Should state Rep. Ron Reynolds serve his full one-year jail sentence on a 2015 misdemeanor conviction, he will make some dubious legislative history.
The Democrat from Missouri City, who has been in trouble with the law since 2012 during his first term in office, turned himself in to Montgomery County Sheriff’s deputies on Friday. He had been free since May when the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals declined to review Reynolds’ conviction on a charge of barratry, an arcane term for lawyers using illegal pressure to solicit client business.
Reynolds’ office issued a statement to KPRC-TV in Houston Friday that said, “Today, Representative Ron Reynolds voluntarily revoked his appeal bond so that he could be prepared to start the 86th legislative session on time. Rep. Reynolds’ attorney is still working on various legal challenges and he is confident that his misdemeanor conviction will be overturned.” Reynolds’ goal is to begin serving his sentence now, so that with time off for good behavior or other adjustments he might conceivably be out of jail by January.
However, it is unclear what legal challenge is left to Reynolds, whose attorney failed to ask the Texas Supreme Court for a review, something the high court was extremely unlikely to grant, given the appeals court decision.
It is also unclear how Reynolds will pack in enough jail time to be free by Jan. 8, when the session begins. In spite of deepening legal trouble, Reynolds has insisted he will not surrender his House seat.
If he remains in the Montgomery County Jail, he will become the first legislator in more than 20 years to serve jail time while in office and just the second in modern legislative history, Lindsay Wickham, with the Texas Legislative Reference Library, said Monday.
Unless something changes with his sentence, Reynolds will be the first legislator to miss votes because of his incarceration. Early in the 1997 session, Drew Nixon, a Republican state senator from Carthage, was arrested by an undercover Austin police officer he solicited for sex, according to newspaper accounts at the time. The arresting officer also charged him with unlawfully carrying a handgun.
Nixon chose to complete his term in office, but didn’t begin to serve his sentence until October 1997, months after the end of the session, according to the news accounts. He was also allowed to serve the sentence on consecutive weekends, earning a release after serving 60 days of a six-month sentence.
There has so far been no special accommodation made for Reynolds by the sheriff of Montgomery County, who has discretion in shortening or adjusting sentences for things like good behavior, Joel Daniels, who prosecuted Reynolds for the Montgomery County District Attorney’s office, told the Texas Tribune late last week.
Scott Spencer, media relations representative for the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department, did not return a call asking for comment on Reynolds’ sentence, by the time this story was published.
As has been the case in the past, officials with Reynolds’ office declined to return a call for comment by The Texas Monitor.
The statement to KPRC-TV said the legislator “looks forward to continuing to fight for his constituents during the upcoming session. Moreover, Rep. Reynolds has full confidence that his experienced staff will be able to handle any immediate needs of his constituents during his 4-6 month absence.”
While he awaited his appeal, Reynolds handily defeated Wilvin Carter with 61.4 percent of the vote in the March 6 Democratic primary. No Republican opponent in the Nov. 6 general election stands in the way of his fifth two-year term.
Sec. 141.001 of the Texas Election Code allows elected officials convicted of misdemeanors — not felonies — to continue in office.
Texas House Rules, particularly Rule 5 concerning attendance and voting, however, make clear that a jailed Reynolds would be prohibited from taking part in the daily activities of the House.
The House Democratic leadership has not publicly pressured Reynolds to give up his seat. When asked about Reynolds, state Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, issued a statement to the media:
“Today we learned that Representative Ron Reynolds voluntarily revoked his appeal bond in connection with a misdemeanor conviction in order to be prepared to start the 86th Legislative Session in January. We respect the legal process and we hope this matter is finally resolved in the near future.”
Reynolds’ problems go well beyond jail. As The Texas Monitor has reported, Reynolds declared bankruptcy a year ago when former legal clients made hundreds of thousands of dollars in claims against him.
Despite reports that he intended to begin paying off his fines, Reynolds still owes the state $52,500 for repeatedly failing to file legally required campaign finance reports, according to the most recent records kept by the Texas Ethics Commission.
Reynolds is by a wide margin the most delinquent political candidate in Texas, according to ethics commission records.
Upon release, Reynolds will not be able to go back to practicing law. The state Board of Disciplinary Appeals upheld the suspension of his law license. The State Bar of Texas directory says Reynolds is not eligible to practice in the state because his license was suspended for “disciplinary reasons.”
Mark Lisheron can be reached at [email protected]tor.org.