Estate-Planning Suit Filed

An elderly woman claims she had to go back to work at age 79, after her husband’s lawyer did not prepare “appropriate estate planning documents.” In her petition in Constance Lou Cole, Individually and as an Independent Executrix and Personal Representative of the Estate of Kenneth H. Cole v. Glass Phillips & Murray,Constance Lou Cole alleges that she is a former client of Dallas firm Glass, Phillips & Murray and its partner Erny G. Simmons. She alleges Simmons failed “to effectuate … the clear intent” of her husband, who died in 2010. In her Oct. 24 petition in 193rd District Court in Dallas County, she brings causes of action for negligence and negligent misrepresentation. Troy Phillips, the managing partner of Glass, Phillips, says the firm has not yet been served with the petition but he denies the allegations, saying the matter was handled properly and the plaintiff is a “disgruntled” beneficiary. Cole seeks damages and alleges that, in addition to returning to work, she has been forced to sell assets, including her 400-piece collection of Depression glass. Simmons declines comment. Doug Perrin of The Perrin Law Firm in Dallas, who represents Cole, did not return a call seeking comment.

El Paso Lawyer Convicted

A federal jury in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas convicted El Paso lawyer Marco Antonio Delgado on Oct. 28 on one count of conspiracy to launder money, after prosecutors alleged at trial that Delgado helped launder up to $600 million in illegal drug proceeds. According to Robert Pitman, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Texas, federal prosecutors alleged to the jury that Delgado laundered money for the Milenio drug trafficking organization. They presented evidence linking Delgado to $1 million in drug money traveling from Atlanta to Mexico via El Paso, and they alleged that $50,000 seized from Delgado’s Interest on Lawyers’ Trust Account (IOLTA) was also connected to drug money, Pitman says. Delgado had pleaded not guilty. Delgado’s conviction is a significant one, says Pitman. “For a lot of reasons — not the least of which this was a well-regarded lawyer, active in the community and was considered a philanthropist — it was really discouraging,” Pitman says. “Unfortunately, he was giving away money that there was reason to believe” was connected to illegal funds, says Pitman, who notes that Delgado still faces trial on additional wire fraud and money laundering charges. Delgado has not yet been sentenced. “In the process, he became a culpable participant in the drug cartel . . . whose money he was laundering,” Pitman alleges. Ray Velarde, an El Paso attorney who defended Delgado at trial, did not return a call for comment. Delgado is in federal custody.

Voting on Expanded Sanctions

Misbehaving judges would face more types of sanctions following public proceedings if voters approve the last constitutional amendment on the November ballot. Currently, the Texas Constitution says that the State Commission on Judicial Conduct (SCJC), after holding a formal proceeding against a judge, can only issue its harshest sanctions: a public censure, or a recommendation for the judge’s retirement or removal. But the commission can issue those sanctions or lesser punishments after private, informal proceedings. Proposition 9 asks voters to expand the commission’s options following formal proceedings to its full range of sanctions: a public admonition, warning or reprimand; a requirement for training or education; a public censure; and a recommendation for a judge’s removal or retirement. The constitutional amendment arises from Senate Joint Resolution 42, which the 83rd Legislature approved in 2013′s regular session. The Sunset Advisory Commission, which reviews state agencies every 12 years and recommends improvements, suggested SJR 42 after reviewing the SCJC. The measure is meant to encourage the SCJC to discipline more judges publicly instead of privately. The Legislature already put other Sunset Commission recommendations in place by passing Senate Bill 209. [See "Sunset Means Sunshine for Judicial Conduct Commission," Texas Lawyer, May 27, 2013, page 7.] It requires the SCJC to: open all its documents and hearings to future Sunset review; hold biennial hearings to take public comment; review its governing rules and suggest changes for consistency with other law; explain to complainants reasons why it dismisses their complaints; allow judges to seek review of any type of sanction; and more. SCJC Executive Director Seana Willing and Chairman Tom Cunningham each didn’t return a telephone call seeking comment.

Fire Breaks Out at TCRP

The Austin headquarters of the Texas Civil Rights Project sustained $140,000 in damage after a fire broke out Oct. 30, says Austin Fire Department spokeswoman Michelle Tanzola. No one was injured. TCRP director Jim Harrington says the fire will have “minimal impact” on the nonprofit legal aid group’s work. “We save all our files. We back them up offsite every night. Nothing was lost that way,” he explains. He says he has rented office space with Texas RioGrande Legal Aid in Austin for his 12 staffers, about half of whom are lawyers. Investigators determined that the single-alarm fire started from overheated electrical equipment in a computer-server closet, Tanzola says. The emergency call came in at 12:48 a.m. on Oct. 30, and fire crews responded in four minutes. The fire was out by 1 a.m. “It doesn’t look like it was too large,” says Tanzola. “It only took about eight minutes for them to put it out.” Harrington says the fire “gutted” an office where a grant-development staffer and accountant worked. The rest of the building interior is “coated with black, sticky soot,” he says. “It’s eerie: When you go in, it’s just black everywhere. In my office, I look at my desk and papers, and everything is black—everywhere,” says Harrington. Harrington doesn’t know yet how long it will take to rebuild the office. “You’re never going to recover totally your losses from insurance. So, we will be doing fundraising,” he says, noting that people can donate on the TCRP website. “We’ve got a lot of support: a lot of people calling, sending money, offering to help clean,” says Harrington. “We will roll with the punches, as we always do, and just keep fighting for justice.”