Eighteen days after State Rep. Ronald Eugene Reynolds entered the Montgomery County Jail as an inmate, prisoner number 232573 penned a letter to the Fort Bend Star in response to a reporter’s letter requesting a jailhouse interview.
Reynolds’ letter, dated Sept. 25, blamed racism in Montgomery County for his being incarcerated and also answered multiple queries, including how he fought being discouraged, how he could still be a voice for constituents, and if he still believed in the criminal justice system. (Editor’s note: Reynolds’ complete letter can be read in the Opinion section on page 3.)
Reynolds was asked why he decided to turn himself in for the misdemeanor crimes he was convicted of in 2015. Reynolds has continually sworn his innocence and exhausted his appeals to the convictions for barratry, which is commonly called ambulance chasing.
Last November, a three-panel appellate court upheld the initial decision by Montgomery County jurors that he worked with a convicted felon to solicit clients for his law firm. Texas law states that attorneys cannot contact clients within a 30-day period of an accident.
The offense is punishable by up to a year in prison. As a result of the conviction, he was not allowed to practice law and eventually filed bankruptcy since he was barred from making a living as a lawyer.
On Sept. 7 the Missouri City Democrat voluntarily revoked his appeal bond and turned himself in to the Montgomery County Courts. He was taken into custody and booked, photographed for a mug shot, and given a prisoner number and sentenced to a year in jail.
“To put things in perspective, I was convicted of misdemeanor – Solicitation of Professional Employment, in Montgomery County. There is absolutely no evidence that I knowingly permitted Robert Valdez (the convicted felon) to contact accident cases within 30 days of an accident,” Reynolds states in the letter.
“To add insult to injury, I was sentenced to the maximum of 1 year in jail. Even though I had NO criminal record and a strong record of public service. While there are numerous Anglos convicted of violent felonies that receive probation and less time than me. It’s a fact that African American and Hispanics receive more harsh sentences and punishment than Anglos for the same crime,” Reynolds wrote.
A cursory review by the Star of convicted Texas politicians found that Reynolds is not the first state legislator convicted of a crime. Former Texas House of Representatives Republican Joe Driver, who served from 1993 to 2013 on the state Appropriations and Public Safety Committee, admitted in 2010 to years of double billing the Texas House for expenses that had already been paid to him by his own campaign fund to the tune of more than $50,000, following an investigation by the Associated Press. He pled guilty to a third-degree felony of abuse in his official capacity as a state lawmaker as a consequence of the double billing. He was fined $5,000 and given five years probation. The maximum penalty for the crime is 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. According to state newspapers and Wikipedia, Driver’s plea bargain allowed him to keep his voting rights in the legislature, avoid being a convicted felon and collect his state retirement of $57,000 a year when he retired as a legislator in 2013.
Carlos “Charlie” Uresti was a Democratic State Senator and State Representative from the San Antonio area from 1997 until his resignation in 2018. Following an FBI investigation, Uresti was found guilty last February of 11 federal felony charges related to his alleged involvement in a Ponzi scheme that defrauded investors out of hundreds of thousands of dollars. He was sentenced three months ago to 12 years in federal prison.
Since Reynolds faces misdemeanor charges, he can keep his state position. He is running unopposed in the Nov. 6 election.
Reynolds said his attorney is working on the last two legal challenges of his case but he also noted, “Unfortunately, Montgomery County has a long history of racial discrimination and disparities within their criminal justice system. You can look at the case of Clarence Bradley for one of the cases that made national attention.”
Brandley is the black high school janitor who was framed, convicted and placed on death row in 1980 for the rape and murder of a 16-year-old visiting white female athlete whose body was found stuffed in the loft of a Conroe High School auditorium days before classes started.
Because he was black, Montgomery County law officials hid or lost evidence that pointed to white suspects. He was exonerated just days before he was set to be executed by the state, attracting attention from “60 Minutes” and other national news organizations. Books were written about the case and his case was highlighted in the National Registry of Exonerations, a project of multiple law schools, including Michigan State, University of Michigan and the University of California. Brandley never received an apology or compensation from the state. He died of pneumonia Sept. 2. in Montgomery County.
Reynolds said in his letter that he decided to turn himself in so he can serve his time and be out before the start of the 86th legislative session. He said he gets out Jan. 4, 2019, and the session starts on Jan. 8.
“I’m encouraged knowing that many of God’s most faithful servants were wrongly imprisoned including the Apostle Paul, Joseph, Peter, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela,” he wrote. “As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. eloquently stated, ‘the ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands during moments of comfort and convenience, but during times of challenge and controversy.’ I am more determined and committed than ever to fight for my constituents and those unjustly treated within the criminal justice system,” said Reynolds.