An appeals court in Texas has revoked the license of a Houston attorney for failing to repay his student loans and other debts.
The state 3rd Court of Appeals decision issued on April 10 noted the "serious consequences likely to befall" attorney Frank P. Santulli III following the revocation, but it nevertheless affirmed a ruling by a trial court that followed a recommendation from the Texas Board of Law Examiners to pull his license.
The three-judge appeals panel in Austin found that, because Santulli, a Houston solo practitioner, did not adhere to a previous order requiring him to pay his debts, he lacked the trustworthiness necessary to represent clients.
Santulli, a 1998 graduate of Texas Southern University Thurgood Marshall School of Law, said in a telephone interview that the decision set a bad precedent for the board of law examiners' "unfettered power" over practicing attorneys. He said that he plans to file for a rehearing and, if necessary, appeal the decision. He said his loan debt was about $67,000.
The Texas Board of Law Examiners declined to comment on the case.
The decision in Santulli v. Texas Board of Law Examiners, No. 03-06-00392-CV, stems from a probationary license the board granted Santulli in 2001, on the condition that he repay a "substantial amount of student loan and personal debt" under a plan with the Consumer Credit Counseling Service.
The board held another hearing in December 2002 and determined that Santulli had not complied with the previous order, according to the recent decision. The board expressed concern at the time that because of the debt he was carrying, Santulli would be tempted to "short-shrift" his clients or "convert money" from his clients to cover his debt.
However, it granted him a six-month extension on his probationary license with the understanding that he would either pay the debt or discharge some of it through bankruptcy.
A year later, the board found that he had not taken care of his debt and recommended the revocation of his license. A trial court later affirmed the decision.
In arguing against the revocation of his license in the appeals court, Santulli asserted that the initial court ordering requiring him to make "suitable arrangements" to repay his debt was arbitrary and capricious and that the revocation was not supported by substantial evidence. He further argued that the board erred in finding that he lacked good moral character. The appeals panel was not persuaded.
Santulli, who represented himself, said that he plans to hire a lawyer to appeal the decision.