Photo: Carlos Javier Sanchez /Contributor
by John MacCormack, San Antonio Express-News
In a stern rebuke, a judge ordered maverick lawyer Phil Ross and his clients to pay more than $220,000 in sanctions for their serial misconduct during an ongoing guardianship case involving Charlie Thrash, a mentally incapacitated millionaire.
In handing down the hefty penalty, one of the largest in courthouse memory, Bexar County Probate Court Judge Oscar Kazen ruled that Ross and his clients, Laura and Brittany Martinez, had “designed and carried out a vexatious litigation campaign … against Thrash, his property, the guardians and the Court.”
In addition, the judge said, the conduct of Ross and the Martinezes was “intentional, knowing and outrageous.”
The 35-page order cited dozens of specific acts of misconduct. Among the more serious:
Ross assisted in the improper marriage of Thrash and his girlfriend Martinez, which he knew was forbidden by the court because of Thrash’s mental incapacity. The marriage was soon annulled by Kazen.
Ross also was involved in a improper adoption by Thrash of Martinez’s two adult children, which he knew was forbidden, also dishonestly representing himself as Thrash’s lawyer, when he was not. The adoptions were also undone.
Ross improperly interfered with Tonya Barina, the guardian of Thrash’s estate, by attempting to divert Thrash’s Social Security benefits from her.
Ross filed a second recusal motion against Judge Kazen that he knew was groundless, solely “for the purpose of harassment” and to “avoid a hearing on the motion for sanctions.”
Kazen also imposed additional punitive financial sanctions of $2,500 against Laura Martinez and $1,500 against her daughter Brittany.
He ordered all the money be paid to Thrash’s two guardians and his estate.
Ross, who claimed nothing he has done harmed Thrash, said the sanctions just raise more questions about the case.
“How did the judge allow the guardians’ lawyers to bill more than a quarter-million dollars to Charlie’s estate trying to stop his common-law wife Laura and Brittany from trying to help him restore his capacity and to remove the guardians?” he asked.
“The other question is why are they so afraid of us? They are trying to silence us. All we’re saying is that Charlie is not incapacitated and the guardians should be removed,” he added.
Les Katona, one of the lawyers who represented Barina, the guardian of Thrash’s estate, however, said that given the egregious misconduct, the strong sanctions imposed by Kazen were almost predictable.
“Phil Ross and Laura Martinez and her family engaged in utterly outrageous behavior that necessitated the court respond in a very forceful way, in order to preserve the integrity of our judicial system and to protect people like Mr. Thrash from being taken advantage of,” he added.
$3 million estate
Thrash, 81, who since last year has been under the care of guardians, is the longtime owner of a now closed specialty auto repair shop on West Avenue.
For the last four months, he has been at the center of a contentious legal battle between Ross and lawyers representing the two court-appointed guardians.
Thrash’s estate is worth more than $3 million and Martinez says she is the only beneficiary.
The guardians and a court investigator claim that Martinez, who was briefly married to Thrash and claims she loves him, was exploiting and socially isolating him.
In his pleadings, Ross argued that the guardians ruined Thrash’s life and should be dismissed because Thrash has somehow regained his mental competence.
On March 6, guardian Mary Werner, with police assistance, removed Thrash from the spacious home he shared with Martinez in Shavano Park. Werner said she took the extreme action because she feared for Thrash’s safety.
Ross is known for his aggressive and unconventional legal tactics, which have led before to sanctions against him.
During the months of intense litigation, Kazen repeatedly admonished Ross over his behavior, warning at one point that some of his conduct might be criminal.
The judge was also given to repeating the cautionary remark: “We have to be careful that zealous advocacy doesn’t turn into the exploitation of the individual.”
Over the past four months, Ross filed more than 70 pleadings in the probate court, many attacking the two guardians.
All of Ross’s efforts to get rid of them have been rejected by Kazen, prompting additional pleadings by Ross to the 4th Court of Appeals and the Texas Supreme Court, thus far to no avail.
Kazen has also stricken many of Ross’s filings, after ruling that neither he nor his clients qualified for intervenor status.
Along the way, Ross also tried twice to force Kazen’s recusal, failing both times.
And despite the immunity given state judges, Ross recently sued Kazen in state district court, claiming misconduct. That case is pending.
Ross also filed a suit in U.S. District Court against the two guardians. That case is also pending.
The type of suit is typically filed by whistle blowers or outspoken citizens seeking protection against corporate intimidation.
And although Ross’s filings are often redundant, rehashing old issues, most have required a legal response from the five lawyers representing the guardians.
They claim that Ross’s voluminous filings have already cost Thrash’s estate more than $250,000 in unnecessary legal expenses.
There have also been more than two-dozen court hearings on the case thus far.
And the legal fight is hardly over. On May 30, another hearing will be held, this time on another motion by Ross for a new trial.
Ross, who has received nothing from the estate, says he is representing his clients without charge.
Full Article & Source:
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