A Bexar County jury on Monday awarded a woman more than $867,000 in her lawsuit against two attorneys, including one who once served on a board that takes up complaints against lawyers.
Jurors found attorney Oscar C. Gonzalez, his law firm and former lawyer Eric Turton committed malice, fraud and theft by misappropriating $75,000 from the settlement of a client, Isabel Sloan. Part of the verdict hammered Gonzalez and his firm for gross negligence and false, misleading and deceptive acts and practices.
The verdict came after more than a week of trial over the suit Sloan filed in 2010. She alleged Gonzalez’s firm took a $2,500 retainer and shuffled her off to Turton, who Gonzalez knew had a history of disciplinary problems. Turton testified Gonzalez referred him clients and took a cut of the client fees.
“I am very pleased,” a teary Sloan said. “The jury believed in me.”
For years, Sloan said, she had been trying to recover most of a $100,000 settlement from a probate case in which she was an heir. She was given $25,000, but she said Turton squandered the remaining $75,000 after initially keeping her from finding out that the settlement had been paid. Testimony revealed that some of Sloan’s settlement money was spent on rent for Gonzalez’s firm.
She filed complaints with the State Bar of Texas against Turton and Gonzalez. Turton admitted taking the money and was disbarred over the matter — the latest discipline in a record dating back to the 1980s.
Gonzalez, however, testified that Sloan was not his client, but that of Turton, who rented office space from Gonzalez. Gonzalez testified Monday that he did not know of Turton’s actions but set aside $20,000 after becoming aware of them. He never gave that money to Sloan.
The State Bar’s disciplinary arm said Monday that it had no public record of any discipline against Gonzalez.
In the 1980s and early 1990s, Gonzalez served on the State Bar’s local grievance committee, which is supposed to investigate complaints against lawyers.
“The grievance committee has utterly failed her and has become a good ol’ boy system,” said attorney Carl Kolb, who represented Sloan.
The State Bar’s disciplinary arm did not respond to those allegations.
Jurors, Kolb said, sent a message by awarding $377,000 against the two lawyers. Gonzalez and his firm are responsible for another $200,000.
The verdict also adds attorney’s fees to Kolb of $290,366.
But it remains to be seen if Sloan will see a penny. Turton, who was excused from much of the trial for medical reasons, filed for bankruptcy.
And Gonzalez’s lawyer, Phil Watkins, said, “We’re going to consider all of our options for appeal.”
Fraud suit against lawyers nets $867,000
October 15, 2012
San Antonio Express News