A bill that would create a $10,000 civil penalty for violating barratry laws headed to Gov. Rick Perry’s desk yesterday after passing the House 142-0 on May 5. The bill passed the Senate unanimously on April 7. “The governor will thoroughly review the legislation before he makes a final decision” on signing the bill, says Catherine Frazier, a Perry spokeswoman. As the legislative session winds to a close, Frazier says the governor’s office receives legislation “constantly,” and she can’t predict how long it may take the governor to review Senate Bill 1716 and decide whether to sign it. June 19 is the last day Perry can veto legislation from the regular session, according to the Texas Legislative Council website. If he doesn’t veto S.B. 1716, it would go into effect on Sept. 1, 2011. S.B. 1716, authored by Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, would create a civil cause of action against lawyers who unlawfully solicit potential legal clients. If a lawyer engaged in barratry, a person who did not sign a contract for representation could sue the lawyer to collect the $10,000 civil penalty, plus actual damages and attorney’s fees. If an attorney secured a contract for representation by violating barratry laws, the client could sue to void the contract and could sue for actual damages and attorney’s fees. Current law provides for voiding only contingent-fee contracts, but S.B. 1716 broadens the reach to any type of contract for legal services. However, if the client failed to prove the lawyer engaged in or had actual knowledge of the barratry, the lawyer could collect expenses and fees for the completed work, despite the voided contract, on a quantum meruit basis. Duncan didn’t immediately return a telephone call seeking comment. Rep. Allen Fletcher, R-Houston, who sponsored S.B. 1716 in the House, writes in an e-mail that he investigated barratry cases while working at the Houston Police Department. “I am pleased that this legislation passed because it will prevent unscrupulous lawyers and their agents from preying on those negatively affected by unpredictable events,” Fletcher writes in the statement.
-- Angela Morris