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The fee contract seemed routine enough when Austin lawyer David L. Botsford agreed to handle appeals for San Antonio businessman Allen Blackthorne, who was convicted of conspiracy in a murder-for-hire for the death of his ex-wife in 1997 and sentenced to life in prison. Blackthorne’s current wife agreed to pay Botsford to handle appeals of Blackthorne’s criminal conviction, his habeas corpus action and a retrial, with payment coming from proceeds from the sale of stock. Botsford, a shareholder in Sheinfeld, Maley & Kay’s white-collar crime defense section, was pleased to get the work because it is a challenging, fascinating case for a criminal defense lawyer. Sheila L. Bellush, Blackthorne’s ex-wife, was murdered in 1997 in the presence of her 23-month-old quadruplets, and Blackthorne was one of four men convicted in connection with the murder. But Sheinfeld Maley’s effort to get paid for its work has derailed a multimillion-dollar civil suit filed by Bellush’s family against Blackthorne and his wife, Maureen, and the three other men serving jail terms for the murder. The hitch: The Nov. 2, 2000, agreement between Maureen Blackthorne and Sheinfeld, Maley gives the Houston-based firm a lien on proceeds of the sale of stock in RS Medical, a private company. Allen Blackthorne transferred the stock to his wife a few days after Bellush’s murder. But after the plaintiffs in the civil suit amended pleadings and alleged that Blackthorne fraudulently conveyed the stock to his wife in 1997, 57th District Judge Pat Boone of San Antonio issued a temporary injunction on March 9 preventing Maureen Blackthorne from selling it. Botsford says Boone’s order prevents the Blackthornes from not only paying his firm, but from paying other lawyers to defend them in the civil suit. He filed an interlocutory appeal of Boone’s order, and on April 2, a three-judge panel of the 4th Court of Appeals in San Antonio granted a stay. That stay delays a trial of the civil suit that was set to begin on April 3. The suit will be tried in Kerrville. Botsford says Maureen Blackthorne doesn’t have independent income. “She needs to hire an attorney to represent her on the civil case. For instance, she owes taxes like everybody else. She’s got two kids. She’s not employed,” he says. APPEALS AGREEMENT Sheinfeld Maley isn’t totally in the lurch. Botsford says he assisted Blackthorne’s lead defense attorney during Blackthorne’s criminal trial in 2000 before U.S. District Judge Edward Prado of San Antonio. The firm was paid, Botsford says, although he won’t disclose the amount. But on Nov. 2, 2000, the day Blackthorne was sentenced to life in prison, Botsford says he signed the agreement with Maureen Blackthorne to handle Blackthorne’s appeals. It’s that agreement that’s at issue. Sheinfeld Maley didn’t intervene in the civil suit, James J. Bellush, et al. v. Jose Luis Del Toro Jr., et al., No. 98-CI-16053, until after the plaintiffs’ lawyers amended the pleadings and added the fraudulent conveyance allegation in January 2001. In the suit, filed in 1998, the plaintiffs allege conspiracy/murder for hire, murder, assault and battery, stalking, bystander liability, intentional infliction of mental distress, negligence and fraudulent transfer of assets. The plaintiffs include Bellush’s husband, James, who is suing on behalf of himself and their quadruplets, and Bellush’s older daughter with Blackthorne; Bellush’s mother; and her sister, who is suing on behalf of Bellush’s younger daughter with Blackthorne. As alleged in the suit, Bellush and her family moved to Florida in 1997 because she believed she was being harassed by Blackthorne. In November 1997, she was shot once in the face and sliced twice in the throat and apparently was left to die while the quadruplets sat in their life preservers in preparation for an afternoon swim. Bellush’s body was discovered by her oldest daughter, then 13, when she came home from school. The Bellush family is suing the Blackthornes and the three other men convicted for the death. Jose Luis Del Toro Jr. pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and was sentenced in Florida to life in prison with no parole, Daniel Alex Rocca is serving a life sentence for murder, and Samuel “Sammy” Gonzales pleaded guilty to conspiring with his cousin Del Toro. The Bellush family seeks a minimum of $32 million in actual damages and unspecified punitives. They also want Boone to void the transfer of stock and money from Allen Blackthorne to his wife to the extent necessary to satisfy their claims in this suit. NO WIGGLE ROOM Botsford suggests that Boone’s order preventing Maureen Blackthorne from selling the stock violates her due process rights because she doesn’t have a lawyer to defend her in the suit. Botsford and Allen Blackthorne’s attorney in the civil suit, Steven Cennamo, say Maureen Blackthorne’s lawyer has withdrawn from the case. “What you’ve got is a plaintiffs’ attorney trying to keep Maureen Blackthorne from using her assets to hire counsel and pay their debts so in the event he gets a judgment down the line, he can keep those assets,” Botsford says. “That’s absurd,” says the plaintiffs’ lawyer J. Ken Nunley, a partner in Nunley, Davis, Jolley & Hill in Boerne, Texas. Nunley says he added the fraudulent conveyance allegation to protect the assets for his clients’ potential recovery, and he did not know at the time that Maureen Blackthorne was trying to sell the stock. Allen Blackthorne’s attorney in the civil suit also wants to withdraw, but Boone won’t let him. Cennamo, a San Antonio solo, says Boone denied two motions he’s filed asking to withdraw. “I want out because I’m not getting paid, but I want the Blackthornes to be able to hire other counsel to defend themselves. I need help to defend them,” Cennamo says. Cennamo says he was getting paid up until around December or January, but not since. He won’t say how much he’s owed. Maureen Blackthorne’s former attorney, John Curney, a partner in Curney, Garcia, Wise & Farmer in San Antonio, did not return two telephone messages by press time April 5. In Sheinfeld Maley’s emergency motion for a stay, the firm alleges the RS Medical stock is valued at about $4.4 million and the firm’s legal fees earned and to be earned under terms of the contract exceed $500,000. In their opinion, Chief Justice Phil Hardberger and Justices Tom Rickhoff and Alma L. Lopez found that the stay is mandated by Section 51.014 of Texas Civil Practices & Remedies Code. The 4th Court wrote, “We recognize and appreciate the effort of the trial judge in this case to keep the cases on this docket moving forward. We also recognize and appreciate the frustration of the appellees in being unable to proceed to trial. However, the stay set forth in section 51.014 is statutory and allows no room for discretion.”

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