Know Your Legal Rights….A Talk With Renown Attorney Bob S. Bennett
By Keryl L. Douglas, Esq.
Knowing their legal rights is imperative for laypersons, especially when confronted by authority or legal challenges; and so it is with experienced lawyers as well. As evident from his very own personal confrontation with authority and legal challenge from the State Bar of Texas, it was imperative for Attorney Bob S. Bennett to know and diligently pursue his rights. “They generally get it right; but when they get it wrong, it is devastating,” Bennett said of the State Bar and persons who get unjust outcomes.
Interestingly, one of Bob Bennett’s very ardent and unwavering supporters entirely convinced of Bennett’s innocence, legal experience, and character was Anthony Graves, who had been represented by Bennett since his exoneration after unjustly serving more than 18 years behind bars for murders he did not commit. He was released on Oct. 27, 2010. As you may recall, Anthony Graves was the innocent man wrongly convicted of the 1992 multiple murders of Bobbie Davis (45), Davis’ daughter (16), and four grandchildren. Bennett began representing Graves after his exoneration when the former Texas death row inmate filed a grievance with The State Bar of Texas imploring discipline for the prosecutor who got him wrongfully convicted him of capital murder. Bennett and Graves prevailed and the Prosecutor Charles Sebesta, with 25 years experience, was disbarred.
Robert Bennett is touted to be one of Houston’s renowned attorneys in the areas of Medical and Legal license defense. For professionals, maintaining and protecting their licenses is a priority. Bennett has defended professionals and their licensing for at least the last two of his approximate four decades of legal practice. Then, in 2014, he found himself similarly faced with one of the worst kinds of threat to a legal license – disbarment.
Americans spend over $100 billion in legal fees every year. Lack of communication by consel and Fee disputes are among the leading causes of State Bar Complaints and Legal malpractice claims. Some clients file grievances in attempt to avoid paying fees legitimately and rightly owed to attorneys. Bennett’s experience soberly shows, not even attorneys considered “great” are immune to such challenge to their licenses.
A client of Bennett filed complaint alleging failure to return fees pursuit to Rule 1.15(d). Ultimately, after appeal, the conviction and/or disbarment on that claim was reversed by Appeals Court; its Opinion stating there was “legally and factually insufficient” evidence to support the finding of the lower Court .
In 2014, after a three day trial before then Judge Carmen Kelsey, Judge Kelsey ruled disbarment of Bennett rather than the two year suspension requested by the State Bar attorneys. Bennett appealed. A litany of people proffered encouragement, confidence in his character and practice of law (including Anthony Graves}, wrote letters, filed amici briefs, volunteered to testify at trial. Many disagreed with the ruling and believed Judge Kelsey lacked the adequate experience to hear and properly rule on the case. Lillian Hardwick, Co-Author of “The Handbook on Texas Lawyer and Judicial Ethics,” considered an expert on such matters, told the court that the civil wrongs of breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duty can’t be equated to violations of the disciplinary rules.”
(Knowing his legal rights), Bennett appealed his case. For further inquiry, the case is Robert S. Bennett v. Commission for Lawyer Discipline, case no. 14-14-00470-CV, Fourteenth Judicial District Court of Appeals for the State of Texas. In 2016, the Texas Appellate Court reversed the infamous disbarment of Atty. Bennett, and he is back to what he loves: offering expert defense to professionals who’s licensing is under threat. Bennett said he was very pleased with their argument before the Appeals Court, elated with the outcome, and very optimistic about the remaining issue of rule 3.02. Interestingly, Judge Carmen Kelsey lost her bid for re-election.
Bob Bennett’s personal experience/confrontation is a “case study” for lawyers and laypersons alike. Bennett has offered CLE’s on relevant issues for many years before he found himself in similar circumstance. While he and others feel the actions against him were unjust and unwarranted, he moves forward, using his experience to further help others. CLEonline.com has a program based on the grievance disciplinary case involving Bennett’s case which essentially involved every single facet of the grievance process, from initiation to conclusion.
Groups around the nation are calling for reform: transparency, fair judicial processes, uniformity and lack of bias in grievance/disciplinary processes, investigations, findings and decisions by State Bars; more easily accessible and consumer-friendly processes and websites, etc. Attorney Bob S. Bennett said” The Sunset Review Committee is working with the Texas State Legislature regarding reform of the Texas State Bar.” The Houston Sun anticipates reporting on the outcome of this reform effort.
A complete video of the Bob S. Bennett Interview may be found soon on the Houston Sun website, as well as at https://vimeo.com/200990526/c96479cd89, and other sites.