Rep. Reynolds will still collect lawmaker salary even if conviction upheld

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Texas State Rep. Ron Reynolds
Texas State Rep. Ron Reynolds

State Rep. Ron Reynolds is waiting on a court decision that will dictate where he spends the next few months — in jail or as a free man. But he believes he knows where he’ll make at least $7,200 next year — as a sitting state lawmaker.

Reynolds, D-Missouri City, was convicted in Montgomery County last year of illegally soliciting clients for his personal injury law practice. The five misdemeanor counts landed him a year in jail, a $4,000 fine and cost him his law license.

The case is on appeal, but Reynolds will be able to serve even if the conviction is upheld. Reynolds filed this month to seek a fifth term in the legislature, and has drawn an opponent for the March 6 Democratic primary.

The state’s election code says that only a felony conviction requires a sitting legislator to cede his or her seat.

The lower offenses include drunk driving and other crimes. In that regard, Texas is among the more stringent. In Connecticut, for example, a felon who has served out the penalty and is not on parole can run for office.

Here’s a list of how some states handle felons in office.

Federal law is more permissive: felons can serve in Congress, although convicted members face expulsion at the hands of their colleagues.

Misdemeanors, not so much. For example, U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, was convicted of drunk driving in 2005 and remains in office.

Reynolds, though, has faced more formidable challenges than the ballot box and legislative rules over the past 15 years. In 2005, he received a three month suspension of his law license, followed by three years of probation.

While Reynolds has won numerous cases over the years, he has also received numerous complaints from clients, including allegations of contract breach and legal malpractice. Several plaintiffs have successfully sued Reynolds, with lucrative payouts. In a case alleging malpractice, a Harris County jury ruled against Reynolds and the plaintiff was awarded damages of approximately $200,000.

Reynolds’ Montgomery County conviction is referred to colloquially as “ambulance chasing.” Reynolds called his case “a modern day lynching,” as he contended the guilty verdict was based on his race.

At the time of his trial, the state was moving to discipline Reynolds in a Harris County case. That action was dropped following the Montgomery County verdict.

Reynolds is one of three lawmakers who were elected last year despite having legal challenges hanging over their heads.

Reynolds, Dawnna Dukes, D-Austin, and Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, won their seats despite legal problems. Dukes was at the time accused of abusing public office, and Uresti was part of a company being investigated by the feds for fiscal impropriety.

The charges against Dukes were dropped in October, while Uresti is set to stand trial on criminal fraud.

Reynolds’ first appeal was unsuccessful, and he says he is preparing another one in a different appellate venue.

He did not respond to an email seeking an interview.

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