Austin attorney

McALLEN — An Austin attorney was arrested Monday on federal racketeering charges alleging bribery of an already-convicted judge as well as witnesses in state and federal cases.

Marc Rosenthal’s indictment is only the latest of several tied to former state district Judge Abel C. Limas, who pleaded guilty to racketeering in March.

Charges in the indictment unsealed Monday allege that Rosenthal conspired to file personal injury cases in state and federal court based on false testimony; bribed witnesses and former state district Judge Abel C. Limas; and directed others to pay funeral directors and public employees for referrals to his firm.

At the center of Rosenthal’s indictment is former state legislator Jose Santiago “Jim” Solis who worked “of counsel” in Brownsville for Rosenthal’s firm.

Ernesto Gamez Jr., Rosenthal’s attorney, placed the blame on Solis, making him out to be a rogue lawyer and “Rambo” figure bent on pulling Rosenthal down with him. Solis pleaded guilty in April to aiding and abetting Limas’ extortion scheme.

Rosenthal, 49, turned himself over to federal authorities Monday in Brownsville and was later released on $100,000 bond, Gamez said. He entered a plea of not guilty.

The 13-count indictment charges that Rosenthal paid Limas for favorable rulings on his cases. It includes several counts of mail fraud on cases — one involving the crash of a medical services helicopter and another involving the corporate owner of the newspapers in Brownsville, Harlingen and McAllen — and witness tampering involving the settlement of a federal lawsuit with Union Pacific railroad.

In June, Alicia Sanchez filed a lawsuit against Solis and Rosenthal, who helped her win a $14 million settlement after her husband died in a 2008 crash of a medical services helicopter. The lawsuit filed by Sanchez and her two children in Travis County seeks nearly $5.3 million.

Rosenthal’s firm declared his innocence in a statement released Monday.

“The admissions of wrongdoing from the judge and others are disheartening,” the statement from Rosenthal & Watson said. “But we were not aware of their improper activities. We expect to see Marc vindicated.”

Printed on Wednesday, August 24, 2011 as: Austin lawyer arrested on racketeering charges.

An Austin attorney proposed policies during a city council meeting Tuesday that could close loopholes in a law that allows the public to view government records.

Under current law, government officials are not forced to disclose personal correspondence. But after media outlets requested correspondence among council members last month, they released emails with disparaging remarks about colleagues and activists, causing the public to question the execution of the Public Information Act. The act compels governmental bodies to release information relating to official business to the public and media organizations that request the material.

The members discussed potential policies to deal with emails involving city business received on a personal device Tuesday, said city attorney Karen Kennard.

The city attorney considers emails dealing with official business received on a personal device as public information and should be fully subject to the Public Information Act, said Jim Cousar, a municipal law attorney who spoke at the meeting. Case precedent disagrees with Kennard’s position, he said.

Cousar said one possible solution could be to create a general rule that city employees cannot conduct official business from a personal device unless absolutely necessary. A city employee may have to use a personal email address if an emergency occurs while they are out of the office, and some employees do not have city email addresses to conduct business, he said.

Another possible solution is for city employees to forward all city business done through personal devices to a city server or email account, Cousar said. The solution raises the question of who should be subject to the policy and what kind of emails would require forwarding, he said.

“I don’t think your city attorney or your outside attorneys are going to tell you that there’s a canned policy that you can adopt and everybody’s going to be happy with and it’s going to be easy,” he said. “But in the interests of open government, this is something that we certainly think the council should consider.”

It is likely that city staff will draft a proposal for guidelines, said Mayor Lee Leffingwell.

“There are a lot of questions yet to be answered, a lot of decisions yet to be made and some guidelines yet to be instructed,” he said.
Council members have not yet decided the guidelines, but the council is tentatively scheduled to meet in executive session regarding the Texas Open Meetings Act complaints on April 7.