local schools. Find opportunities in your practice to strive for excellence, seizing every opportunity to make an impact. It does not take much to leave a lasting legacy.
Officers of the law are bound by a duty and service that reflects military officership. You may never don a uniform, and the closest you may get to the military is taking the kids—or grandkids—to the local air show. Regardless, the principles found within the U.S. armed forces (in this case the Air Force) transcend the military and equally apply to all of us. Striving to achieve the noble goals of demonstrating integrity first, service before self, and excellence in all we do should remain at the forefront of our daily practice. Whether your function is in the courtroom, the boardroom, or the Pentagon, these values deepen society’s trust in our profession and take us one step closer to leaving a legacy of leadership.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect on the official policy or position of the U.S. Air Force, Department of Defense, or U.S. government.
is a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force Judge Advocate General’s Corps. He is assigned as air staff counsel at the Pentagon. Prior to this assignment, Jackson was an assistant professor in the department of law at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado. He is a distinguished graduate from the academy and has served in a variety of legal positions throughout his military career including assistant staff judge advocate, area defense counsel, special victims’ counsel, deputy staff judge advocate, and twice-deployed staff judge advocate.
14 Texas Lawyers Disciplined on May List
Disciplinary Actions — May 2019 State Bar lists (per the State Bar of Texas)
General questions regarding attorney discipline should be directed to the Chief Disciplinary Counsel’s Office, toll-free (877) 953-5535 or (512) 453-5535.
The Board of Disciplinary Appeals may be reached at (512) 475-1578.
Information and copies of actual orders are available at www.txboda.org.
The State Commission on Judicial Conduct may be contacted toll-free, (877) 228-5750 or (512) 463-5533.
Please note that persons disciplined by the Commission on Judicial Conduct are not necessarily licensed attorneys.
On March 6, 2019, Michael W. Eaton [#06383800], 60, of Conroe, agreed to a 36-month active suspension effective April 15, 2020. An evidentiary panel of the District 7 Grievance Committee found that in representing the complainant, Eaton neglected the legal matters entrusted to him and frequently failed to carry out completely the obligations he owed to the complainant. Eaton failed to keep the complainant reasonably in-formed about the status of his lawsuit and failed to promptly comply with reasonable requests for information from the complainant. Further, when communicating with the complainant and when communicating with the State Bar of Texas in connection to this grievance, Eaton engaged in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation. Eaton violated Rules 1.01(b)(1), 1.01(b)(2), 1.03(a), and 8.04(a)(3). He was ordered to pay $2,350 in attorneys’ fees and direct expenses.
On December 4, 2018, Rachel June Williams [#24042166], 47, of Conroe, received a judgment of public reprimand. An evidentiary panel of the District 3 Grievance Committee found that Williams neglected the legal matter entrusted to her, failed to keep her client reasonably informed about the status of her matter, failed to timely furnish to the Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel a response or other information as required by the Texas Rules of Disciplinary Procedure, and, upon termination of representation, failed to refund advance payments of fees that had not been earned. Williams violated Rules 1.01(b)(1), 1.03(a), 1.15(d), and 8.04(a)(8). She was ordered to pay $737.06 in attorneys’ fees and direct expenses.
Rest of the state
On February 26, 2019, the Supreme Court of Texas accepted the resignation, in lieu of discipline, of Gary W. Inmon [#00789393], 51, of Cibolo. At the time of his resignation, Inmon had one grievance pending alleging Inmon failed to safeguard client funds, failed to deliver clients’ funds that they were entitled to receive, misrepresented facts to the court, and failed to respond to a demand for information from a disciplinary authority. Inmon violated Rules 1.14(a), 1.14(b), 8.01(b), 8.04(a)(2), and 8.04(a)(3).
On March 11, 2019, J. Gaylord Armstrong [#01320000], 79, of Austin, accepted a 79-month active suspension effective August 23, 2012. An evidentiary panel of the District 9 Grievance Committee found that Armstrong was formerly of counsel to an Austin law firm and was an authorized signatory on a political action committee, or PAC, checking account of his firm’s client. Armstrong was authorized to write checks for political contributions to elected officials from the PAC account. Beginning in March 2011, Armstrong misappropriated funds from the PAC account by writing checks to himself without the client’s knowledge or authorization. Armstrong spent the misappropriated funds on his own personal expenses. Armstrong engaged in conduct constituting theft and misapplication of fiduciary property. Armstrong violated Rules 8.04(a)(2), 8.04(a)(3), and 8.04(a)(1).
