Two years ago, Corpus Christi plaintiffs' lawyer William R. "Bill" Edwards Sr. lobbied the Legislature to create a civil cause of action for barratry. Now, he's a defendant in two barratry-related suits, one of which involves that statute.
Not only does he deny the allegations, but his son, William R. "Billy" Edwards III, argues that the suits are an attempt at "retribution" by three other plaintiffs lawyers. Bill Edwards previously represented clients who alleged those three lawyers improperly solicited their legal business.
The two suits against Bill Edwards involve Joe Avalos, a small-town barber.
"[Joe] Avalos' lawsuit contains false allegations. The sole source of the allegations is not credible. And the history of Avalos' attorneys gives every indicia that Avalos' lawsuit was filed solely for retribution against William R. Edwards," writes Billy Edwards, a partner in the Edwards Law Firm, in an email.
When asked to respond to the allegation that the suits are retaliatory, Keith Gould, co-counsel in both suits, says it's "absolutely not true."
"These cases are about the clients," says Gould. "We investigated their claims pretty thoroughly before we did anything and satisfied ourselves they were legitimate."
He says the Edwards Law Firm rented office space in Avalos' barbershop. Gould says that "The Edwards Law Firm" is still stenciled on the door and pictures of Edwards are still on a bookshelf inside.
Suits Against Edwards
In the first suit, Joe Avalos v. William R. Edwards, The Edwards Law Firm and Jo Emma Arechiga,Avalos claims that Bill Edwards authorized former Edwards Law Firm attorney Jo Emma Arechiga to pay Avalos 8 percent of attorney fees to bring in potential personal-injury clients, but then the defendants "breached their agreements" and didn't pay, according to the May 17 Original Petition and Request for Disclosures. Avalos is suing for breach of contract.
Edwards and his firm denied all of Avalos' allegations in a June 20 Defendants' Original Answer.
Arechiga also denied all of Avalos' allegations in her June 20 Original Answer and Request for Disclosure.
In the second suit against Edwards, Chavez v. Edwards, et al., Ericelda Chavez alleges that "agents" of Edwards and his firm were "paid or promised a cut of the fees to do the actual initial calling and soliciting of potential clients." She alleges she was invited to Avalos' barbershop and she signed a legal contract, according to the May 24 Plaintiff's Original Petition and Request for Disclosure. Chavez further alleges that she was "promised millions" if she would "only sign with the Defendants."
Chavez brings causes of action for a violation of the civil barratry law; civil conspiracy; malice and gross negligence; "guilty of fiduciary duty," and "intentional inflection of mental anguish."
All three defendants in Chavez deny all the allegations.
Stephen Carrigan, also co-counsel in both suits, notes that another lawyer referred both cases to him.
He says, "Unlike other actions Edwards has taken against myself, Mr. Gould, and other attorneys in this area and South Texas, these are extremely meritorious lawsuits."
Bill Edwards declines comment, explaining, "I'm not going to try the lawsuit in the media."
Billy Edwards notes that Arechiga no longer works at the Edwards Law Firm. Arechiga and her lawyer, J. Mitchell Clark, each didn't return a telephone call seeking comment.
This isn't the first time Bill Edwards and the lawyers representing Avalos and Chavez have clashed.
Avalos' lawyers are Carrigan and Gould.
Chavez's lawyers are Carrigan, Gould and Paul Andrews.
Bill Edwards represents a former employee of Gould and Andrews who has brought a barratry suit, Uribe v. Andrews, et al., against Gould and Andrews and their firm. Carrigan is the defense lawyer in that suit.
Bill Edwards also represents two sets of plaintiffs who have sued Carrigan, alleging barratry. In one suit, Chapa, et al. v. Carrigan, et al., Carrigan prevailed on summary judgment on one claim, while the other claims were dismissed upon settlement. The other suit against Carrigan, Runk, et al v. Carrigan Law Firm, et al., is ongoing.
According to Billy Edwards, Bill Edwards filed a grievance against Carrigan with the State Bar of Texas related to the Chapa litigation.
Andrews' and Gould's former employee Maryann Uribe alleges she "was presented with a written contract" in October 2011, which included a provision offering to pay her 15 percent of attorney fees "in any case where the client was somebody who came to the Defendants through the action of Plaintiff." That's according to her June 10 Plaintiff's Seventh Amended Original Petition and Request for Disclosure and Original Answer to Defendants' Counterclaims in Uribe v. Andrews, et al. The defendants are Andrews, Gould, The Gould Law Firm, Andrews*Gould Attorneys, and Andrews & Gould Attorneys. [See "Firm and Lawyers Deny Allegations in Barratry, FLSA Suits," Texas Lawyer, Jan. 23, 2012, page 5]
Among other things, Uribe alleges she refused to sign the contract, and the defendants "wrongfully terminated" her.
She brings causes of action for: civil liability for prohibited barratry; civil conspiracy; wrongful termination; malice and gross negligence; and breach of contract and accounting.
But among other things, the defendants claim that Uribe lacks standing to sue under the civil barratry law, according to the Jan. 7 Defendants First Amended Answer, Affirmative Defenses, Counterclaims and Request for Disclosure.
"This cause of action has been filed not by a client seeking legal services but by a disgruntled employee who brings suit under improper motives," says the answer. The defendants allege that Uribe "was the one who demanded the bonus . . . and was actually demanding 20%."
