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Rep. Ron Reynolds Fending Off Conviction, Challengers in Primary

He's appealing a a five-count barratry conviction and facing a field of strong Democratic primary challengers, and yet state Rep. Ron Reynolds is surprisingly upbeat about his chances to keep his seat and his law license.

Top: Angelique Bartholomew, left; Ron Reynolds, right. Bottom: Steve Brown, left; Chris Henderson, right.

He's appealing a five-count misdemeanor barratry conviction and fending off a field of strong Democratic primary challengers, and yet state Rep. Ron Reynolds is surprisingly upbeat about his chances to keep his seat and his law license.

"The first thing is I have a record of success," said Reynolds, D-Missouri City, who has easily won re-election twice since defeating 14-year incumbent Dora Olivo in 2010. "I was able to get more accomplished than she did in 14 years. I worked across the aisle."

Reynolds started strong three terms ago as the first African-American elected from Fort Bend County since Reconstruction. He was voted Freshman of the Year by the House Democratic Caucus by the end of his first legislative session in 2011. He proudly points to criminal justice bills he supported, one authored by state Sen. Royce West to provide grants to police departments for body cameras, grand jury reform and state Rep. James White's bill to decriminalize truancy in Texas. 

But a cloud of legal troubles, as well as criticism over what Texas Monthly called his "thin" agenda, earned him a spot on the magazine's 2013 worst lawmakers list. Accusations of barratry — commonly known as ambulance chasing — have dogged Reynolds since 2012. He's failed more than half a dozen times to file timely campaign finance reports, and his law license has been suspended twice before. 

And this year, Reynolds is drawing three Democratic challengers — mediator Angelique Bartholomew; Steve Brown, a former chairman of the Fort Bend Democratic Party; and Galveston County assistant prosecutor Christopher Henderson.

All three say it is time for Reynolds to concentrate on his problems — the criminal conviction and his upcoming State Bar disciplinary hearing — so that House District 27, a predominantly black and Hispanic district that contains more than one troubled school, gets more attention in the Texas Capitol. 

"I haven't been shy about telling Mr. Reynolds that to his face," said Henderson. "I have been very aggressive about pointing out he's been convicted on barratry. He will probably serve a jail term for that conviction."

Two years ago, Reynolds was indicted on felony charges he paid Robert Valdez Sr. to scour accident reports for victims and get them to sign contracts to be represented by attorneys, including Reynolds. State law bars lawyers from doing so until 30 days after an accident. Reynolds has said he did not know the clients were being illegally solicited.

A jury did not convict him on the felony charges and instead found him guilty of six misdemeanor counts of solicitation of professional employment. Those convictions were thrown out in 2014 after a judge declared a mistrial in the case. 

Prosecutors refiled the charges, and last fall he was convicted, sentenced to one year in jail and fined $4,000. He is out on bond while he is appealing the case, and meanwhile, he's permitted to continue as a lawmaker. 

"It is on appeal, and my appellate attorneys are very confident with high certainty that this case, that it will be overturned on appeal," Reynolds said. "I'm very confident. I'm not concerned about this right now." 

But Reynolds might need more than confidence on March 1 in the predominantly Democratic district. 

His campaign contributions have been slow to materialize. For the first six months of 2015, he reported $32.65 cash on hand and no campaign contributions. During the last half of 2015, he received $3,690 in contributions and, last month, another $7,275.22. 

Bartholomew recently received a $15,000 infusion from Annie's List, a group that seeks to elect women in Texas who support abortion rights.

Bartholomew, an Alabama transplant who has never run for elected office, said she is focused on education and the needs of small-business owners.

"I really want to build up small businesses and give them the support they need," she said.

As for Reynolds' problems, she said: "No one wants to see a family man face such circumstances. My position on that is that he needs an opportunity to handle that situation."

If Reynolds remains in office, it will hurt Fort Bend voters, said Brown, who first ran for the House District 27 seat a decade ago.

"The district was lagging behind then," said Brown. "Ten years later, it's still the case. Ron's legal problems certainly don't help." 

Brown, who has received the endorsement of the Houston Chronicle, runs a public affairs firm as well as a sustainable energy company and wants to see better schools, health care access and business development in eastern Fort Bend County. "You're not going to have the same access as Sugar Land and Pearland." 

Fort Bend County, just southwest of Houston's Harris County, includes the more financially successful suburbs of Sugar Land and parts of Pearland.

House District 27, which covers the eastern part of Fort Bend, includes parts of Houston, Missouri City, Arcola, Fresno, Houston, Sugar Land, Pearland, Stafford and Fresno. In the 2012 general election, 69 percent of the voters chose President Obama. 

Henderson, who has struggled to raise money for his campaign, said he is banking on the fact that he is the only candidate in the race who is from the district to resonate with voters. 

"My family has been here for 30 years," Henderson said. "When I talk about bringing business back, I talk about a grocery store that used to be here."

There are two Republicans running in the GOP primary: real estate agent Mary Walker and lawyer Ken Bryant, a former Fort Bend ISD trustee.

This is Bryant's second attempt to win the District 27 seat. In 2006, the former Fort Bend ISD trustee lost to Olivo.

For Walker, it's the first time she's run for office in 37 years. In 1979, she ran as a Democrat in a failed attempt to unseat Republican incumbent Milton Fox in a Harris County state House race.

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