A Texas lawyer, Hilda Valadez, was accused of double billing Bexar County for her assigned counsel work and for forging a judge’s signature on the payment forms she submitted. Valadez was the top billing appointed lawyer over the last three years, having billed more than $400,000 for working on 478 cases. She pled guilty to one count of forgery, one count of “securing execution of a document by deception” and was sentenced to 10 years.
Valadez, who was once the most frequent court-appointed counsel in Bexar County, faced a 46-count indictment. She initially insisted on her innocence and demanded a jury trial. Her attorney requested a competence hearing claiming she was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. The court found her competent and set the matter for trial. Valadez changed her plea during jury selection and received her sentence. She is eligible for probation after six months and while she repaid the county $40,000, she still owes another $39,000. My San Antonio carries the story.
Over the last 10 years, three Ohio lawyers have been disciplined for inaccurate and misleading records in connection with fee applications in assigned counsel matters:
- In Disciplinary Counsel v. Agopian, 112 Ohio St.3d 103, 2006-Ohio-6510, the attorney was found to have engaged in deceptive practices for submitting extremely sloppy records, including records suggesting he worked more than 24 hours in a given day. The court also determined that his billing practices adversely reflected on his fitness to practice.
- Two other Ohio lawyers were disciplined for repeatedly submitting the same hours on behalf of separate assigned juvenile clients on the same day. Theses fee applications were deemed to violate the rule against clearly excessive fees, now titled Prof. Cond. Rule 1.5. Disciplinary Counsel v. Holland, 106 Ohio St.3d 372, 200-Ohio-5322 and Disciplinary Counsel v. Johnson, 106 Ohio St.3d 365, 2005-Ohio-5323. While Holland was indicted for his conduct in connection with his fee applications, he was acquitted after a bench trial.