CORPUS CHRISTI — Nowadays, former state District Judge Abel C. Limas says, he buys and sells a little gold and silver to make a living.
But for the past three days, he has been on the stand in the trial of Austin attorney Marc G. Rosenthal, laying out a relationship with former state Rep. Jim Solis and Rosenthal while he served as state district judge.
Limas outlined how he says the relationship began and developed.
The defense is attempting to distance Rosenthal from Solis and Limas, saying Solis was the one communicating and making arrangements with Limas.
Limas has been convicted of racketeering and Solis of aiding and abetting extortion.
This week, the court heard a taped call from July 2008.
“Give me a little reminder around 10 a.m.,” Limas tells Solis on the tape, as Solis gave him instructions of what, according to Limas, Rosenthal and he needed on two cases.
“They were the ones helping me, so I was helping them,” Limas testified in the course of nearly three days on the stand.
Limas is one of the government’s key witnesses in the federal case against Rosenthal, who is charged with 13 counts of conspiracy, bribery, paying for false statements, testimony, and case referrals, and other corruption-related offenses.
“I did what I had to do,” Limas testified.
Limas testified that he became acquainted with Solis and Rosenthal in late 2007 when he was campaigning for re-election and a second term on the bench. Limas said Rosenthal sent a worker to assist him in his campaign.
Limas lost the Democratic Party primary in March 2008 to Judge Elia Cornejo-Lopez.
That same year, but before the primary, Rosenthal filed two lawsuits, referred to as the helicopter and defamation cases. The cases were in Limas’ court. But before leaving the bench on Dec. 31, 2008, Limas transferred the cases to ex-357th Judge Leonel Alejandro’s court.
Solis has testified that the cases were transferred to Alejandro’s court because Rosenthal had wanted a “friendly” court. Limas testified that in 2008, a series of meetings and discussions were held with Rosenthal and Solis, who issued instructions and directions on settings, orders and rulings on the two cases. He said that it was critical that this be done before he left the bench.
“Marc was in charge of these two cases from the very beginning,” Limas testified.
Limas, whose understanding is that then-Brownsville Navigation District Police Chief George Gavito recommended him to Solis and Rosenthal, said that discussions also were held about Limas joining Rosenthal’s law firm, Rosenthal & Watson, as of-counsel when his term ended Dec. 31, 2008.
He said that months before that December, and while he was still on the bench, he and Rosenthal agreed that he would join the firm. He said Rosenthal promised him $100,000 up front, 10 percent of attorneys fees in the helicopter case, another 10 percent in attorneys fees in a civil case that he had made attorney Joe Valle refer to Rosenthal, and 40 percent of attorneys fees in cases that he would refer to Rosenthal when he left the bench. Furthermore, he could have a criminal law practice.
“Why are they doing all that?” Limas’ son, Abel Jr. asks him in a taped conversation. “I don’t understand,” his son said.
Limas said that his status would be of value to Rosenthal’s firm. “I made a lot of connections. There is a lot of value of being a former judge,” Limas told his son, adding that he expected to be able to make about $500,000 a year.
Limas also testified that the $100,000 would be for the favors he was providing to Rosenthal and Solis.
“They’re just giving it to you?” longtime family friend Cecilia Rangel asked Limas of the $100,000 after he confided in her, asking her not to say anything because the attorneys he would be working with had cases before his court.
“I try not to shake a little bit,” Limas said, excited about his good fortune.