The State Bar of Texas has sanctioned retired attorney Charles V. Willette Jr. of Laguna Vista for professional misconduct, arising from the federal inquiry into ex-404th state District Judge Abel C. Limas, according to public records.
Willette received a one-year probated suspension from the practice of law, and he also agreed to pay $1,500 to cover the legal fees and expenses incurred by the bar’s Office of the Chief Disciplinary Counsel, an agreed judgment signed Dec. 9 states.
Willette could not be located to comment.
According to the findings in the agreed judgment, Willette was an attorney in a lawsuit pending before Limas in 2008, and “engaged in an exparte conversation with Judge Limas for the purpose of influencing the judge.”
Willette’s opposing counsel had not been informed of the private conversation and did not have the opportunity to participate in it, the judgment further states.
The probated suspension began Dec. 1, 2013, and ends Nov. 30 this year.
This is the second public reprimand and sanction that the state organization, which licenses attorneys, has issued as per an order by U.S. District Judge Andrew S. Hanen to U.S. attorneys in June 2012 following the trial of the late Ray R. Marchan, who also was an attorney.
Hanen directed federal prosecutors “to cooperate with the investigations by either the State Bar of Texas and/or the Southern District of Texas into the unethical conduct of the defendant and/or any other individuals associated with this case, to the fullest extent possible, provided, however, said attorneys need not provide any information or materials that will compromise ongoing cases or investigations.”
Testimony during Marchan’s trial revealed conversations between Limas and Willette in 2008 involving the case of Juan Mancillas, M.D., and Sylvia Mancillas et al. v. American General Financial Group et al. In one recorded conversation, Limas told Willette that he had dismissed one of the defendants in the lawsuit after he heard that the plaintiffs were going to dismiss the defendant.
“I want the points,” Limas told Willette. Marchan defense attorneys said that another recording indicated that Willette had told Limas that if a continuance could be granted, there would be a better chance of resolving the case, and that Limas had made a ruling in the case. Willette told Limas that it had been a good ruling. “It’s going to go a long way into getting our part resolved,” Willette told Limas.
“But did I sound legit?” Limas responded. Willette told Limas he could not have done any better.
Willette retired in January 2012 after practicing law since 1974. He was one of the government’s witnesses in the case against Marchan.
A jury found Marchan guilty of numerous public-corruption charges. He committed suicide in February 2013, the day he was to report to federal prison.
The bar last year publicly reprimanded state Rep. Rene O. Oliveira for professional misconduct also involving a private conversation in 2008 with Limas about a pending case. Oliveira also agreed to pay $1,500 to cover the bar’s legal fees and expenses in the disciplinary proceeding.
The Bar’s Commission for Lawyer Discipline initiated the disciplinary proceedings against Oliveira and Willette before an evidentiary panel of the District 12 Grievance Committee.