Legal troubles mount for Legislator
By Theresa D. McClellan
For the Star
With his law license suspended, State Rep. Ronald Reynolds hasn’t been able to practice since December, causing him to file bankruptcy over the summer.
But the man, who is no stranger to the courts system as a plaintiff and defendant, said he is not worried that his extensive legal troubles will cost him his Texas House District 27 seat in November. He faces Republican Ken Bryant, a former Fort Bend ISD trustee.
“I’m no stranger to adversity and I’m not going to worry about what the media says. I work for my constituents,” Reynolds said recently.
He spoke to the Fort Bend Star during his recent fundraiser and birthday celebration in Missouri City. While he blames the media, published reports have reflected what court documents state.
Civil court documents show allegations from former personal injury clients claiming he never gave them all of their money, or that he negotiated a settlement without family consent and pocketed the money.
As a result, he lost two malpractice suits filed against him – one by Earline and Ernie Murray, who claim he reached a settlement without their consent and pocketed the money and the other by Nancy Calloway who said Reynolds never gave her all of the money reached in a settlement from the traffic death of her daughter.
According to court records, in addition to medical bills, he owes Calloway $450,000, the Murray family $250,000, the Texas Ethics Commission $15,000 and Fort Bend County Toll Road Authority $1,500.
“It’s not fraud,” said Reynolds, who added that he is appealing those court decisions where the courts agreed with the former clients.
He blamed his attorney for losing the Murray case by missing a filing deadline.
“It was a default, not a hearing or a trial on the merits of the case. There was no evidentiary hearing. So hopefully once I’m able to affect the appeal, I will have my day in court,” he said.
The Murray family declined to speak to the Fort Bend Star and the lawyer handling their case has been suspended, according to court documents.
In the Calloway matter, Reynolds served as the personal injury attorney in a traffic death of Calloway’s daughter, resulting in a $250,000 settlement. The mother said she never received her full amount.
“The only thing I can say with out talking about the details of the case is that I vehemently deny those charges,” Reynolds said. “I paid her money. The check was cashed. There was a divorce between her and her husband and this is where the misunderstanding came. She said after the divorce that he should not have received any money. That is the issue. It wasn’t that I took her money.”
Calloway’s attorney failed to return multiple calls to his office to discuss the case.
Reynolds said he does not believe the bankruptcy has a bearing on his duties as a state representative.
“I separate what I do as a profession to pay the bills and my role as a legislator,” he said. “I wish I didn’t have to file, but while my cases are on appeal, I can’t practice law. I haven’t practiced since December 2015 and it’s a real economic hardship. This is something I did as a last resort out of necessity,” said Reynolds, who filed on July 14 in the Southern District of
Texas Bankruptcy Court.
His license was suspended when he was convicted last November on five counts of misdemeanor barratry or what is commonly called “ambulance chasing.” He was one of eight Houston-area lawyers charged in 2013 with the offense and the only one who did not accept a plea deal. He represented himself in court.
According to court records he is employed by the Gulf Coast Community Services, where he gets $600 a month from the company where his wife is the CEO.
Chapter 7 is for individuals who have financial difficulties preventing them from paying their debts and who are willing to allow their non-exempt property to be used to pay their creditors, according to court records.
“The primary purpose of filing under Chapter 7 is to have your debts discharged. The bankruptcy discharge relieves you, after bankruptcy, from having to pay many of your bankruptcy debts. Exceptions exist for particular debts and liens on property may still be enforced after discharge.
For example, a creditor may have the right to foreclose a home mortgage or repossess an auto,” court records state.
According to court documents he owes more than $1 million in debt. Among his debtors is the Calloway case, where the judge ordered him to pay more than $500,000.
Also among the debtors is the Texas Ethics Commission which Reynolds is liable for $21,000 in unpaid late filing penalties, the majority coming from two campaign finance reports from 2014 and 2015 that were never filed, according to commission records. Campaign finance reports are due eight days before an election.
The ethics commission is the state agency charged with enforcing certain areas of law, campaign finance, lobby law and some standards of conduct and personal finance disclosures that apply to state employees and candidates, said Steusloff.
These are civil, not criminal penalties.
Fines are assessed for multiple reasons including “to control and reduce the costs of elections; eliminate opportunities for undue influence over elections and governmental actions and to ensure the public’s confidence and trust in its government,” according to commission records.
Reynolds insists the bankruptcy “has nothing to do with my responsibilities. I advocate on behalf of my constituents on public policy, health care, economic deals. It doesn’t have an impact on my personal life or finances,” he said.
Since he can’t practice law, Reynolds said he could be seen more for his constituents. He is the first African-American elected to serve in Fort Bend County since Reconstruction, according to his biography. He represents parts of Houston, Missouri City, Sugar Land, Pearland, Stafford, Fresno and Arcola.
During his tenure, Reynolds said he is most proud of, “helping pass the body cameras for police and helping to bring economic development to my community. Also helping to remote health fairs and job fairs where I know people have gotten jobs,” he said.
He said his constituents are used to seeing him around all the time instead just during the election season. He is the Democratic Whip, the second highest position in the House of Representatives.
“Ever since I’ve been thrust into leadership I’ve had a target on my back, partly because I’m African-American and partly because I’m a Democrat and I advocate against special interest,” he said.
He blames the media for what he calls sensationalizing.
“They don’t know my sincerity and how hard I work. They say here’s an allegation and run with it. I’ve made mistakes but have done nothing to deserve the type of negative mischaracterization that always come close to election time,” he said.
“I still won because people know me. I defeated a 12-year incumbent. I walk by faith and I believe I’m fulfilling my purpose. That’s why we live in a democracy where people decide it’s not anything new. The only new thing is that I filed bankruptcy,” he said.