This is the sixth visit to the Disciplinary Committee. On March 13, 2019, Lorenzo Brown [#03151500], 67, of DeSoto, agreed to a 12-month fully probated suspension effective March 15, 2019. An evidentiary panel of the District 6 Grievance Committee found that an agreed disciplinary judgment dated February 21, 2017, actively suspended Brown from the practice of law from April 1, 2017, to June 30, 2017, and ordered Brown to provide written notification of his suspension to any courts or opposing counsel in matters that Brown was the attorney of record that were pending during his suspension. Brown was the attorney of record in a case in Dallas County and failed to notify the court in writing regarding his suspension. Brown was the attorney of record in a case in Collin County and failed to notify opposing counsel in writing regarding his suspension. Brown failed to comply with the Texas Rules of Disciplinary Procedure Rule 13.01 relating to notification of an attorney’s suspension of practice. Brown violated Rule 8.04(a)(10). He was ordered to pay $1,000 in attorneys’ fees and direct expenses.
On February 13, 2019, Luis Roberto Campos [#00792394], 49, of Dallas, received a 12-month fully probated suspension effective February 1, 2019. An evidentiary panel of the District 6 Grievance Committee found that in or about August 2015, the complainant hired Campos in a civil matter. The complainant paid Campos $700 to begin the representation. Thereafter, Campos neglected the legal matter entrusted to him by failing to provide legal services to the complainant. Campos also failed to keep the complainant reasonably informed about the status of her case and failed to promptly comply with reasonable requests from the complainant about her legal matter. Upon termination, Campos failed to surrender papers and property to which the complainant was entitled and failed to refund advance payments of fees that had not been earned. Further, Campos failed to timely respond to the grievance. Campos violated Rules 1.01(b)(1), 1.03(a), 1.15(d), and 8.04(8). He was ordered to pay $200 in restitution and $1,149 in attorneys’ fees and direct expenses.
This is the 7th recorded Disciplinary Action for Loyd. On February 14, 2019, Annette R. Loyd [#16731100], 56, of Fort Worth, received a two-year fully probated suspension. An evidentiary panel of the District 7 Grievance Committee found that while representing clients in a civil matter, Loyd neglected the case and violated a disciplinary judgment. Loyd failed to promptly comply with the clients’ reasonable requests for case information and failed to explain the legal matter to the extent reasonably necessary to permit the clients to make informed decisions about the representation. Loyd also failed to timely provide a response to the grievance. Loyd violated Rules 1.01(b)(1), 1.03(a), 1.03(b), 8.04(a)(7), and 8.04(a)(8). She was ordered to pay $1,000 in restitution and $4,000 in attorneys’ fees and direct expenses. See Boda 36 month suspension ruling in 2014 here.
A repeat offender, this is the third sanction. On February 28, 2019, Refugio Rafael Perez [#24051893], 41, of Corpus Christi, accepted a nine-month active suspension effective October 1, 2018. An evidentiary panel of the District 11 Grievance Committee found that Perez failed to return unearned fees, failed to respond to the grievance, and engaged in the practice of law while his license was suspended. Perez violated Rules 1.15(d), 8.04(a)(8), and 8.04(a)(11). He was ordered to pay $2,000 in restitution and $800 in attorneys’ fees and direct expenses.
On March 14, 2019, Regina M. Scrivner-Tibbs [#17931200], 59, of San Antonio, agreed to a one-year fully probated suspension effective April 1, 2019. An evidentiary panel of the District 10 Grievance Committee found that Scrivner-Tibbs failed to hold funds in trust and failed to promptly notify and deliver funds to the client’s health care provider. Scrivner-Tibbs violated Rules 1.14(a) and 1.14(b).
On March 20, 2019, Cynthia Borgfeld Smith [#18553650], 71, of Georgetown, accepted a one-year fully probated suspension effective March 15, 2019. An evidentiary panel of the District 8 Grievance Committee found that while representing a client in a child support modification, Smith told her client that she filed a petition on his behalf. However, no such petition was filed. Smith then ceased all communication with her client. Smith failed to respond to her client’s request for a copy of his file, an accounting of any earned fees, and the return of any unearned fees and further failed to file a response to the grievance as required by the Texas Rules of Disciplinary Procedure. Smith violated Rules 1.01(b)(1), 1.03(a), 1.15(d), and 8.04(a)(8). Smith was ordered to pay $400 in restitution and $580.50 in attorneys’ fees and direct expenses.
On February 12, 2019, Jennifer K. Gjesvold [#24076175], 43, of Hurst, received a public reprimand. The 352nd Judicial District Court of Tarrant County found that Gjesvold violated Rule 4.04(a) [In representing a client, a lawyer shall not use means that have no substantial purpose other than to embarrass, delay, or burden a third person, or use methods of obtaining evidence that violate the legal rights of such a person].
On August 7, 2015, Cheryl Denise Hole [#13857300], 72, of McAllen, received a public reprimand. The 92nd District Court of Hidalgo County found that Hole violated Rule 7.01(a) [a lawyer in private practice shall not practice under a trade name, a name that is misleading as to the identity of the lawyer or lawyers practicing under such name, or a firm name containing names other than those of one or more of the lawyers in the firm] and 7.01(c) [the name of a lawyer occupying a judicial, legislative, or public executive or administrative position shall not be used in the name of a firm, or in communications on its behalf, during any substantial period in which the lawyer is not actively and regularly practicing with the firm]. Hole violated Rules 7.01(a) and 7.01(c). She was ordered to pay $1,000 in attorneys’ fees and direct expenses.