"At no time did defendants ever request that Plaintiff commit barratry, but only those lawful referrals that are allowed by Texas law which do not involve any improper solicitation," says the answer.
The defendants also bring counterclaims for oral debt, violation of the Texas Theft Liability Act, misapplication of fiduciary property and breach of contract, and breach of fiduciary duty. They claim that Edwards is individually liable because he participated in the breach of fiduciary duty.
The defendants allege that Uribe is abusing the judicial process by filing a "false and frivolous lawsuit to retaliate against, and harass" them. They argue that the court should impose sanctions against Uribe and "her attorney," who they don't name. Among other sanctions, the defendants are asking the court to issue an order dismissing the suit, or striking all or part of Uribe's pleadings, and to award them costs and attorney fees.
"Death-penalty sanctions are appropriate in this case because Plaintiff has committed egregious misconduct," says the answer, alleging that Uribe informed her lawyer of "facts that were not true" and that her "sole purpose is to accomplish her revenge."
But Billy Edwards says in an interview that the court has already ruled against the defendants on the reasons they called for the sanctions.
Bill Edwards and Carrigan also have clashed before, in two suits and a grievance. A court dismissed one suit, Chapa, against Carrigan, and he's appealing his disciplinary suspension stemming from the allegations underlying that litigation. The other suit, Runk, is ongoing.
Bill Edwards represented the Chapa plaintiffs, who alleged that a tow truck driver solicited them to hire Carrigan in the aftermath of a car wreck, they executed a contract with Carrigan, and "the Carrigan Defendants purported to settle the Chapas' case for $50,000.00, but whatever they did was done without the Chapas' approval," according to the July 12, 2011, Second Amended Original Petition and Request for Disclosure in Chapa, et al v. Carrigan, et al.
The plaintiffs brought three causes of action, and the defendants denied the allegations.
On April 1, 2011, the court granted a partial summary judgment for the defendants, dismissing one of the plaintiffs' causes of action. Then on Aug. 18, 2011, the court granted an Agreed Order of Dismissal because the parties settled. The case was dismissed with prejudice, with costs assessed against the defendants.
But the dispute didn't end there. On June 14, an evidentiary panel of the State Bar District No. 4-5 Grievance Committee found that Carrigan committed "professional misconduct" related to the incident, according to the Modified Judgment of Partially Probated Suspension in Commission for Lawyer Discipline v. Carrigan. The panel suspended Carrigan's law license for three months, followed by probation for one year and nine months, and ordered that he pay $4,314.20 in costs and expenses.
"William R. Edwards filed the complaint that led to the suspension," writes Billy Edwards in an email.
Carrigan says he's appealing, and he thinks the judgment is "not right."
The suspension was to start July 1, but Carrigan has asked the grievance committee to stay his suspension while he appeals, writes State Bar of Texas Office of Chief Disciplinary Council spokeswoman Claire Mock in an email.
Another set of plaintiffs is still litigating a suit against Carrigan.
Lula Runk, Zachary Fahrenthold and Cecil Runk allege that while they made funeral arrangements for a family member who died in a car accident, they responded to a call from Richard Dominguez of the Rockport American GI Forum, because he indicated he wanted to pay for the funeral. That's according to the April 1 Third Amended Original Petition and Request for Disclosure in Runk, et al v. Carrigan Law Firm, et al.
Lula Runk and Zachary Fahrenthold traveled to Rockport for a meeting, and they allege that Carrigan and Ron Dominguez, Carrigan's employee, "entered the residence and began talking about Carrigan's powers as a lawyer and the accident."
The plaintiffs are suing for: intentional intrusion on solitude, seclusion, and private affairs and concerns; conspiracy to intrude; conspiracy to commit barratry; malice, gross negligence and intentional conduct; and respondeat superior.
All of the defendants — Carrigan, his law firm, Ron Dominguez, the Rockport American GI Forum and Richard Dominguez — have denied the allegations.
Carrigan, his firm and Ron Dominguez add in a March 6 motion for partial summary judgment that they didn't offer a contract for legal services or perform any legal work, and "no further meetings or conversations took place."
"There is a dispute between the parties as to whether or not Movants were invited to meet with the Plaintiffs and whether or not the Plaintiffs knew Movants were coming to the meeting," says the motion.
In an email, Larry Coffey, who represents Carrigan, his firm and Ron Dominguez, writes, "The [C]hapa suit has been resolved. The [R]unks never hired the Carrigan firm and no contract was ever presented to them to sign. The suit was originally filed in another county, dropped by the plaintiffs and then refiled months later in [N]ueces [C]ounty. There was no barratry committed by anyone and we are confident in our defense."
Richard Dominguez, who represents himself and the Rockport American GI Forum, referred comment to his son, Ron Dominguez.
"The American GI Forum and my dad have helped thousands of soldiers at no cost, thousands of veterans, thousands of poor people," says Ron Dominguez.
He claims that the plaintiffs' deceased family member used to play bingo with Richard Dominguez. He says that, last year, the forum and his father helped the same family raise money to pay funeral expenses for another family member who died in an accident.
Ron Dominguez says that the allegations against the forum and his father are "ridiculous" and he adds about himself, he's not a "field runner," and he never committed barratry.
Carrigan says that he gets clients "the old fashioned way," by word of mouth, client referrals, attorney referrals and getting his name out through community involvement.