Robert S. Bob Bennett. (Courtesy photo)
Judge Craig Smith of Dallas on May 10 signed an order denying Houston trial lawyer Robert S. Bennett’s request for mediation before a hearing to decide what sanctions should be imposed on Bennett in his disciplinary suit. The Commission for Lawyer Discipline opposed the request, alleging Bennett asked for mediation simply to delay the sanction hearing.
“By the time that a mediation is scheduled and held, and then a sanction hearing is scheduled and held, respondent will have been able to practice law for additional months before a sanction is imposed for his professional misconduct,” the Commission for Lawyer Discipline argued in a response filed on May 9 in the latest development in the highly watched disciplinary suit.
Bennett, who was disbarred in March 2014, started practicing law again in March 2016 after a Houston appeals court reversed a trial court’s sanction disbarring Bennett and remanded it for reconsideration of the “appropriate sanction.”
The appeals court found that the evidence was insufficient to support the trial court’s conclusion that Bennett violated two disciplinary rules. The panel of the Fourteenth Court of Appeals in Houston found legally and factually sufficient evidence to support the trial court’s conclusion that Bennett violated Rule 3.02 of the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional conduct, but found insufficient evidence that he violated Rule 1.15(d).
Judge Craig Smith of the 192nd District in Dallas, who is “specially assigned” to Bennett’s disciplinary suit, has scheduled a sanction hearing for later this month.
In his May 3 motion for mediation, Bennett alleged that because the Commission for Lawyer Discipline has offered “no new evidence” that any sanction should be imposed against him, mediation should be used to resolve the matter.
He also argued that Texas attorneys support him. He noted that about 2,500 Houston lawyers recently voted for him in the election for the State Bar of Texas Board of Directors, and he lost by only 3 percent of the votes—to a lawyer who had just completed a term as president of the Houston Bar Association. Also, Bennett wrote, “thousands” of Texas lawyers signed an amici curiae brief supporting his May 2014 request to resolve his disciplinary suit “by mediation or other final resolution.”
But in its response, the commission asks Judge Smith to deny the motion for mediation on the grounds that they already participated in a mediation in August 2014, which was unsuccessful. In addition, the commission said Bennett waited too long to request a second mediation, and his “actual objective” is to postpone the sanction hearing.
“By waiting until three weeks before the hearing date to file respondent’s motion, and by requesting neither a hearing date nor a submission date for the motion, he hopes that a granting of the motion will necessitate the postponement of the sanction hearing,” the commission alleged in the response.
Bennett, of Bob Bennett & Associates, did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
In March 2014, specially assigned Judge Carmen Kelsey of San Antonio signed a final judgment of disbarment in the disciplinary suit the commission had filed against Bennett in 2013. It stemmed from a fee dispute arising from Bennett’s representation of a client in a breach of contract suit and a potential federal civil rights action.
Last August, after Bennett regained his license, the Supreme Court of Texas appointed Judge Smith to preside over Commission for Lawyer Discipline v. Bennett.