Robert S. Bennett

With only one dissent, the State Bar of Texas executive committee voted March 8 to affirm its executive director’s decision that Houston attorney Robert S. “Bob” Bennett is ineligible to run for a seat on the bar’s board of directors.

Bennett, owner of Bob Bennett & Associates, said the committee’s vote came as no surprise.  “I knew how it was going to turn out,” he said after the meeting.

The committee’s vote is the latest setback for Bennett since he received a judgment of disbarment from a Harris County District Court in March 2014. Carmen Kelsey, then-judge of the 289th District Court in San Antonio, had signed the judgment.

Two years later, Bennett won a reversal of the disbarment after the Fourteenth Court of Appeals found that the district court erred when it concluded he had violated Rule 1.15(d) of the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct. However, the appeals court affirmed the district court’s finding that Bennett had violated Rule 3.02 of the disciplinary rules, which prohibits a lawyer from unreasonably increasing the costs or other burdens of a case or unreasonably delaying resolution of the matter.

The Fourteenth Court remanded Bennett’s disciplinary suit to the district court for reconsideration of the “appropriate sanction” for the violation of Rule 3.02. Kelsey had lost her bid for re-election in 2014, and Bennett faced a new judge at the sanction hearing in May 2017.

Judge Craig Smith of the 192nd District Court in Dallas, who was appointed to the case, issued a new judgment giving Bennett a partially suspended probation of two years, six months and three days. Bennett is appealing that judgment as well.

But Smith gave Bennett credit for the two years and three days that he was not allowed to practice law while subject to the disbarment. The six-month probated suspension ended Dec. 31, 2017.

Bennett pointed out that he was eligible to run for a bar director’s seat in 2017, although he lost that race.

“Nothing has happened since that time,” Bennett said.

State Bar President Tom Vick, who recused himself from the executive committee’s March 8 vote, said Bennett’s suspension was not in effect at the time of the 2017 race. But Bennett now has a suspension on his record.

“If you get suspended, you’re ineligible,” said Vick, a partner in Vick Carney in Weatherford.

Under State Bar Rule IV, Section 5, an attorney who has been suspended for misconduct must have been reinstated for at least 10 years before the beginning of a director’s term to be eligible to run for that seat.

But Bennett said, “I was never fully suspended.”

He also noted that his appeal of the judgment of partially probated suspension remains pending.

Austin solo Joe Longley, the State Bar’s president-elect, cast the only vote against affirming Executive Director Trey Apffel’s decision that Bennett is ineligible.

“I didn’t see any reason to keep him off (the ballot),” Longley said. “I felt like he had made a case that it was equitably in his favor.”