ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) - The State Bar of Texas has filed a lawsuit against an attorney who collected millions of dollars from wrongly convicted ex-inmates, saying he committed professional misconduct by charging fees that were illegal and unconscionable.
Lubbock attorney Kevin Glasheen has been credited by lawmakers and advocates as the driving force behind a 2009 law that made Texas the most generous state in the nation in compensating the wrongly convicted. He has said he acted appropriately in charging his clients a 25 percent contingency fee.
But the bar's disciplinary counsel office found evidence Glasheen overcharged his clients or charged fees that violate the bar's professional code of conduct, bar spokeswoman Maureen Ray said Tuesday. It filed the lawsuit in an effort to sanction him.
If a court determines Glasheen committed misconduct, he could face punishments ranging from a public reprimand to disbarment.
The state bar filed the lawsuit last week in Lubbock County but asked the Supreme Court of Texas to assign a state judge from another district to handle the case. Glasheen had asked the state bar to file the lawsuit in open court, rather than conduct a private evidentiary hearing.
"The judicial review of these complaints gives them more careful scrutiny, more careful examination," he said.
Glasheen, who represents 15 exonerated inmates, has collected about $5 million in fees from his clients. He kept $3.5 million for his firm and paid the rest to Jeff Blackburn, the chief counsel for the Innocence Project of Texas.
The windfall came after Glasheen lobbied the Texas Legislature two years ago to pay exonerees $80,000 for each year they were wrongly imprisoned, plus a lifetime annuity. The most recent exoneree in Texas, Cornelius Dupree, served 30 years in prison for a sexual assault and robbery he did not commit. Under the new law, he is eligible to receive a $2.4 million lump sum, plus the annual payment.
Glasheen convinced his clients to hold off on lawsuits and instead pursue the state compensation, ensuring a quicker and more certain result. He then took 25 percent of what they received.
Two former clients who spent decades in prison for crimes they did not commit, Patrick Waller and Steven Phillips, have since sued Glasheen, arguing his fees were excessive because they hired him to be their lawyer - not their lobbyist. Phillips said Glasheen has tried to charge him $1 million, even though the attorney never filed any court motion on his behalf.
"It sucked the life out of me," Phillips said. "There could be some sort of reasonable fee for lobbying. The gist of my complaint is I didn't hire him to lobby. I hired him to sue the city of Dallas."
Waller, who did not respond to a message seeking comment, has said he paid Glasheen $650,000. Both Waller and Phillips signed contracts with Glasheen that allowed him to collect a 25 percent contingency fee.
Randy Turner, who sued Glasheen on behalf of Waller and Phillips, said his clients are grateful for the state compensation money. But he called the fees "grossly unfair" and "obscene."
"It makes me sick to my stomach," Turner said.
Glasheen said he is being punished despite making his clients wealthy. For example, Phillips was eligible for about $1.2 million in compensation under the old law. Under the new one, he could receive as much as $4 million.
"We are dealing with a novel approach that we took to getting these clients some good results," Glasheen said. "And it was risky and it worked out really well and there was a lot of money involved. It is only when we are really successful and there is a lot of money at stake that anyone would worry about fees."