Monday, August 15, 2011

An Unusual Theft Conviction

The web page of the Texas Board of Disciplinary Appeals reports a recent disbarment order:

On July 6, 2011 the Board of Disciplinary Appeals signed a final judgment of disbarment against San Antonio attorney Mary S. Roberts, 55...On June 25, 2008, the Board of Disciplinary Appeals signed an interlocutory order of suspension against Roberts because on or about February 26, 2008, she was convicted of five counts of theft...and was sentenced to 10 years in the Institutional Division of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice on each of counts I-III and two years for counts IV and V, sentences to run concurrently. The sentences were fully probated. Roberts appealed the conviction and on January 11, 2011, the Court of Appeals for the Fourth District of Texas affirmed her criminal conviction. Roberts appeared pro se.

The underlying criminal case received significant attention from the press, including this 2004 post from People Magazine:

It was loneliness and dissatisfaction with her marriage, says San Antonio lawyer Mary Roberts, that prompted her three years ago to start cruising an Internet sex site looking for lovers. Posting an ad that read "Professional woman who is full of desire but not having her needs met," she didn't stay lonely for long. During the fall of 2001 she struck up relationships with at least five men, including a vice president of a pharmaceutical company, an Army officer and a top executive of a tech firm. In between trysts, she and her lovers traded steamy e-mails, one of which she signed, "Your demon love slave." Their frolicking, Roberts, 48, had said in her Web come-ons, should have "no strings" attached.

But what she didn't mention was that a legal noose was about to be slipped around her paramours' necks. As the San Antonio Express-News disclosed in June, within weeks of Roberts ending the brief affairs, several of the men received letters from her husband, Ted, 47, a successful medical malpractice lawyer, threatening court action unless they coughed up a monetary settlement. In all, the men paid out a total of as much as $155,000 to keep the matter quiet. What makes the episode all the more remarkable is that no laws may have been broken. While declining to explain exactly why she and her husband did what they did, Mary insists that everything was perfectly above-board. "This was not a case of extortion," she told PEOPLE. "I cannot emphasize that enough."

But that doesn't mean that people in San Antonio aren't appalled by what appears to be the skirting of ethical boundaries. For weeks the case was subject No. 1 on talk radio and at cocktail parties. "This is the kind of thing you read in the paper in the morning and it makes you spit your coffee," says San Antonio's district attorney Susan Reed. "It bothers me a lot." Whether Reed will be able to do anything about it, though, is another issue. The Robertses operated under the cloak of an obscure Texas legal procedure, known as Rule 202, that allows a lawyer to go directly to a judge with the facts of a case and ask if further investigation and a possible lawsuit are justified; even if the case has no merit, it becomes a matter of public record. In letters to his wife's lovers, Ted Roberts enclosed drafts of his proposed Rule 202 filings, implying he would go public with the affairs.

Jonathan Turley had this post and opines:

Unfortunately, the two Roberts have fulfilled every stereotype of lawyers for some in the public. The fact is that these are two truly obnoxious — if not toxic — individuals who deserve lengthly punishment — and long walks in the rain in the prison yard — to consider their choices as both lawyers and human beings.

For the bar, the convictions of these two lawyers was a welcomed event.

Now, however, Roberts will not go to jail and instead perform community service. It is hard to imagine what community service would work for her but legal and marriage counseling should probably be excluded.

Additional information about the criminal case from the web page of the Texas District & County Attorneys Association. (Mike Frisch)

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