Former DISD recruiter sued by state for impersonating lawyer

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Stacey Sylvester Lee Merritt

A former Dallas ISD recruiter is being sued by the state for impersonating a lawyer and inserting himself into sensitive civil rights cases and negotiations in North Texas, according to a complaint filed by the state.

Stacey Sylvester Lee Merritt, who has been lauded nationally as a civil rights figure, was hit with a temporary restraining order on Jan. 30 in response to a complaint filed by the state’s Unauthorized Practice of Law Committee, a panel appointed by the state Supreme Court.

“Despite not being licensed to practice law in Texas, Defendant has engaged in the practice of law in Texas by conduct, including, without limitation, doing the following acts while not licensed to practice law in Texas or being a member of the State Bar of Texas,” the complaint from the state reads.

The state committee listed several alleged violations of state law governing attorney behavior by Merritt, and noted that after arriving in Texas in 2014 he was employed by the Dallas ISD.

Merritt is a Philadelphia-based attorney licensed in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Although his license in both states has in the past been administratively suspended for failure to pay required fees, he is currently in good standing in both states.

Merritt said he worked as a recruiter of teachers and coaches for Dallas ISD for two years after coming to Texas in 2014.

“I had not yet set up a practice in Texas, and I did no legal work for them,” Merritt said.

Dallas ISD declined to address Merritt’s tenure at DISD.

Merritt, who has handled cases as a plaintiff’s lawyer in Pennsylvania, said he feels that he is a licensed attorney in the sense that he is certified to practice civil rights in the US District Court of the Northern District of Texas.

“I don’t handle divorces or other claims in Texas,” Merritt said. “I have no right to do that. To that extent, it can be confusing.”

Merritt said he is working with the state on a consent order, and in the meantime, he is adjusting his social media accounts to ensure language that may have been misleading is corrected.

Merritt alleged the state’s action is a response to a complaint from Tarrant County District Attorney Sharen Wilson.

He said Wilson complained to the state bar after Merritt demanded she pursue felony charges against Fort Worth police officer William Martin and a civilian for their role in the assault of Jacqueline Craig and her son, whom Merritt was assisting navigate the legal system.

“No, we did not complain, we are bound by law to notify” the authorities in cases of potentially unauthorized practice of law in the state, Sam Jordan, a spokeswoman (CQ) for Wilson said.

Merritt has widely been presented in the news as an attorney in the state, holding press conferences on behalf of individuals. In one case, he was portrayed as a lawyer representing the Arlington chapter of the NAACP.

Merritt said while it was true that he “represented” individuals, the stories inferred that he was doing so in a literal, local sense.

“I think that needs to be clarified, and while it shouldn’t be incumbent upon me to do it, I will if that’s what it takes,”  Merritt said.

Merritt has been a prominent fixture in local civil rights cases, and is now becoming politically active. Despite his financial missteps with his license in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, Symone Redwine, a Dallas lawyer, named Merritt as her campaign treasurer in her bid for Dallas County Criminal Court No. 3.

In an affidavit attached to the state’s complaint against Merritt, Dallas lawyer Kim Cole said that Merritt represented himself as a lawyer in a civil rights-related mediation negotiation that she was also part of in 2016. He took attorney’s fees in the resulting settlement.

“He represented himself not just to me as a lawyer but to others involved,” Cole said in an interview. She said she has talked with state investigators several times over the last year regarding Merritt.

“The state does not jump the gun on things like this,” Cole said.

The state’s Unauthorized Practice of Law Committee has filed 37 actions against ten individuals and groups in the past two years, 28 of them in Dallas County.

The cases can be viewed here.

Steve Miller can be reached at [email protected].

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