State Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, under conviction for 11 felony fraud-related charges, has resigned his law license rather than face an attorney discipline case.
Uresti, a personal injury attorney, was convicted Feb. 22 for fraudulently steering his clients to invest in FourWinds Logistics, a hydraulic fracking business that turned out as a Ponzi scheme. He pleaded not guilty, claiming he didn’t know about the scam until it was too late. One of Uresti’s lawyers pledged to appeal Uresti’s convictions for wire fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering and securities fraud violations.
Robert Valdez, who represented Uresti in the resignation, declined to comment about why Uresti resigned his law license.
“That’s personal to the senator,” said Valdez, a shareholder in Valdez & Trevino in San Antonio.
Uresti filed his motion to resign as a lawyer on March 23. The Texas Supreme Court accepted his resignation on April 10.
In a response to Uresti’s motion to resign, the Commission for Lawyer Discipline listed Uresti’s criminal charges as his professional misconduct. The convictions count as “serious crimes” under the Texas Rules of Disciplinary Procedure, said the commission’s response.
The commission said Uresti violated rules in the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct that prohibit attorneys from: committing any criminal act that reflects adversely on the lawyer’s honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer, and engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation.
Claire Mock, spokeswoman for the State Bar of Texas Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel, which represents the commission, declined to comment.
Now that Uresti has resigned his law license, it has practically the same impact as disbarment. He can’t practice law or hold himself out as a lawyer. He’s going to have to serve out his entire criminal sentence—his sentencing hearing is in late June—and then five years after his sentence ends, he can petition his local district court for reinstatement of his law license. If the district court granted his reinstatement, he’d have to pass the bar exam again and pass a character and fitness evaluation.
Uresti earned his law degree in 1992 from St. Mary’s University School of Law in San Antonio, and he was licensed to practice law that same year. Prior to his resignation, he didn’t have any public disciplinary history.
Much of the time when a lawyer is convicted of a felony, the Commission for Lawyer Discipline files a petition for compulsory discipline with the Texas Board of Disciplinary Appeals. There’s no compulsory discipline petition in Uresti’s case, according to a search of BODA’s records.
Valdez said that, when a lawyer indicates he’s willing to resign his law license, there’s no need for the commission to file a case and play out extensive litigation.
If he had faced a compulsory discipline case, Uresti probably would have been disbarred. The commission would only have to show BODA evidence that Uresti was convicted for something fitting the disciplinary procedural rules’ definition of a serious crime, or worse, an intentional crime.
Here, the commission in its response alleged Uresti’s committed “serious crimes” under the rules. That level of offense actually allows BODA the discretion to give the lawyer probation of his law license, rather than full disbarment. Conversely, if the commission had claimed Uresti’s offenses were “intentional crimes” under the rules, the only possible outcome would have been disbarment.
Angela Morris is a freelance journalist. Follow her on Twitter at @AMorrisReports