Lawmakers Facing Charges Can Get Legislative Pass

Rep. Ron Reynolds, D-Missouri City, during a House Environmental Regulations Committee on April 16, 2013.
Rep. Ron Reynolds, D-Missouri City, during a House Environmental Regulations Committee on April 16, 2013.

On Wednesday, when state Rep. Ron Reynolds' co-defendants in an alleged quarter-million-dollar kickback scheme showed up in court in Conroe, the Missouri City Democrat was noticeably absent. Reynolds, who has been charged with two felony counts of barratrywas in Austin conducting state business at the Capitol.

That's because the Montgomery County district attorney's office came to an agreement with Reynolds to let him delay court appearances until after the legislative session ends — a courtesy authorities have traditionally extended to lawmakers that has its roots in state law. 

Reynolds, who has said he would fight to prove his innocence in the case, declined to comment on the agreement. 

The Texas Civil and Practice Code says a court can delay a case involving an elected member of the Legislature who is in session until 30 days after lawmakers adjourn. But Susan Oswalt, an assistant district attorney in Travis County, said waivers for state lawmakers facing civil or criminal charges are often granted more informally.

That's how it happened with Reynolds, said Phil Grant, the first assistant Montgomery County district attorney. 

“We weren’t ready to resolve the cases today,” he said, "so it didn’t seem necessary to have him there” until after the House adjourns — May 27. 

Grant said the defendants in the barratry case are due back in court in mid-May, with indictments not expected for three to four months. Investigators searching for evidence of a conspiracy to bank millions of dollars in fraudulent insurance claims seized up to 100 boxes of documents in the March 25 raid of Reynolds’ office, two chiropractic clinics and the offices of the seven Houston-area attorneys also charged with crimes. Reynolds has said that his office is fully cooperating with investigators.

It's unlikely that another House lawmaker currently facing legal trouble — Rep. Naomi Gonzalez, D-El Paso, who was arrested March 14 on suspicion of driving while intoxicated — will have to seek such a delay. Travis County Attorney David Escamilla said that because Gonzalez was charged with a misdemeanor, she wasn’t required to be present for her first hearing on the charge. 

Brian Roark, Gonzalez's attorney, said her case wouldn't be officially filed until the results of her blood draw come back — which he said could take 180 days — and added that judges usually don't require defendants to show up in court before then. 

"You can pretty much assure yourself that you're not going to have to show up for about six months," he said.

Texas Tribune donors or members may be quoted or mentioned in our stories, or may be the subject of them. For a complete list of contributors, click here.