Wednesday, September 10, 2008

When lawyers go awry

More on the attorney blackmailing case.

Its rare to get such coverage of oral arguments in an mid-level appellate court.

Lawyer argues Roberts' legal maneuvers weren't theft
Guillermo Contreras - Express-News

Ted H. Roberts is shielded by the same state law he used to threaten his wife's lovers with legal action if they didn't pay him tens of thousands of dollars, his appellate lawyer argued Tuesday.
But a state prosecutor countered that the civil attorney, convicted by a jury in March 2007 of two theft charges and sentenced to five years in prison, crossed the line by coercing and deceiving two of the four men in claiming that the money would go to a children's charity.
Those are the arguments a judicial panel of the 4th Court of Appeals in San Antonio heard as it mulls whether Roberts' conviction should stand. A ruling is not expected for months. In the meantime, Roberts' law license has been suspended and he remains free on bond.

His lawyer, Leslie Werner de Soliz, told Justices Alma López, Karen Angelini and Sandra Bryan Marion that Roberts was within his legal right to use so-called “202 petitions.” The petitions put the men on notice that Roberts wanted to investigate the affairs and might expose the trysts to the men's spouses and employers as a preamble to suing them.

A Bexar County jury found him guilty of stealing from two men who bedded his wife, lawyer Mary S. Roberts, after telling them their payments totaling $100,000 would go to charity. Instead, it helped the couple buy a new home and finance his law firm, prosecutors said.
But jurors acquitted Ted Roberts on charges involving a third man, who said he didn't care where his $10,000 went, and a fourth paramour, who knew his payments would help Roberts recoup personal expenses.

At her own trial in February, Mary Roberts was convicted of stealing from all four men, some of whom she met through an adult Web site, and got 10 years of probation. The court dismissed her appeal last week because it was filed too late, but she has filed a motion asking the justices to reconsider.
Werner de Soliz repeatedly argued to the panel that Ted Roberts' conduct was lawful, but the justices had many questions.

“If he had just said to the men, ‘I'm going to expose your affairs unless you pay me, would that be unlawful?'” Justice Marion asked.
Yes, Werner de Soliz conceded. But she said that because Roberts followed the requirements of the civil law governing pre-lawsuit “Rule 202” depositions, he was in the clear. The procedure he used is common in civil litigation, she argued.
“If it was unlawful, every (civil) lawyer in this state would have broken the law,” she said.

But, Justice López asked, does the law allow false statements — not revealing to each man that there were others Mary Roberts had affairs with?
Werner de Soliz corrected her, arguing that Ted Roberts did not make any false statements.
“You are not required to put all your cards on the table,” Werner de Soliz said. “You don't have to disclose particular facts unless asked.”
And, no matter what the state says, Werner de Soliz argued, Roberts' motive is unimportant.
“He can have evil motive. He can act with horrible motive,” she said. “It doesn't matter. He is protected.”

Assistant District Attorney Enrico Valdez told the panel that Roberts had a sinister intent and, working with Mary Roberts, coerced or duped the men to pay up by claiming in the petitions that they might have committed a crime — like deviant behavior.
“In one of the men's cases, (Ted Roberts) actually attached a copy of ... the section of the penal code and highlighted it,” Valdez said.