Thursday, September 3, 2009
RUNNER -- Part 1 of 2
(Part 1 of 2)
The Enigmatic Attorney Alberto Huerta
(Lawsuit Surfaces Altering His Image From Spiritual Demigod To A Ringleader of Ambulance-Chasers)
Corpus Christi, Texas – The late Attorney Alberto (Albert) Huerta (calculated to be one of the richest Hispanic lawyers in America not too long ago by Forbes Magazine) was considered by many to be an enigma. He died in July 2009 at the age of 65. One thesis that has surfaced after his death is that he kept together a socio-legal and political structure that stemmed from his nifty recipe for acquiring personal injury and wrongful death cases. Some key lawyers who orbited his world liken the “structure” mentioned above as a sort of “ecological” system (e.g., similar to the one where animals and plants all exist in a symbiotic state).
Three years before, he had been reprimanded by an authorized subdivision of the State Bar of Texas for unethical practices. To iterate, on September 21, 2006, Alberto (Albert) Huerta [#10177500] accepted a public reprimand. A journal highlights: “The District 11-A Grievance Committee found that Huerta’s non-lawyer employee, over whom he had direct supervisory authority, unlawfully solicited representation in a wrongful death case. During the representation, Huerta provided his clients with prohibited financial assistance. Huerta violated Rules 1.08(d)(1) and 5.03(a) and (b)(a).”
“Enigmatic” -- this is the re-occurring theme El Defenzor was able to snapshot in one word from many persons interviewed that orbited his socio-world. The societal causes he was involved with were manifold, and the “manifold-ness” also reflected his protean and variable behavior. But before proceeding into his multifarious lines of business, it is elemental to highlight a few biographical points.
He was born in Laredo in 1944. He studied to be a teacher at the former Texas A&I University—Kingsville. He taught school in San Diego ISD for a short while and then came to the conclusion that he was “not making enough money” (according to a former employee at his law office). “He told me that he did his best to get into St. Mary’s Law School after that in San Antonio. He did have a difficult time at first to get accepted, but eventually he did,” the source (which shall be referred to as “Mr. X”) added.
Once passing the state bar, he was involved initially with the Raza Unida Movement and the Chicano Civil Rights Movement in general (especially in the Corpus Christi area). At first, he dabbled in the fields of civil rights matters and criminal law and a few other areas that involved the situational status of the poor and the working class, and even enrolled in a few of the societal occupational enrichment programs of the time such as SER.
At this phase he was trying to define himself and to find his zealous professional centre and existential mission. As he established himself as a lawyer, he worked with the first Hispanic attorneys such as Tony Canales and Amador Garcia; lawyers that were connected to the socio-politically and influential leader Dr. Hector P. Garcia (the founder of the American GI Forum). Eventually the three lawyers went their own way. Canales was awarded a prominent political attorney in the U.S. Attorney General’s office.
In the 1980s Huerta went on to work with attorneys such as Celso Rodriguez and Dan Alfaro who were getting on the legal thoroughfare of personal injury law. Many a case had positive exponential financial consequences he realized.
After that experience, he moved to last law office on Leopard Street where he teamed up with Doug Allison. Mr. X shared: “I remember that Alberto (Huerta) told me one day, ‘Don’t think of me so much as a lawyer, but as a businessman.’ At First I didn’t realize the consequences, but it seemed he had redefined his niche... His role from there on I believe was that he could play a more instrumental role -- not so much defending clients in court – but as nurturing a network with trained investigators and cultivating a culture of ‘quick reaction time to leads’ related to prospective injury and wrongful death cases.’”
Even though Huerta and some of his non-lawyer links (which we shall refer to as Mr. TC and Big R – one lives in Buckingham Estates; the other, in Kings Crossing) connected with his law office were implicated in baratry scandals on a number of occasions, was able to acquire a large portion of the behemoth cases. Huerta had established a network system that served as the bile as well as the ever so present envy of scores of lawyers who were waiting to “reel in their first big case” (source: Mr. X). “I remember on one occasion in which a personal injury lawyer said he had a monopoly of most of the cases in the area. Alberto (Huerta) just turned and blinked his eye and walked away.”
