Robert C. Hilliard, a partner in Hilliard Muñoz Gonzales, Corpus Christi
Robert C. Hilliard, a partner in Hilliard Muñoz Gonzales, Corpus Christi ()

Corpus Christi lawyer Robert Hilliard did not violate the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct when he allegedly settled a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of his client and a California woman he did not represent, according to a decision by the Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel for the State Bar of Texas.

However, a lawsuit that the California woman filed against Hilliard, his firm and a partner in connection with the settlement, which seeks more than $1 million in monetary relief from the defendants, is pending in the 215th District Court in Harris County.

On Dec. 5, 2013, Kelly Curtis of Morgan Hill, Calif., filed a grievance against Hilliard. As she detailed in an Oct. 20, 2013, letter attached to the form, she alleged that he settled the wrongful death lawsuit on her behalf without representing her and then failed to give her any of a $1 million settlement. She asked the Office of the Chief Disciplinary Counsel to investigate and institute disciplinary proceedings against Hilliard and his firm, Hilliard Munoz Gonzales.

On Dec. 30, 2013, the Office of the Chief Disciplinary Counsel dismissed the grievance, writing that the “information alleged does not demonstrate Professional Misconduct or a Disability.”

Curtis appealed that decision to the Board of Disciplinary Appeals, and the board on March 6 declined to grant the appeal “as the conduct described therein does not allege a violation of the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct.” The board affirmed the dismissal of the “complaint.”

Gary Siller, a partner in Strasburger & Price in Houston, represents Hilliard, his firm and partner John Martinez in Kelly L. Curtis v. Robert C. Hilliard. Siller provided copies of Curtis’ grievance and the Dec. 30, 2013, and March 6 letters that the Office of the Chief Disciplinary Counsel and the Board of Disciplinary Appeals, respectively, sent to Hilliard.

The letters do not provide reasons for why the grievance did not demonstrate professional misconduct. Siller declined to speculate.

However, plaintiffs attorney Randall Sorrels, a partner in Abraham, Watkins, Nichols, Sorrels, Agosto & Friend in Houston, said he believes the OCDC dismissed the grievance because Hilliard did not have an attorney-client relationship with Curtis. He said that is favorable for Curtis’ civil suit, which she filed after the OCDC dismissed the grievance.

In her petition in Curtis v. Hilliard, Curtis alleges that the defendants “obtained payment” on a $1 million settlement check, kept “at least $400,000 for themselves” and distributed the remainder to Adriana Ancira, the “purported common-law wife” of Curtis’ late father, who was killed in an accident in 2012. She alleges that she never hired Hilliard or his firm or any other lawyer at his firm to “prosecute or compromise any of her claims.”

On March 11, in a written statement on behalf of Hilliard Munoz, Siller wrote that Curtis’ allegations in the grievance against Hilliard are the “same baseless allegations” as in Curtis v. Hilliard.

“[T]he claim brought against the firm on February 11, 2014 in Harris County by Kelly L. Curtis, the adult daughter of James Davis, who was killed in an 18-wheeler trucking accident, is wholly without merit and frivolous.”

Siller wrote that, prior to the settlement, Curtis “directly indicated to Mr. Davis’ widow that she had no interest in becoming involved in the lawsuit or recovering as a result of the accident.”