A criminal complaint filed last week threatens to lift the veil on how attorneys might operate in Harris County courtrooms and accuses prominent attorneys of criminal acts, conspiracy, and falsely representing documents.
The complaint, filed with the Harris County District Attorney by attorney John LaGrappe, targets one of the best known family law attorneys in Harris County, Bobby Newman, and one of the county’s most famous criminal defense attorneys, Chip Lewis, who has defended high-profile clients such as former Precinct 6 Constable Victor Trevino, and real estate scion Robert Durst. An associate of Lewis, Jessica Estrada, is also named.
At issue, according to LaGrappe: All three illegally conspired to attempt to get his client yanked off of probation and thrown in jail. They did so, according to LaGrappe, by falsely representing documents as new evidence — and therefore putting LaGrappe’s client in a criminal light — when those documents were actually part of a years-old case.
In a brief interview, Lewis scoffed at LaGrappe for bringing such a complaint.
Newman did not respond to a request for comment.
The criminal complaint revolves around a case on Family Court. LaGrappe has been facing off against Bobby Newman in a family law custody case. While those cases can be ugly, this one seems to be uglier still. The only reason the public can get a glimpse into the inner workings of the case is because of LaGrappe’s criminal complaint.
And if attorneys criticizing each others’ conduct in public is rare, an attorney filing a criminal complaint against fellow barristers is the rarest of the rare.
“I’ve been practicing law 26 years,” LaGrappe said. “I’d never thought I’d have to file a criminal complaint. This is something that rarely happens. The reason I’m having to do it is because of the evidence I’ve found and because of what they did. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
The complaint is now before Harris County District Court Judge Jan Krocker. She will decide if a special prosecutor will look into the matter.
At the center of it all is the case itself. LaGrappe’s client, Kora Leach, and Bobby Newman’s client, Jamea Rooney, are pitted against each other in a contentious custody fight.
Indeed, the reason Leach was on probation at all was because she was charged with aggravated assault in a confrontation with Rooney in 2016 during an argument over which parent would have their daughter that weekend.
The charge was later lowered to a misdemeanor assault and Leach was given 24 months probation.
In 2017, LaGrappe was in the process of securing an early release from probation for Leach when he found “the judge was going to file a motion to revoke my client’s probation,” LaGrappe said.
It was then he learned that his opposing attorneys had gone to the judge with fliers they said Leach had been passing around the neighborhood in violation of her parole. The fliers depicted dead dogs that Rooney had reportedly killed.
Just last month someone came forward, LaGrappe said, who showed that Newman purportedly used the old documents — those fliers were actually only distributed in 2013, according to LaGrappe — and sold them to the court as new evidence. LaGrappe also has depositions that show Newman knew those fliers were distributed in 2013.
“They wanted my client to have her probation revoked, so that if her probation were revoked she’d be in jail and she wouldn’t be able to successfully prosecute her family law case,” LaGrappe said. “The problem here is that they basically gave a judge evidence and they misrepresented what the evidence was to the judge. From the emails and the evidence, their actions were deliberate. You cannot, basically, give evidence to a court and misrepresent it. If you do, you violate the Texas Penal Code.”
LaGrappe’s complaint is also critical of Lewis’ role in the case.
“There are emails and documents that show Bobby Newman referred James Rooney to Chip Lewis for the sole purpose of having criminal charges brought against Kora Leach,” LaGrappe said.
LaGrappe calls a March 17, 2017 letter he received from Lewis as “strange.”
“The letter, it was a strange letter, it contained a lot of demands from a lawyer named Chip Lewis and Mr. Lewis basically threatened my client with criminal prosecution. Mr. Lewis is not a prosecutor,” LaGrappe said. “It’s very rare in a family law case to have a family lawyer refer their client to a criminal defense lawyer for the sole purpose of having criminal charges brought against their opponent.”
LaGrappe said he found the letter, which also references the fliers, threatening.
“The letter from Mr. Lewis? You read it. And you tell me if that’s anything but extortion,” LaGrappe said.
Lewis said he did, indeed, take Rooney on as a client — and that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. He also said all of the evidence presented to the court was solid.
“My client was the victim of an aggravated assault,” Lewis told The Texas Monitor. “The defendant continued to harass my client in direct violation of the no-contact provision. My cease and desist letter gave her the opportunity to stop. She failed to do so and my client asked us to report the defendant’s violation to the court. The information we furnished the court was corroborated by sworn affidavit of an independent witness.”
Lewis added: “We invite anyone look into the matter. They will clearly see we did nothing approaching improper.”
There is no timeline for Judge Krocker to make a decision in connection with LaGrappe’s criminal complaint.
Trent Seibert can be reached at [email protected] or at 832-258-6119.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story stated that JJudge Jan Krocker was the judge in the custody case. That was incorrect and the Texas Monitor regrets the error.