We've already heard how difficult it is to run for elected office with criminal charges hanging over your head (just ask Rick Perry). But Rep. Ron Reynolds may soon know what it's like to run a re-election campaign from a jail cell.
After being convicted last week on five misdemeanor counts of illegally soliciting legal clients, on Monday Reynolds was handed the maximum penalty: one year in jail and a fine of several thousand dollars. According to the Houston Chronicle, which first reported the sentence, Reynolds was escorted out of the Montgomery County courtroom by deputies and taken to jail after jurors returned the sentence.
The charges stem from a 2013 sting that nabbed Reynolds, who was initially charged with felony barratry, and seven other Houston-area attorneys accused in an "ambulance chasing for hire" racket. According to prosecutors, the attorneys enjoyed the services of a four-time felon named Robert Ramirez Valdez Sr., who would scour police reports for the names of accident victims and persuade them to sign on for legal representation. Prosecutors claimed that Valdez, who testified against Reynolds last week, was paid on average $1,000 per client referred to Reynolds's Bellaire law firm.
While the other attorneys accused of using Valdez, who's currently serving a five-year prison sentence for his part in the scheme, struck plea deals with prosecutors and avoided jail time, Reynolds insisted on taking his case to trial. He was convicted on six counts of misdemeanor barratry last year, but a judge tossed the conviction and ordered a retrial after a juror on the case claimed her decision was influenced by the fact that other attorneys had already admitted to being involved in the scheme.
Reynolds told the Texas Tribune this past weekend that he plans to appeal his conviction, saying jurors wrongly ignored evidence supposedly showing the three-term lawmaker didn't know the cases he got from Valdez had been illegally solicited. "It’s really a shock that the judges allowed the jury to convict me of that,” he told the Trib. “There wasn’t any evidence that would show I knew Robert Valdez was soliciting those clients.”
Reynolds's attorneys say the misdemeanor convictions wouldn't require him to resign his state House seat, and the lawmaker has already said he plans on running for a fourth term in office. In a court hearing scheduled for Tuesday, Reynolds's attorneys are expected to ask that a judge release him while he appeals his case.
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