By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Garcia and Puente allege that Alvarado and his assistant, Alvino Guajardo, are guilty of barratry—illegally soliciting clients—and receive an unfair advantage at representing consulate clients. Then, Garcia claims, the attorneys either refer the cases to other lawyers for a fee or allow them to languish unattended. Alvarado, Guajardo and consular employees deny those claims. They point out that Garcia wants referrals from the consulate, which refuses to give them to him because the State Bar sanctioned Garcia in 2005 for failing to file a personal injury lawsuit before the statute of limitations ran out and failing to communicate with his client.
At one point, the June trial in the Puente fee dispute case devolved into a fifth-grade-level he-started-it-no-he-did spat, with Garcia accusing Guajardo of illegally soliciting Puente at the consulate when she wasn't even looking for a lawyer and he hadn't even passed the bar exam, and Lyon complaining that Garcia was the unethical one because he offered Puente money to ditch her original lawyers and hire him, then employed unethical means to secure a multimillion-dollar settlement (Guajardo denies the former, while Garcia denies the latter).
Heightening the drama even further was Larry Friedman, the aggressive, bombastic litigator hired by Garcia to represent him. Friedman has been front and center in such public legal spectacles as the 2000 Mark Cuban/Yahoo lawsuit and the recent securities case against embattled Texas billionaire financier Allen Stanford. Meanwhile, representing Alvarado was an old Friedman rival—attorney and former Judge Robert Jenevein. The two clashed nearly a decade ago during the course of the Cuban lawsuit. Friedman, who's prone to what he calls "aggressive lawyering," created a salacious sideshow in the Yahoo case, producing shocking accusations that Jenevein's wife, an attorney, had doled out sexual favors to a judge in exchange for favorable rulings. Jenevein, who recused himself from that case, held a press conference in his courtroom to condemn Friedman and was later censured by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct for doing so. Jenevein appealed the censure, part of which was reversed.
Friedman again has created a sideshow, Jenevein suggests, filing a separate class action in May against Alvarado and Guajardo on behalf of plaintiffs, several of them former Garcia clients, who allege that "Alvarado provides kickbacks, cash payments and favors" in return for being "the exclusive referral attorney for all the potentially lucrative personal injury cases from the families of the victims that come to the consulate for help." With his trademark dramatic flourish, Friedman claimed in the pleadings that, "When you step into the consulate you step into a lawless world where rules do not exist, where corruption, ethical violations, bribery and kickbacks reign supreme."
Alvarado, as well as Consul General Enrique Hubbard Urrea, dismiss the charges as "false" and "groundless," a sour-grapes attempt by Garcia to punish Alvarado and pressure the consulate to refer cases to him.
Though the burgeoning legal miasma has drawn attention to a seemingly chaotic and possibly unfair case referral system at the Mexican Consulate, many within the Latino community consider the legal battle to be a purely personal clash with Pablo Alvarado and Alvino Guajardo on one side and Domingo Garcia on the other. Says Republican Latino activist Gehrig Saldana: "People are saying it looks like they're both trying to destroy each other."
The day after Edgar Omar Navarro was crushed to death at the Merc job site, Maria Puente went to the Mexican Consulate offices off Stemmons Freeway to arrange for the transfer of Navarro's body to Mexico. According to court records, Consul Eduardo Rea—then consul for the protection department, which deals with such legal issues as repatriating cadavers and providing legal support in cases of crimes, work site injury or labor disputes—introduced her to Alvino Guajardo. The manner of their meeting would become a point of bitter debate in the litigation to come. She maintains her sole intention was to get her husband's body back to Mexico and that consulate staffers told her—falsely—that she needed an outside lawyer to do so, while Rea testified that she inquired about an attorney and he recommended she talk to Guajardo, who says he was there that day doing a translation. Either way, Guajardo met with Puente and had a legal contract from Alvarado's office faxed to the consulate for her to sign. Alvarado later had her sign another contract on which Robert Lyon was listed as co-counsel. According to court records, Alvarado has often contracted other attorneys—in many cases Lyon—as co-counsel, or referred cases to them altogether for a fee. Puente would testify at the June trial that she didn't even know Lyon had been retained to represent her until after she decided to terminate Alvarado.
According to her testimony, Puente found out that her lawyers were representing other Navarro family members—including Navarro's mother and the mother of other children Navarro fathered—and began to grow uneasy about being represented by Alvarado and Guajardo within weeks of retaining them. Alvarado "was never in the office, he didn't answer my calls, he didn't return my calls," she said. "Also there were conflicts with the mothers of [Navarro's] other children. Guajardo was sharing confidential information with the mothers of the other children and with my mother-in-law about property we had in Mexico." The last straw, she said, was when she requested a meeting with Guajardo and he didn't show up. "With all the conflicts, I just couldn't continue with them," she said. "I wanted someone to be serious about the case." Alvarado, Guajardo and Lyon deny that they failed to adequately represent Puente and argue that she wanted a new lawyer simply because they determined that she didn't have legal standing to sue as Navarro's wife because of her marriage to another man in Mexico as a teenager.