While in federal prison in Florida, former Judge Abel Limas recently found new lawyers to represent him in his attorney-fee lawsuit against an Austin firm.

The former judge of Cameron County’s 404th District Court claims in his March 12, 2013, original petition in Limas v. Rosenthal & Watson that Rosenthal & Watson owes him a fee for referring a brain-injury case to the firm.

He sued the firm for breach of contract, seeking actual damages, pre- and post-judgment interest, attorney fees and court costs.

The firm denied all of Limas’ allegations in its April 12, 2013, original answer.

None of Limas’ lawyers in the civil suit returned calls seeking comment. But Limas’ criminal-defense attorney, Chip Lewis, said Limas is “trying to fight for what is rightfully his, with both arms behind his back. The bondage in this case is confinement in the federal prison.”

Lynn Watson, a partner in Rosenthal & Watson who represents her firm in the suit, didn’t return a telephone call or email seeking comment.

Criminal, Civil

Limas and five lawyers—including Rosenthal & Watson partner Marc Rosenthal—were convicted of crimes that generally involved lawyers paying money to Limas in exchange for favorable judicial actions. [See " Former Judge Goes to Prison, Attorney Gets 20 Years," Texas Lawyer, Dec. 16, 2013, page 5.]

According to an Oct. 21 2013, Judgment in a Criminal Case in United States v. Limas, Limas pleaded guilty on March 31, 2011, to one count of violating the federal Racketeer-Influenced and Corrupt Organization (RICO) statute. He was sentenced to serve six years in prison and three years of supervised release, and he was ordered to pay $6.25 million in restitution and a $100 assessment.

A jury found Rosenthal guilty of 13 counts, according to the Feb. 28, 2013, verdict in United States v. Rosenthal. A federal judge later set aside two counts. According to a Feb. 13 judgment in a Criminal Case, Rosenthal was convicted of: one count of conspiracy to violate the RICO statute; four counts of mail fraud; one count of witness tampering; two counts of tampering with an official proceeding; one count of extortion; and two counts of mail fraud aiding and abetting and deprivation of honest services. He was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison, three years of supervised release, $13.29 million in restitution and a $1,100 assessment. He is appealing.

Ernesto Gamez Jr., who represented Rosenthal in his criminal case, didn’t return a telephone call seeking comment.

Lewis advised Limas to hire civil lawyers to pursue his claim. Lewis said the referred case and fee dispute isn’t related to any “criminal acts.” Before Limas sued, Lewis met with federal prosecutors, who said the referral was “a clean transaction,” said Lewis.

Lewis explained that Limas was judge from 2000 to 2008, then lost his primary election. Limas spent part of 2009 as of counsel at Rosenthal & Watson, said Lewis, and the firm collected “at least a few million” in attorney fees from Limas’ referral and was supposed to pay a percentage to Limas.

Former assistant U.S. attorney Michael Wynne, who was lead prosecutor in all of the Limas-related cases, said he doesn’t “remember that case being part of our investigation.”

Wynne said he can’t recall discussing the matter with Lewis because, “There were just so many conversations.”

Fee Fight

In his petition, Limas alleged that, on April 13, 2009, he entered into a “Power of Attorney with Assignment of Interest” contract with a woman for a case about her son’s brain injury. Limas alleged he referred the case to Rosenthal & Watson.

“Plaintiff has referred numerous cases to Defendant and has received a fee commensurate with the Parties’ mutual understanding and agreement. Defendant has failed and refused to honor Plaintiff’s attorney fee lien in the case,” alleged Limas.

In its answer, Rosenthal & Watson denied all of the allegations.

Limas’ lawyer in the civil suit, Dean Blumrosen, on Jan. 30 filed an Agreed Motion to Withdraw as Attorney, explaining, “Plaintiff would like to retain new counsel to handle this matter.”

Senior Judge Gus Strauss, sitting in Travis County’s 261st District Court, granted the motion on Feb. 27.

Limas’ new attorneys are Benigo “Trey” Martinez, Tomas Tijerina and John Russell Davis of the Law Office of Benigo “Trey” Martinez in Brownsville, according to a Feb. 25 Plaintiff’s Notice of Appearance.

Blumrosen, Martinez, Tijerina and Davis each didn’t return a call for comment.

Lewis noted that Limas mainly communicates with his civil lawyers through email or regular mail and that depositions might happen through the federal penitentiary’s video conferencing system.

Texas Lawyer mailed a letter to Limas, but he didn’t respond before deadline.