A recent lawsuit (09-1980-E) filed in the 148th Judicial District Court by Attorney William “Billy” Edwards Sr. (on behalf of his client, Attorney Hector P. Gonzalez from Alice, Texas) shortly before the passing of Attorney Huerta portrays him (Huerta) as financially fueling the activities of “runners.”
During a recent interview, Attorney Edwards told El Defenzor: “‘Runners’ are illegally getting clients. In many instances they use aggressive tactics or muscle themselves to get into hospital emergency rooms and funeral homes and other places. Most people do not understand the statute of baratry.” He added: “The legal profession is failing by default if ‘runners’ are being sent by attorneys to lurk in the shadows and hook clients at the first opportunity they have. We cannot allow these folks to operate like mafia.”
“I became involved with this case because I sincerely want to see both citizens and lawyers obey the law. There is no need to harass individuals who have suffered personal injury. Let the system run itself. Clients should not be lured by fast talkers who look at prospective clients as a ‘piece of meat’ and not as human beings worthy of respect and dignity. ‘Runners’ – all they care about is the big bucks they are going to make at the end of the day,” Edwards summed.
But Edwards in not the only attorney with such sentiments. About fifteen lawyers interviewed by this publication alleged that the late Alberto Huerta was the gatekeeper as well as the PR person for one of the most well “oiled machines” associated with a sectional tier of professional runners.
The lawsuit filed by Edwards hints at the stance cited above. It states: “...The saga begins when V. Cortinas suffered personal injuries as a result of an automobile accident. After the accident, Plaintiff (Attorney Hector P. Gonzalez), whose family members were close friends of Ms. Cortinas, was under the impression he was going to be selected to be her attorney in pursing her personal injury claims. Turns out, Defendants (i.e., Alberto Huerta and the Huerta Law Firm) while Ms. Cortinas was in a coma, went to her hospital room and waited until she came out of her coma to get her name on the signature line of an attorney employment contract while she was in such condition as to not realize what was transpiring. Upon information and belief, money and/or things of value were exchanged between Defendants and other individuals in order to cement this illegal attorney/client relationship. Succinctly, the Defendants had “run” the Cortinas case, which results in the attorney/client contract being illegal as void and a matter of law.”
The lawsuit adds: “The Cortinas case was settled which is believed to have been for approximately 3.5 million dollars. Out of that her attorneys took over one million dollars as fees despite the fact the contract was void. On or about February 20, 2009, Ms. Cortinas retained the Plaintiff to represent her against the Defendants (Alberto Huerta and the Huerta Law Firm) for violations of the law and for claims of ‘fee forfeiture.’ When an attorney takes a fee pursuant to an illegal and void client contract as was done in the Cortinas case, any fees are thus not earned and are forfeited as a matter of law. Succinctly, the million dollars plus fee had to be returned to Ms. Cortinas.”
Mr. X explained: “It is not rocket science. There is a system in place that no one really wants to look at in an in-depth sort of way. It can be explained in a very simple way. The ‘runners’ get the cases; the attorneys get the money; and then compensate 'runners' and then split fees usually at fifty percent with other specialized attorneys who try them.”
Mr. X provided more insight: “I personally think that he realized that his role as a performing personal injury lawyer in the courtroom was now limited. He saw his partner’s --------- that is, Allison’s -- role (and of other recruited technically competent co-contractors – later Mikal Watts et. al). I think he realized they were better at trying the cases than he would ever be. It also freed him from many a responsibility of his daily duties and allowed him the opportunity to engage in many activities outside the law that he wanted to pursue.”
