This Texas lawmaker could finish his term from jail

State Rep. Ron Reynolds recently lost his appeal to a 2016 conviction of five misdemeanor ambulance-chasing charges. If his last effort to have his conviction overturned fails, he faces a yearlong jail sentence.

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

There’s a chance state Rep. Ron Reynolds could be sentenced to serve a year in jail next year. If that happens, he wouldn't have to resign, according to state officials.

The Houston-area Democrat recently lost his appeal to a 2016 conviction of five misdemeanor barratry charges for illegal solicitation of legal clients. Reynolds, a once-practicing personal injury lawyer, says his attorney is working to submit a petition to the Texas Criminal Court of Appeals to review the opinions issued by Texas’ 8th Court of Appeals, which upheld his conviction. It’s a last-ditch attempt to avoid serving his sentence of a year in jail.

In an interview with the Tribune, Reynolds refused to address what he would do if his final appeal fails.

“We're very – and I've even got a second opinion – are very confident that we'll prevail, so I don't think it will get to that point,” Reynolds said in a phone interview.

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Should Reynolds end up in jail next year, the four-term lawmaker could still hold office and continue to run for re-election. According to Sec. 141.001 of the Texas Election Code, the only criminal misconduct that would require an elected official to resign would be a felony conviction. Reynolds' convictions qualify as misdemeanors.

“So technically, the representative could be serving out his sentence for a misdemeanor and still be a state representative,” said Sam Taylor, communications director for the Texas Secretary of State's Office.

Reynolds’ legal woes date back to 2012, when authorities arrested him after an undercover investigation by the Harris County district attorney’s office. That investigation revealed that a chiropractic firm was persuading patients to sign contracts that named Reynolds as their legal counsel before the patients had physical exams or even met him.

Those charges were dropped when two investigators involved in the case came under fire for, among other things, allegedly stealing evidence in different cases.

Reynolds was arrested again in 2013 after authorities raided his law office and those of seven other area attorneys for their alleged involvement in a quarter-million-dollar kickback scheme with Robert Valdez, a co-owner of two chiropractic clinics and the alleged ringleader behind the operation. The other attorneys accepted plea arrangements; only Reynolds went to trial.

He was initially convicted of misdemeanor ambulance-chasing charges in November 2014, but that verdict was overturned after a judge declared a mistrial. Reynolds was indicted again on related charges in the summer of 2015 in Montgomery County, which resulted in the 2016 conviction he’s currently fighting.

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The court sentenced Reynolds to pay a $4,000 fine and serve a year in jail. He also had his law license suspended. He’s currently out on an appellate bond while he challenges his conviction.

At the time, Reynolds told the Tribune the jury disregarded evidence demonstrating that he did not know cases referred to him by Valdez had been illegally solicited. He said that would be the basis of his appeal.

But Joel Daniels, a Montgomery County assistant district attorney who was among the lawyers who tried Reynolds' case, noted that the opinions issued by the three-judge Eighth Court of Appeals on Nov. 29 were unanimous for each of the five charges. That bodes well for the prosecution's case, he said.

“We are greatly gratified by the appeals court rejecting Mr. Reynolds’ attempt to overturn a jury’s verdict,” Daniels said. “This important decision brings Mr. Reynolds one step closer to justice.”

Delinquent filer

At the same time Reynolds’ criminal case plays out, he’s also facing potential civil action for failing to submit nearly two years’ worth of campaign finance reports.

Reynolds owes the Texas Ethics Commission $52,000 in delinquent filing fees for overdue campaign finance reports and another $1,500 fine for a missed personal financial statement.

He last filed a report on Feb. 22, 2016.

Reynolds blames his former treasurer for misplacing records that he says his accountant is still trying to reconcile. He said he hopes to have everything “done and filed before the end of the year. So, I’m holding him to that.”

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The Texas Ethics Commission sends its first of three notices to late filers within 10 days of when the report was due. After the third notice, which Reynolds has likely received, the commission refers the matter to the state's attorney general, according to Ian Steusloff, general counsel for the commission.

“As part of that process, the [attorney general's office] can file a lawsuit in state district court to obtain payment, which can include additional costs in attorneys fees, court costs, and interest,” Steusloff said an an email.

Jennifer Speller, a spokeswoman for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, couldn't immediately offer details on the status of Reynolds' case but said "the office has taken collection action on matters referred by the TEC."

Re-election bid

Reynolds filed for re-election at the end of last week. He faces a single Democratic challenger, Houston attorney Wilvin Carter.

First elected in 2011, Reynolds has easily beat primary opponents. But in 2016, that changed when he received 48.5 percent of the vote in a four-way primary that forced a May runoff he ultimately won.

Despite his ongoing legal battle and a looming jail sentence should his latest appeal fail, Reynolds said he’s confident he’ll win again in 2018.

“I've been through three primary challenges previously on this issue, and my constituents have the utmost confidence in me and they have continued to insist that I run for re-election,” he said.