A Texas appeals court affirmed judgments sanctioning South Texas lawyers Cheryl and Ronald Hole for failing to change the name of their law firm after former name partner Micaela Alvarez left the firm following her appointment as a federal district judge in McAllen, Texas in 2004.
A three-judge panel of the Thirteenth Court of Appeals in Edinburg concluded on Aug. 24 that a trial judge did not err by granting a partial summary judgment in favor of the Texas Commission for Lawyer Discipline because the commission “conclusively established” that Cheryl and Ronald Hole, whose firm is known as Hole & Alvarez, violated Rules 7.01(a) and (c) of the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct.
Rule 7.01(a) prohibits lawyers from practicing at a firm with a name that is misleading or contains names other than those at the firm, although the firm name can include the name of deceased or retired partners. Rule 7.01(c) prohibits the name of a lawyer occupying a judicial position from being used in the name of a firm while the lawyer is not actively practicing at the firm.
Ronald Hole, who represented himself and his wife before the appeals court, said he disagrees with the Aug. 24 memorandum opinion, and will seek a motion for rehearing.
“The name is proper,” he said. “We do have an Alvarez in the firm as well.”
He said the judge’s son, Javier Alvarez Martinez, became a “nonparticipating” partner at the firm after he passed the bar several years ago. Hole said Alvarez Martinez is based in Austin but does some work for the firm.
Judge Alvarez’s son is not listed as an attorney on the Hole & Alvarez firm website, but Hole said technical issues prevent him from updating the website.
Hole said the opinion does not properly address the statute of limitations issue he and his wife raised, since Judge Alvarez left Hole & Alvarez in December 2004 and the disciplinary suit was not filed until 2014. He said the Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel was aware many years ago that they were using the Hole & Alvarez name, and the commission took no action until a lawyer he sued “threatened to report me to the Bar.”
“My goal is to have the judgment thrown out and get my attorney fees back,” Hole said.
Cynthia Canfield Hamilton, a senior appellate disciplinary counsel for the Office of the Chief Disciplinary Counsel who handled the appeal, did not respond to a request for comment. Claire Mock, public affairs counsel for the office, declined comment.
In 2014, the commission filed the disciplinary suits against the Holes, alleging they were violating Rules 7.01(a) and (c) because they continued to use the Hole & Alvarez name in their practices.
Judge Rhonda Hurley of the 98th District Court in Travis County, who presided over the proceedings, denied motions for summary judgment filed by the Holes in the suits, but granted a partial summary judgment in favor of the commission, concluding that the commission had established as a matter of law that the Holes had violated the disciplinary rules. After those rulings, according to the opinion, the parties stipulated that the sanctions against Roland and Cheryl Hole would be no greater than a public reprimand and attorney’s fees.
On Nov. 1, 2015, Hurley signed final judgments of public reprimand against each of the lawyers for violating the disciplinary rules. The judge also ordered Cheryl Hole to pay $1,000 in attorney fees to the commission, and Ronald Hole to pay $1,500.
Benavides, joined on the appellate panel by Chief Justice Rogelio Valdez and Justice Nelda Rodriguez, held that the court agrees that the lawyers violated Rule 7.01(c) because Alvarez left the firm in December 2014 after she was appointed to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas. “A plain reading of Rule 7.01(c) states that the name of a lawyer occupying a judicial position shall not be used in the name of a firm, or in communications on its behalf, during a period in which the lawyer is not actively and regularly practicing with the firm,” Benavides wrote.
Benavides also wrote that Rule 7.01(a) does permit a firm to include the name of a retired partner in the firm’s name, but in this case, “Judge Alvarez was not a retired member of the firm because she did not terminate her career in the practice of law by becoming a federal judge.”
Additionally, the court found that the Holes failed to conclusively prove the commission’s petitions were barred by the statute of limitations and found the commission did not waive its right to seek disciplinary proceedings against the Holes.