The case of whether a fallen Wharton firefighter's benefits should go to his transgender widow just gets exponentially weirder: Frank Mann, the lawyer representing Thomas Araguz's ex-wife, is facing investigation by the State Bar of Texas's disciplinary office for a possible ethics violation related to an e-mail he sent "outing" the widow, Nikki Araguz, during her mayoral campaign.
Mann represented Araguz and her first husband in a 2002 bankruptcy case. Earlier this year, he represented Heather Delgado, Thomas Araguz's ex-wife, in a bitter custody dispute, and is now representing her in a motion to void Nikki's and Thomas' 2008 marriage.
In an April deposition of Nikki Araguz, Mann got her to admit that she was born Justin Graham Purdue; he also asked about her medical history. Mann then used the information in a May 6 e-mail titled "Public Information on Nikki Araguz who is running for Mayor of Wharton, Texas."
He would not say how many people he sent the e-mail to, but it became public during Araguz's race for Wharton mayor this spring
Mann's e-mail kicks off with "Occasionally you get a case that makes the papers or Jerry Springer," and just gets classier from there. "...I am sending this to you because you are a friend of mine and the deposition is public knowledge. I think the citizens of Wharton Texas should know this information....Nikki Purdue Araguz is the stepmother in a case of mine and she gave testimony that she is a transgender. She is a he. Her birth certificate states that she is male. She has multiple felony convictions in Harris County...and is on probation in Wharton County for possession of a controlled substance."
That bit in ellipses? That's where he disclosed a portion of her medical history. Hair Balls isn't going to do that because we only act like assholes when it's called for.
Mann signed off with, "If you would like to discuss this with me, call me on my cell..." (You can see more discussion on this e-mail on the YouTube page of Cristan Williams, executive director of the Transgender Foundation of America).
Nikki Araguz filed a complaint with the State Bar of Texas. It appears the complaint was initially dismissed, but that on June 29 the Board of Disciplinary Appeals granted Araguz's appeal and issued her a letter stating it would "return the case to the Office of the Chief Disciplinary Counsel for investigation and a determination whether there is just cause to believe that the attorney has committed professional misconduct." The Board's letter indicates that the investigation would center on rules 1.05 and 1.06 of the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct, which deal with client confidentiality and conflict of interest. (The paperwork indicates that Mann has 30 days to respond to Araguz's complaint before an investigation would begin).
It's not Mann's first dance with the Office of Disciplinary Counsel: in 1990, Mann agreed to a fully probated 36-month suspension for "misrepresentations of fact concerning the dates of his hospitalization for alcohol and substance abuse in an affidavit offered in support of a motion to retain." (The suspension was stayed; he was allowed to actively practice, but was placed on probation.) The Office of Disciplinary Counsel also ruled that, in one case, Mann "assigned away 100 percent of any attorney's fees" and then "intervened in the pending lawsuit, claiming an interest in attorney's fees." In 1997, Mann was suspended for five and a half years and was not eligible to practice for the first 36 months. In that case, among other things, the Counsel found that Mann's paralegal "affixed [a] client's signature from a prior document to a proposed modification, without the client's consent." Mann wasn't in the office at the time, but he was "responsible for supervision and instruction of his staff and for ensuring that his staff follows the law and the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct."
Mann told Hair Balls that all of the information in his May 6 e-mail was gleaned from the deposition, and not from his earlier representation of Araguz and her first husband. He said all the information was public and he was only releasing it because the people of Wharton had the right to know about a mayoral candidate's criminal record. (Although Mann told us he was more concerned about Araguz's drug and theft convictions and not her sexual identity, the e-mail itself indicates otherwise.)
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We're not clear on what a person's medical history has to do with running for mayor in a town of 10,000. We're also not clear why Mann felt obligated to share this information. Lastly, we wonder if he regularly e-mails his pals about shit that comes up in depositions and invites people to call him on his cell for more gossip.
"I think that people needed to know information about her background of felony convictions for theft....the people in Wharton, Texas, did not know anything about her background," Mann said.
He also said that, when he represented Nikki Araguz in the 2002 bankruptcy, he did not know anything about her sexual identity and only focused on financial matters.
"I was informed from my client, Heather Delgado, about rumors about Nikki," Mann said.