By Chris Lane
By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
Make it 14 for 14 for paralegal Michael Easton.
The Texas Supreme Court's Unauthorized Practice of Law Committee has dismissed the latest complaint accusing the ex-convict of wrongfully acting as an attorney. He has been cleared in 13 similar complaints over about as many years (see "Bar Card" by Zoe Carmichael, June 26).
"I knew that it would be dismissed. I mean, I had no doubt in my mind," Easton says. "I've been doing [paralegal work] for 18 years and I know what boundaries I can cross and which boundaries I can't cross. We hadn't done anything improper or unethical."
The most recent complaint stemmed from a particularly acrimonious civil case. Easton's employer, attorney Peter Riga, represented a client who was hit with a $1.1 million judgment after a jury ruled against him in a lawsuit over disputed business funds.
Attorneys John Karl Buche and Damian LaCroix represented the plaintiff, who prevailed in the civil case. They alleged that Easton was behind a wide-ranging series of legal actions -- lawsuits and harassing maneuvers -- which they said were designed to thwart efforts to collect the judgment on behalf of their client.
Easton emphasizes that he wasn't the one filing the suits. "I haven't filed a lawsuit in a decade, and I don't intend to start again," he says. "I don't want to be involved in litigation personally ever again."
His boss, Riga, scoffs at any notion that Easton was acting as a lawyer.
"Everything that goes out of this office with my letterhead on it and any legal element is all mine, exclusively mine," Riga says. "I read it, I review it. I correct it. I reject whatever I want to reject. Michael Easton represents no one. He's not an attorney."
Riga says that after a hearing on the complaint, he asked a ranking committee member for his take on the proceedings. "It was all bullshit," he quoted the member as saying.
Easton and Riga say they were particularly upset by the characterizations that Easton had called a deputy "Barney Fife," because they say they strongly support law enforcement. Easton explains that it was a civil process server, not a deputy. He blames the latest complaint as merely being an effort by the other side to get him removed from assisting in the civil case.
"We can be rough over here, that's true. But they're just as rough. If they want to play with fire, they are going to get fire back," Easton says. "That's all it is -- fire with fire, like a bunch of kids having fun. And they went off and told the principal, 'Gee, he's playing with me.' "
Attorney LaCroix says the issues go beyond gripes about Easton's barbs. "It is not about bantering back and forth," he says. "This guy has been terrorizing the legal community, and the bar and the committee -- whoever -- is sitting back. They are not doing anything." He says there should be some recognition of the sheer number of complaints against the paralegal over the years.
LaCroix says the ultimate blame has to be on the bar and the committee on the unauthorized practice of law. "The fact is that the governmental entity that is vested with the obligation to protect the public is not doing so," he says. "In fact, they are almost condoning his actions."
Easton says he began studying law 18 years ago and also has graduated from a seminary. He was released from prison last November after serving sentences for committing fraud involving bankruptcy and a student loan application. He was also convicted of stealing a diamond ring from a jewelry store in 1986.
He says that's all behind him now, and he is a very religious person. He plans no legal action in light of the committee's ruling in his favor. "These folks pushed it to the edge, and I could be involved [in a suit] but I'm not going to give them pleasure," Easton says. "Because if I sue them, then they have some control over me. And I don't want to give anybody control over me."