Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Judge Hanen orders ethics probe after lawyer’s acquittal in Judge Abel Limas court corruption case

US Judge Hanen
Judge Hanen orders ethics probe
Valley Morning Star
August 19, 2013

U.S. District Judge Andrew S. Hanen has issued an order focusing on unresolved ethical and factual issues following a jury’s acquittal of attorney Eduardo "Eddie" Lucio Tuesday on racketeering, conspiracy and extortion charges.

Hanen expressed concerns about possible violations on the part of Lucio and others of the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct arising from the testimony in Lucio’s trial regarding alleged forging of documents, the settlement and distribution of funds surrounding the case of murderer Amit Livingston, and legal and criminal action that was taken relative to the seizure of $901,000 from a truck.

The Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct govern the conduct of attorneys.

Hanen directed the government in an order filed for the public record Friday to provide all information regarding three cases that surfaced in Lucio’s trial to the proper authorities at the State Bar of Texas.

"The court does not have a preference as to which government attorneys comply with this order as long as it complies as soon as practical," Hanen ordered.

Lucio defense attorney Luis M. Avila said after the trial that he was not surprised that Hanen directed the government to provide information to the State Bar of Texas, noting that Hanen had given the same directive regarding other attorneys.

A Corpus Christi jury on Tuesday found Lucio not guilty of paying kickbacks to his former law partner, ex-Cameron County District Attorney Armando R. Villalobos, and former 404th state District Judge Abel C. Limas in exchange for prosecutorial and judicial favors. Villalobos, found guilty by a Brownsville jury for racketeering and other crimes is an attorney and Limas, who has pleaded guilty to racketeering, already has lost his license to practice law.

Lucio had been charged with five counts of racketeering, conspiracy and three counts of aiding extortion.

"The government just didn’t put a solid case," Avila said following the verdict. Avila, together with defense co-counsel Rigoberto Flores Jr., stressed reasonable doubt during their closing statements to the jury.

The five-count indictment that a federal grand jury returned against Lucio charged him with violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act by giving an $80,000 kickback to Villalobos in two $40,000 payments from the $200,000 he received in attorney fees in the civil lawsuit against convicted murderer Amit Livingston; giving $1,000 to Limas so that he would keep quiet regarding the Livingston case; and a $5,000 bribe to Villalobos relative to $901,000 seized from a truck, of which $42,000 went to Lucio.

The government’s case also included testimony of a confidential informant (CI) involving the controlled-seizure by Villalobos’ Special Operations Group of $145,000 from the CI who was working in an undercover capacity.

Hanen noted in his order that he is not prejudging any particular fact situation. "This order should not be taken by the State Bar or any other investigative body as to what its ultimate conclusion should or should not be," Hanen wrote.

"This court never saw a complete file in any of the above instances and never heard an explanation by the attorneys involved," he added.

"Further, the ‘not guilty’ verdict . . . should also not be taken as deciding any ethical or factual issues regarding the concerns raised by the court," Hanen added.

"The jury was never presented with all the relevant information and was never asked to resolve any of the ethical issues raised. Finally, this order should not be taken as an order to any ethical investigation agency as to what it should investigate or as a limitation as to what it may investigate," Hanen said.

"The purpose of this order is solely to ensure that the government provides what information it has already gathered and to raise a suggestion of topics that need to be addressed based solely upon what little evidence this court saw during the trial," the judge stated.

Insofar as the case involving the CI, Hanen said that there had been testimony in the trial that certain contracts and affidavits were forged as were certain settlement checks resulting from a lawsuit. "If true, and if a lawyer participated in this fraudulent conduct, there were violations of the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct," Hanen wrote.

Insofar as the Livingston case, where his $500,000 bond on a murder charge was attached in a civil wrongful death suit filed by Lucio on behalf of the victim’s family of which $200,000 went to him and $300,000 to the family, Hanen said: "The entire settlement and distribution of settlement funds should be reviewed in a setting where the privilege against self incrimination is not applicable."

Hanen wrote that "particular attention should be paid" as to whether there were any violations of Texas law regarding a state statute. The statute he listed addresses the payment of referral fees to a prosecutor.

Hanen wrote that payments in violation of this statute would also be in violation of disciplinary rules.

Hanen also pointed out that the evidence presented at trial indicated that Lucio represented a defendant, Rafael Sanchez, in a criminal money laundering case while at the same time, he, Lucio was pursuing the same funds at issue in a civil forfeiture case, despite the fact that Sanchez had disclaimed any interest in the money.

"This scenario suggests two problems. First, how can a lawyer in good faith pursue funds in a case in which his client has disclaimed an interest?" Hanen asks.

"More importantly the client had allegedly assigned all the proceeds of the forfeiture action to the attorney in exchange for his representation in both the civil and criminal cases. The attorney’s pursuit of the funds at issue in the civil case, the recovery of which only benefits the attorney, and from which only the attorney profits, obviously indicates his client’s interest in the money, thus harming the client in the criminal case," Hanen pointed out.

"If true, this is a classic conflict situation, and continued representation under these alleged circumstances would undoubtedly have violated (disciplinary rules)," the judge added. Read more

Related story ABA Journal: Ethics probe ordered after lawyer’s acquittal in court corruption case

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