Charges against Jean fam­ily’s lawyer dis­missed

The Dallas Morning News - - State/North Texas - By SARAH SARDER Staff Writer [email protected]­las­news.com Twit­ter: @sarderrr

Civil rights at­tor­ney Lee Mer­ritt said Fri­day he is free to as­sist vic­tims of po­lice mis­con­duct after a judge dis­missed charges ac­cus­ing him of prac­tic­ing Texas law with­out a state li­cense.

Mer­ritt, who is from Los An­ge­les, faced 16 counts of crim­i­nal con­tempt for prac­tic­ing state law with­out a Texas law li­cense. A judge con­cluded her dis­missal of all 16 charges, in­clud­ing 14 that were dis­missed out­right be­fore re­but­tal.

The Unau­tho­rized Prac­tice of Law Com­mit­tee is con­sid­er­ing ap­peal­ing Thurs­day’s rul­ing by Judge Cyn­thia Whe­less, ac­cord­ing to com­mit­tee mem­ber Le­land de la Garza.

Mer­ritt has rep­re­sented the fam­i­lies of Botham Jean and Jor­dan Ed­wards, among other Texas vic­tims of al­leged po­lice bru­tal­ity. He said in a pre­pared state­ment that state au­thor­i­ties had wasted tax­payer re­sources over two years in­ves­ti­gat­ing each of Mer­ritt’s Texas cases, and had thereby ex­posed the state’s jus­tice sys­tem as a tool to “sup­press the rights of the most vul­ner­a­ble.”

De la Garza said the com­mit­tee’s pur­pose was the op­po­site, and that it ex­isted to pro­tect the peo­ple by en­sur­ing no one with­out the re­quired ex­per­tise can of­fer le­gal ser­vices in Texas. Mer­ritt is not li­censed to prac­tice state law in Texas, but he said he prac­ticed fed­eral law in all of his deal­ings with Texas clients, specif­i­cally re­lat­ing to fed­eral civil rights laws.

“It was an ironic honor to be in­ves­ti­gated by the Texas State Bar,” Mer­ritt said, cit­ing civil rights icons who were tar­geted by le­gal au­thor­i­ties for their work. Mer­ritt later clar­i­fied he meant the Texas Supreme Court, which over­sees the UPLC.

The UPLC con­tin­ues to be­lieve Mer­ritt vi­o­lated the terms of a prior agree­ment to re­frain from prac­tic­ing state law in Texas, de la Garza said. He said that while the judge may be­lieve Mer­ritt’s in­volve­ment in state law prac­tice was un­in­ten­tional, the UPLC does not.

De la Garza em­pha­sized that the UPLC could not tar­get Mer­ritt be­cause its in­ves­ti­ga­tions are al­ways com­plaint­driven, as was the case for Mer­ritt.

The ini­tial com­plaint of un­law­ful prac­tice was filed by Tar­rant County Dis­trict At­tor­ney Sharen Wil­son. The 16 charges ul­ti­mately filed by the UPLC each sought six months of jail time. An in­dict­ment on any charge could have jeop­ar­dized Mer­ritt’s abil­ity to prac­tice fed­eral law in Texas in the fu­ture.

Mer­ritt’s at­tor­ney Yodit Te­wolde said they’re con­sid­er­ing fil­ing charges against the UPLC for friv­o­lous claims and may pur­sue sanc­tions re­lat­ing to the com­mit­tee’s own vi­o­la­tions of Texas’ le­gal rules, cit­ing in­stances when she said the UPLC did not fol­low rules dur­ing Mer­ritt’s trial.

The state­ment was chal­lenged by de la Garza, who said the UPLC be­lieves in the merit of its claims and that its mem­bers are highly eth­i­cal. He added that any ac­cu­sa­tions re­lat­ing to the lat­ter would be “vig­or­ously de­fended against.”

Mer­ritt is de­mand­ing a “pub­lic and full-throated” apol­ogy for the charges.

“Two years of tax­payer re­sources were wasted on this witch-hunt and more im­por­tantly pulled me away from serv­ing fam­i­lies seek­ing jus­tice in a sys­tem clearly de­signed to deny them that,” Mer­ritt said.

LEE MER­RITT

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