Even if you don't remember George M. Bishop, the Houston legal community does. Married to a judge, Bishop was a behind-the-scenes power in deciding who would get on the bench and stay there; in return he was often appointed to lucrative cases by gratefully employed jurists.
His South Dakota pheasant hunts and Election Night fajita feasts were regular stops for politically active lawyers seeking favor.
It all came tumbling down in the late '90s, when the IRS came after Bishop for under-reporting his income. The feds said that Bishop hid $700,000 in fees he'd received and used them to buy a farm near Brenham and the engagement ring he gave to State District Judge Caprice Cosper.
George M. Bishop
Bishop denied the charges but was convicted, and despite pleas for leniency from prominent pols like Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (and Cosper), he was sentenced to 18 months in prison. In 2003 he was formally disbarred.
All this was apparently news to Houston businesswoman Linda Coleman. She says in March she was referred to a CPA named Clara Allen and Allen recommended she hire Bishop as an attorney. Coleman subsequently met with Bishop at a lunch; she says he never quite mentioned the disbarment.
The employment contract (for a not-so-kingly retainer of $1,500 plus $1,000 a month) takes care to call Bishop a "legal consultant" and says he "may hire duly licensed attorneys to assist in areas of their expertise."
That wording may not be enough to cover Bishop, say both Julie Vaughn of the Texas Board of Legal Examiners and retired judge Rodney Gilstrap of the Texas State Bar's Unauthorized Practice of Law committee. Gilstrap says state law requires a law license to practice law -- and "practicing law" is defined, he says, "broadly, as being the rendering of any service that involves Ôspecial skill and knowledge.' "
Coleman says she subsequently discovered that despite what she says she was told, Allen wasn't a CPA and Bishop wasn't a lawyer. "Both parties misrepresented themselves," she says. "This misrepresentation has cost our organization over $6,000 in fees, with absolutely no services rendered by either party."
Bishop insists he told Coleman he wasn't an attorney, and that legal work would be done by a law firm. He says Coleman might be overreacting to not being able to get ahold of him.
"I think what happened is they were unaware I was out of the country and panicked, I guess, and didn't call the law firm and I guess called you, I suppose," he says. "Is that what happened?"
Coleman says she's filed a complaint with the state bar.
And hey, a defendant can always represent himself, so maybe Bishop will finally get to feed that lawyering jones he apparently still has.
In regards to the Bishop item, it's clear that the person making the complaints, Linda Coleman of Pennco Mortgage, isn't exactly the most discerning reader of legally binding paperwork.
We say that because we can't think of many businesspeople who would actually sign the following agreement, which is between Coleman and alleged CPA Clara Allen, doing business as Hat's Tax Service.
Here it is:
PENN CO MORTGAGE IS RETAING [sic] CLARA ALLEN WITH HAT'S TAX SERVICE FOR TAX SERVICES, ACCOUNTING SERVICE COMPLETING THE ARTICLES FOR THE LLC TO MAKE SURE THERE ARE NO LOOP HOLES IN PAPERS IN CASE THEIR [sic] COME [sic] A TIME THAT WE NEED TO PROCET [sic] YOU A PERSON NOT AS PENN CO...(You could just [sic] that whole sentence for endangering the English language, but we won't.)
THE FEE IS $2500.00 TO START AND WILL [sic] WORK THAT DOWN THEN YOU WILL START TO BE BILL [sic] ON A MONTHLY BASIC [sic].
THIS AGREETMENT [sic]...
Geez. We take it all back. Someone needed some legal consulting, even if it was from a disbarred former-kingmaker-convict.
Garbage Blues, Part I
When you have a complaint against City Hall, and the proffered solution is that the mayor will appoint a task force to study the problem, usually you cry. Or wail. Or do something to rail against the realization that a City of Houston task force, on any subject, usually moves with all the speed of a space shuttle being towed from the hangar to the launching pad.
Not Mark Kressenberg. His complaints got the ear of Mayor Bill White this spring, and in May White duly used the TF-words as a way of solving the problem. As of a week ago, Kressenberg says, that task force has neither a specific agenda nor any concrete schedule to meet, which is certainly not the roaring start you'd hope for in a gung-ho task force.
But the dawdling pace suits Kressenberg just fine. Why? The problem that is being studied is all about whether the city should be picking up garbage for free at town-home complexes like the one Kressenberg lives in. And the city has agreed that while the task force meets, researches, debates and then drafts and finalizes conclusions to be subsequently discussed and voted on by City Council, the garbage of Kressenberg and his neighbors at the Calumet Lofts will be picked up.
"I'm under no illusion that I'll keep [the garbage collection] forever," he says. "I'm kind of banking on the fact that this would be such a politically stinky football that I'll get to keep it for a while."
The problem could indeed get sticky for the city. Officials encourage the kind of high-density inner-city developments epitomized by the Calumet Lofts, which are in the Third Ward just east of State Highway 288. But when those developments become too much like apartment complexes -- which have to pay for their own garbage collection -- the city has balked at serving them.
As many as 10,000 town-home units might be affected by whatever decision the city makes; White has also hinted that the city might have to establish a garbage-collection fee for all residents, so that the Solid Waste Department can fund itself.
Whatever the eventual decision is, Kressenberg and his neighbors know one thing they want: that the process takes a nice, long time.
Garbage Blues, Part II
In the event that the Calumet Lofts folks lose their battle -- which eventually might end up in court anyway -- they won't be completely at a loss. There's plenty they can do if the city decides once again to stop picking up their trash:
1. The Monk Method As fans of the TV show Monk know, when the San Francisco trash collectors went on strike, the germaphobic detective took to mailing in his garbage to his psychiatrist. We're sure the Houston city bureaucrats would have a great sense of humor if residents did the same to them. But please, people, be thoughtful: Double-bag the month-old cheese dip you've finally decided to toss.
2. Flood Control Compacted garbage makes a great substitute for sandbags the next time a midsize storm causes major street flooding! Just pile it up in front of the driveway entrance to your complex. With any luck, the rising waters will break it back into its messy component parts, and the receding waters will carry them to the front yards of nearby single-family homes that do get free garbage collection. It's a win-win.
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3. Folk Art Take a tip from the Orange Show and the Beer-Can House: Make art out of your detritus. Tack it up to your wall and it's not just an empty box of Diet Gourmet Pizza, it's a clever comment on how modern-day America can market with impunity frozen food featuring the words "diet," "gourmet" and "pizza." When your neighbors complain about the smell, mutter darkly about heathens and how you thought people who lived in lofts were more aesthetic than they apparently are.
4. Democracy in Action Easiest one of all: Just appoint one task force, then wait. And wait. And wait. Until the political climate somehow seems open to imposing a garbage-collection fee on residents. Which could take a while.
Tales from the BBB
This week brings a Very Special Episode of the almost-award-winning series Tales from the BBB. Usually it's pretty easy to tell who the bad guys are they don't return Houston Press calls, for one thing but things are a little murkier this time. Shades of gray and a business (Houston's ShadowShopper.com) that fights back click here for this week's Tales from the BBB!