Note; Interestingly there is no PDF link to the hearing regarding this couple which involved a case which includes United States District Judge Micaela Alvarez for the Southern District Court who is on the firms website and signage outside the front of their law offices. Read article below for full details.
On August 7, 2015, Ronald G. Hole [#09834200], 64, of McAllen, received a public reprimand. The 430th District Court of Hidalgo County found that Hole violated Rule 7.01(a) [a lawyer in private practice shall not practice under a trade name, a name that is misleading as to the identity of the lawyer or lawyers practicing under such name, or a firm name containing names other than those of one or more of the lawyers in the firm] and 7.01(c) [the name of a lawyer occupying a judicial, legislative, or public executive or administrative position shall not be used in the name of a firm, or in communications on its behalf, during any substantial period in which the lawyer is not actively and regularly practicing with the firm]. Hole violated Rules 7.01(a) and 7.01(c). He was ordered to pay $1,500 in attorneys’ fees and direct expenses.
A Texas appeals court affirmed judgments sanctioning South Texas lawyers Cheryl and Ronald Hole for failing to change the name of their law firm after former name partner Micaela Alvarez left the firm following her appointment as a federal district judge in McAllen, Texas in 2004.
A three-judge panel of the Thirteenth Court of Appeals in Edinburg concluded on Aug. 24 that a trial judge did not err by granting a partial summary judgment in favor of the Texas Commission for Lawyer Discipline because the commission conclusively established that Cheryl and Ronald Hole, whose firm is known as Hole & Alvarez, violated Rules 7.01(a) and (c) of the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct.
Rule 7.01(a) prohibits lawyers from practicing at a firm with a name that is misleading or contains names other than those at the firm, although the firm name can include the name of deceased or retired partners. Rule 7.01(c) prohibits the name of a lawyer occupying a judicial position from being used in the name of a firm while the lawyer is not actively practicing at the firm.
Ronald Hole, who represented himself and his wife before the appeals court, said he disagrees with the Aug. 24 memorandum opinion, and will seek a motion for rehearing.
The name is proper, he said. We do have an Alvarez in the firm as well.
He said the judge’s son, Javier Alvarez Martinez, became a nonparticipating partner at the firm after he passed the bar several years ago. Hole said Alvarez Martinez is based in Austin but does some work for the firm.
Judge Alvarez’s son is not listed as an attorney on the Hole & Alvarez firm website, but Hole said technical issues prevent him from updating the website.
Hole said the opinion does not properly address the statute of limitations issue he and his wife raised, since Judge Alvarez left Hole & Alvarez in December 2004 and the disciplinary suit was not filed until 2014. He said the Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel was aware many years ago that they were using the Hole & Alvarez name, and the commission took no action until a lawyer he sued threatened to report me to the Bar.
My goal is to have the judgment thrown out and get my attorney fees back, Hole said.
Cynthia Canfield Hamilton, a senior appellate disciplinary counsel for the Office of the Chief Disciplinary Counsel who handled the appeal, did not respond to a request for comment. Claire Mock, public affairs counsel for the office, declined comment.
In 2014, the commission filed the disciplinary suits against the Holes, alleging they were violating Rules 7.01(a) and (c) because they continued to use the Hole & Alvarez name in their practices.
Judge Rhonda Hurley of the 98th District Court in Travis County, who presided over the proceedings, denied motions for summary judgment filed by the Holes in the suits, but granted a partial summary judgment in favor of the commission, concluding that the commission had established as a matter of law that the Holes had violated the disciplinary rules. After those rulings, according to the opinion, the parties stipulated that the sanctions against Roland and Cheryl Hole would be no greater than a public reprimand and attorney’s fees.
On Nov. 1, 2015, Hurley signed final judgments of public reprimand against each of the lawyers for violating the disciplinary rules. The judge also ordered Cheryl Hole to pay $1,000 in attorney fees to the commission, and Ronald Hole to pay $1,500.
Benavides, joined on the appellate panel by Chief Justice Rogelio Valdez and Justice Nelda Rodriguez, held that the court agrees that the lawyers violated Rule 7.01(c) because Alvarez left the firm in December 2014 after she was appointed to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas. A plain reading of Rule 7.01(c) states that the name of a lawyer occupying a judicial position shall not be used in the name of a firm, or in communications on its behalf, during a period in which the lawyer is not actively and regularly practicing with the firm, Benavides wrote.
Benavides also wrote that Rule 7.01(a) does permit a firm to include the name of a retired partner in the firm’s name, but in this case, Judge Alvarez was not a retired member of the firm because she did not terminate her career in the practice of law by becoming a federal judge.
Additionally, the court found that the Holes failed to conclusively prove the commission’s petitions were barred by the statute of limitations and found the commission did not waive its right to seek disciplinary proceedings against the Holes.