HOUSTON (CN) – The Houston Bar Association alleges in a trademark infringement and defamation lawsuit that scammers are preying on the elderly with a website for a fictitious Houston estate-planning law firm that falsely claims it’s a member of the association.
The Houston Bar Association and Houston Bar Foundation won a temporary restraining order on Monday, ordering Walsh & Padilla PLLC to take down its website walshpadillalaw.com, which prominently displays the groups’ logos under a banner stating “Our Membership Credentials.”
The Houston Bar groups say in their lawsuit filed Monday in Harris County District Court that Walsh & Padilla target old people with letters and emails stating it will help them recover life insurance proceeds if they supply their bank account information.
Walsh & Padilla’s website is clearly bogus, according to the complaint, because the headshots it shows for its principals John Walsh and Andrew Padilla are actually photos of other attorneys, including Curt Langley, a partner at Jackson Walker in Houston, and William Hayes, principal at the Houston law firm Hayes & Wilson.
“Additionally, the entire Walsh & Padilla website is a carbon copy of the website for Hayes & Wilson LLP. The attorney biographies, articles, resources and other content have been duplicated verbatim, and the design is identical,” the complaint states.
The Houston Bar Association and Foundation are represented by the association’s president Alistair Dawson with Beck Redden in Houston, and Beck Redden associate Mary Kate Raffetto.
Raffetto told Courthouse News she doesn’t know the names of any victims of the alleged scam, but she has anecdotal evidence from Canadians who say they were defrauded by Walsh & Padilla.
“Several of the attorneys who had their pictures stolen were contacted by victims in Canada. One of these victims had her bank account overdrawn by $14,000 by the scammers,” she said.
Raffetto said she brought the website to the attention of the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, which is investigating it to decide whether to bring criminal charges.
The site also displays the names and photos of three other supposed Walsh & Padilla lawyers. Neither they nor John Walsh and Andrew Padilla are members of the Houston Bar, and the photos are of attorneys who work for the Los Angeles real-estate law firm Allen Matkins LLP, according to the lawsuit.
The website lists a Houston-area number. The firm’s purported partner John Walsh did not return a phone message seeking a response to the lawsuit.
A Texas state judge signed a temporary restraining order on Monday, ordering Walsh & Padilla to stop operating the website.
“The website must be taken down by defendants or any other entity having control of or access to the website immediately upon receipt of this order,” the TRO states.
A hearing on the Houston Bar’s motion for a temporary injunction is set for June 30.
The site and its allegedly stolen content were still up Wednesday morning.
The Houston Bar Association and Foundation say Walsh & Padilla’s false statement that it’s a member of their organizations is defaming them and “lending credence” to the alleged scam.
They sued Walsh & Padilla on claims of defamation, trademark infringement and invasion of privacy.