HOUSTON (CN) - A Texas state lawmaker faces up to a year in jail after a jury convicted him of five counts of misdemeanor barratry for the illegal solicitation of law clients.
Montgomery County prosecutors charged Ron Reynolds, a Missouri City Democrat, and eight other Houston-area attorneys with barratry - ambulance chasing - in 2013. Reynolds was the only one who didn't take a plea deal, the Houston Chronicle reported.
A six-person jury on Friday convicted Reynolds, who represented himself, after a weeklong trial, the Texas Tribune reported. The punishment phase of his trial started Friday. Reynolds faces a $10,000 fine in addition to the possible jail time.
He plans to appeal the verdict and said he is confident he will win that and another term in office. "I'm firing my lawyer," he joked to the Texas Tribune, saying he will hire an attorney for the appeal.
The conviction comes after police raided Reynolds' law office in 2013. They were acting on a warrant obtained by Montgomery County District Attorney Brett Ligon. They also raided the other attorneys' offices and two chiropractic clinics, who they allege were tied to the same ambulance-chasing ringleader as Reynolds.
Texas law prohibits lawyers from soliciting clients for personal injury claims until 30 days after an incident.
Reynolds is in his third term in office. He told the Tribune he filed his notice of intent to run for reelection last Monday. In 2011 the Texas House Democratic Caucus named him "Freshman of the Year."
Reynolds, a former municipal judge, is a managing partner at Brown, Brown and Reynolds law firm in Houston. His legislative district includes Fort Bend County.
Reynolds is the first African-American elected to the state Legislature in Fort Bend County since the late 1800s, according to his biography on Texas Legislature Online. He is the House Democratic whip, the second-highest ranking position within the Democratic Caucus.
Fort Bend County encompasses the western fringes of sprawling Houston, the seat of Harris County. The charges were filed in Montgomery County, north of Harris County, because the scam's ringleader - former chiropractic clinic owner Robert Valdez - solicited car accident victims for Reynolds from his Montgomery County house, the Chronicle reported.
Valdez, who is serving a five-year sentence for the scheme, testified that Reynolds paid him an average of $1,000 for every client he recruited using information he got from police reports, according to the Chronicle.
Reynolds got Valdez to admit on the stand that he never told Reynolds he was recruiting clients, the Chronicle reported. Reynolds also got the six clients who prosecutors said were his barratry victims to admit they never told him Valdez recruited them, the newspaper reported.
Reynolds authored and co-authored 73 bills during the last session of the Texas Legislature, most notably a bill to require some law enforcement officers to wear body cameras. It died after failing to advance beyond committee hearings.
If the conviction is upheld on appeal, Reynolds won't have to leave office, the Tribune reported.
Reynolds portrayed himself during closing arguments on Friday as a victim of a witch hunt by Montgomery County prosecutors who he said are "wasting the taxpayers' dollars on a very frivolous case" and "the real criminal will soon be allowed to walk free who concocted these stories," the Chronicle reported.
The Texas Legislature convenes every odd-numbered year for 140 days, starting in January. Legislatures are paid $600 per month, plus a $150 per diem, which amounts to $28,000 a year. Many of them, like Reynolds, have day jobs.Follow @@cam_langford
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