Mr. X continued: “Can you imagine the conglomeration of money and combined power and resources from this system of law firms and associates being invested into their future political and economic interests? Are you really listening? It has grave consequences. These lawyers pile up war chests and thus in turn channel an overabundance of resources for almost any judicial candidate of their choice (or any other post) to have more than an average chance to get elected; and it follows, that in turn the ‘favor for a favor’ culture so characteristic in some courthouses in South Texas is kept alive and well. Once their cases end up before these judges. Can you deduce that the “bench” has been bought or influenced? This is the question the larger population needs to seriously consider.”
Huerta did not create this “runner” culture but had to function amidst it and grew to know the “ins and outs” it well. His bond with key leaders in the Hispanic community and the Catholic Church and law enforcement gave him an added advantage and even served as his bulwark. Mr. X detailed: “Consider, for instance one of his so-called investigators – Mr. T. C. – whose father had a long tenure as the head of law enforcement department and many others. Consider top personalities in both Spanish and Tejano radio who were showed with gifts for a ‘plug’ in the airwaves – especially after a refinery explosion? Consider the myriad levels... ‘runners’ having ‘sub-runners’ who operate under the radar of civilized accountability? ... I believe the Catholic Church being a faith-based organization needs a constant flow of philanthropic funds, as all such benevolent organizations do; however, by orbiting him they served as a type of spiritual bodyguard before and after the fact. I don’t believe the church had bad intentions.”
Huerta had risen to the spotlight. He began to not just donate to politicians – mostly Hispanic Democratic candidates; but also to ready-made groups that could refer cases in return. The highlight of his career, his plateau had arrived.
One friend said: “Alberto (Huerta) seemed to have connected the dots of where he could be more successful... the field of personal injury. He would go on to be involved with a few Olympian class action law suits that would dramatically alter his life’s priorities. Donating to politicos helped him posture himself and be in the good graces of a few key judges.”
To fast-forward the chronology: In the last few years of his life, he even ventured into the grazing land of the boxing business and even made some aleatory real estate investments. However, the music business – this was one in the last few years of his life where he teamed up with his Tony Calderon (one of his investigators). After his son’s – Joseph Hera’s – skiing accident in a resort in Colorado (which was settled for over ten million), Alberto (Huerta) started a religious healing movement – an interdenominational ministry. This lead to the founding of what he called: “My Father’s House” (which would be housed in the defunct area known as Johnny Land (which functioned during its brief period as a chosen parcel used for both promoting and housing music concerts and other related events).
A former neighbor of Alberto Huerta said: “Alberto was all over the place. He touched a lot of people; but it was difficult to get close to him... H was an enigma. He was there; but not really there.”
What was the key to Huerta’s success in this field? Mr. X shared his views: “If I may be permitted to guess, to conjecture, to generalize. His recipe for SUCCESS was BEING A GOOD BUSINESSMAN. Because the truth is there are a lot of ‘GOOD’ attorneys out there but are not ‘GOOD’ businessmen...”
Mr. X expanded his analysis: “Alberto knew he had to market himself. He put an IMAGE of himself out there. Yet the comment that few ‘really knew’ him added to his aura of mystery. It added inscrutability. I believe there is an obscurity about this rung that few are willing to talk about. It would be considered hypercritical and beyond the pale of the acceptable now that he has passed on to the other side.”
The duality of Huerta continues after his death. He assented and became one of the richest lawyers in American. Many came to him for spiritual supervision. Was he Catholic or Protestant or did he create a unique religious movement?
“Good or bad he left a mark either through the religion or legal community. He rose from teacher to lawyer at a time where Hispanics were underrepresented,” one District Judge (who did not want to be acknowledged by name) told El Defenzor. “The issue now is, what will be the implications that Attorney Edwards (on behalf of his client) – who is a pillar of this community -- has stepped up to the plate and is trying to change his image from demigod to an ambulance chaser in TV and radio and print? Huerta there is no doubt in my mind was an enigma. Some worshiped him; some despised him; some say he was a prophet; some ruthless... In my estimation, he fed the political machine, the media, and the religion.”