Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Conflicting interests

So here I am, after a long weekend, wondering what I'm going to write about on Tuesday morning when a very interesting story drops into my lap. Courtesy of a bondsman in Harris County, who shall remain anonymous, we have the curious tale of two brothers - one a bondsman and one a traffic ticket attorney and the grey area where their worlds meet.

Last month Michael Youngblood filed suit in Jefferson County, Texas (about 90 miles east of Houston) alleging that Houston-area bondsman Michael Kubosh and his brother, ticket attorney Paul Kubosh, teamed up to steer Michael's bonding clients to Paul's law firm. According to Mr. Youngblood, he called up Michael Kubosh's bonding company to post bonds on some overdue traffic tickets. He claims he was placed on hold and charged a fee that included representation by Paul Kubosh's law firm (which is next door to the bonding company).

Mr. Youngblood also accused Michael Kubosh of holding himself out to be a licensed attorney - which, according to the State Bar's website, he is not.

Mr. Youngblood claims he never asked anyone to help him find an attorney to handle his traffic tickets.

If the name Michael Kubosh sounds familiar it may be because back in February he announced his candidacy for an at-large seat on the Houston City Council.

Now I must say that over the years I've dealt with both of the Kubosh brothers and I have never found them to be anything other than helpful (in the interest of full disclosure, I once represented a woman who was being sued for a bonding fee by the Kubosh bonding company, but my dealings were with a third Kubosh brother).

The other day I had a conversation with the newest member of the Harris County Bail Bond board who told me he was shocked when he found out how some of the traffic ticket law firms operated. I've written before about one such firm who placed a sign in front of their office offering free representation for anyone who posted a bond with them and the inherent conflicts that type of business arrangement harbors.

The board member told me he couldn't believe that some ticket firms (who also posted bonds) had language in their contracts that stated the law firm could enter a plea on behalf of the client if he or she failed to appear in court - presumably if they were a bonding client (though, since I haven't seen the contract in question, I cannot state for certain).

Just think of the conflicts involved in that transaction. The client's goal is to keep the traffic ticket off their record, whether that be by dismissal, deferred probation or by taking a defensive driving class. For an ordinary motorist that ticket could result in two points being assessed against their driver license (six points over a three-year period results in a $100 surcharge for renewal and too many tickets in a given period can result in a suspension). For a commercial truck driver a conviction on a traffic ticket could result in the loss of a job.

The ticket attorney may or may not care how the case is resolved since he or she can only deal with the facts in front of them - and they've already been paid. The bonding company, however, wants that case resolved so they can write additional bonds. The more bonds, the more fees, the more profit.

And when the same person owns the law firm and the bonding company, it doesn't take a genius to figure out what's going to happen. Now the Houston Municipal Court has taken steps to alleviate the conflict by requiring attorneys entering pleas on their clients' behalf to present a waiver of appearance signed by the client. Of course there is no way to know whether that form is filled out at the initial consultation or at the time the plea is entered.

If you spend any amount of time in the shadowy world of criminal defense, it isn't surprising that these situations arise. People who have warrants out there or the family of someone who's been arrested are desperate. They are willing to do almost anything either to stay out of jail or get someone else out of jail. They are easy prey for those willing to take advantage of them.

But that certainly doesn't mean we should tolerate it.

1 comment:

Luke Hsobuk said...

Paul, how disappointing. All you were able to do in your blog was parrot the Plaintiff's Original Petition. If you would have given me a phone call I could have given you more information about where this comes from and the story would have been a lot more interesting.

As to ticket attorneys who plead out their clients when their clients fail to show up in court, let me tell you that the practice in Harris County has been rampant. it has gone on everywhere. We (my brother and I) have gone so far as to get State Bar Opinion 599 passed to stop the practice. I told Dorian about this practice. He had no idea it was going on.

Let me make it clear that no one cares. The Presiding Judge doesn't care, the State Bar doesn't care, City Council doesn't care, the City Attorney damn sure doesn't care, the Bail bond board, district attorneys office, sheriff's office don't care either. Defense attorney damn sure don't care (they still refer cases to these same unethical attorneys) and I would submit to you my friend that despite your best efforts to act like you care in your blog you don't care either. If you did care then you would have named more names on your blog then just mine. See you in court.

Paul Kubosh