By Michael Sudhalter
District 27 Rep. Ron Reynolds (D-Missouri City) expected to clear his name in a Misdemeanor Barratry last month, but instead he stood before a Montgomery Court in a prison uniform, with shackles on Nov. 23.
The third-term incumbent received the maximum sentence of one year in jail and a $20,000 fine for five counts of Barratry, which means the illegal solicitation of clients by an attorney.
“The jailers told me they’d never seen the court do that before for a Misdemeanor,” said Reynolds, who posted bond and is free, pending the appeal of the verdict in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in Beaumont.
In the case, Reynolds represented himself and testified — against the advice of friends and experts. He helped select the jury and said at the time, he didn’t feel bad about the six jurors selected.
Reynolds, 42, contends that despite overwhelming evidence of his innocence, several factors worked against him in Conroe.
He said all of the expert witnesses indicated that Reynolds was unaware of the criminal activities of Conroe resident Robert Valdez, a former employee for Reynolds law firm, who testified in exchange for a lighter sentence.
“The jury convicted me on emotional appeal,” Reynolds said. “The only thing they hate more than lawyers is politicians, and I’m both.”
Reynolds pointed to Montgomery County’s long history of racism, including the murder conviction of Clarence Brandley, an African-American Conroe resident, in the early 1980s. Brandley was sentenced to death row before he was exonerated in the early 1990s.
A misdemeanor conviction is significant because unlike a felony, it doesn’t disqualify lawmakers from holding public office.
Reynolds compared being a Democrat under trial in heavily Republican Montgomery County, to former U.S. House Speaker Tom DeLay (R-Texas) facing charges in liberal Travis County. DeLay, a Sugar Land resident, was exonerated of felonies years after he resigned his seat.
Reynolds said there’s no chance that he’ll resign, even though the outcome of the appeal won’t be resolved before the March 1 Democratic Primary.
“I haven’t lost any key support,” said Reynolds, citing continued support from federal, state, and local Democrats who represent Fort Bend County. “Because of the job that I’ve done in the legislature, it speaks volumes that all of these people would stick their neck on the line to say ‘we’re with you’. I have a lot of goodwill I built up, and it’s paying off right now.”
That statement could be taken literally as one of Reynolds’ supporters has started a “GoFundMe” page to aid his legal defense. As of Monday, approximately $2,000 has been raised.
Former Fort Bend Democratic Party Chairman Steve Brown is expected to formally announce his District 27 candidacy within days. Brown unsuccessfully ran for the State Railroad Commission last year.
“I’m going to be focused on the issues of the district, such as Economic Development, Health Care and quality of schools,” Brown said. “I’m more interested in those issues than Ron’s issues legally. I hope for the best for Ron and his family, and I’m praying things work out for him (legally).”
Reynolds is confident he’ll soundly defeat Brown, a feat he plans on balancing alongside appealing his convictions.
Reynolds expects the cost of the appeal to be between $50,000-$70,000 and said he’ll take the appeal all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, if necessary.
“I’m not going to take anything for granted — I’m going to campaign hard,” Reynolds said. “This (wrongful conviction) is the most difficult challenge I’ve ever faced in my life.”
Reynolds expects to hear the outcome of an appeal, which would allow him to continue practicing law.
He said only the State Bar of Texas — not a judicial court — can make that decision.