Family Wants $5 Million Back from Lawyers, Saying They Won Case by Bribing a Judge
AUSTIN (CN) - The family of an EMT who died when his medical services helicopter crashed say their attorneys should forfeit their $5.2 million in legal fees because they won the case by bribing a state judge. One attorney, who is a former state representative, and the judge have both pleaded guilty to corruption charges.
Michael Sanchez and his co-worker Raul Garcia died onboard a chopper that crashed in the Laguna Madre near South Padre Island on Feb. 5, 2008.
The Sanchez and Garcia families hired attorneys Marc Rosenthal and Jose Solis to represent them, and the lawyers sued Metro Aviation and South Texas Emergency Foundation in Cameron County Court.
The case was assigned to 404th Cameron County District Court, where Abel Limas was presiding judge at the time, according to the complaint.
Limas and Solis have both pleaded guilty to corruption charges. Solis is a former state representative.
"As a part of their representation of the Sanchez and Garcia families, Rosenthal and Solis used a scheme for bribing Judge Limas," the Sanchez family says in their complaint in Travis County Court.
"They wanted favorable rulings from Judge Limas. They got them. The bribes even included future employment for Limas at Rosenthal's law firm," the complaint states.
"After losing his re-election bid, Limas exercised employment options while still on the bench. ... Limas was offered an 'of counsel' position with 'the firm,' as well as cash payments cryptically referred to as 'golf balls.' The consideration was Limas' past and continued favorable rulings.
"Ultimately, Judge Limas was also paid additional sums of money after settlement was obtained. ... These additional sums were a continuation of the bribery from Solis and Rosenthal and came out of the Garcia and Sanchez families' recovery," the complaint states.
(The ellipses mark references to exhibits called the "Solis Plea Packet Memo" and the "Limas Plea Packet Memo.")
The families' claims were settled on Oct. 17, 2009 and their attorneys pocketed $5.2 million in legal fees and $408,000 in expenses, according to the complaint.
Federal authorities had begun investigating Limas' corruption even before the helicopter crash case was filed, and obtained recordings of lawyers, including Jose Solis, engaging in the bribes, according to the complaint.
Solis confessed to bribing Limas and implicated Rosenthal in his plea deal, according to the complaint.
Sanchez's widow and children claim that the attorneys' bribes jeopardized their case, and "dishonored the memories of Michael Sanchez and Raul Garcia."
"Defendants' used the plaintiffs' claims and story as a vehicle to turn honest labor into a crooked scheme for a substantial fee to them," the family says. "Like the recent Wall Street financial crisis, defendants' conduct fosters a far reaching and severe distrust of those in the legal profession. Defendants' criminal acts are just another brick in the already glaring wall that greedy and dishonest lawyers are building between the judicial system and the public it is meant to serve and protect."
In addition to forfeiture of Rosenthal's and Solis' legal fees from the case, the Sanchez family seeks punitive damages from the attorneys and their law firms, Rosenthal & Watson PC, and Solis & Robles LLC, alleging breach of fiduciary duty, aiding and abetting breach of fiduciary duty, conversion, fraud, deceptive trade practices, conspiracy, negligence and gross negligence with malice.
They seek damages from Limas for unjust enrichment, conversion, and aiding and abetting of fiduciary duty.
The Sanchez family is represented by Houston attorney Larry Doherty.