By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
"He was laughing," Luna answered, alleging that Garcia threatened him in open court. "I'm clearly seeing that he's going like this to me [with his hand he made the gesture of a gun with the hammer cocked]."
Garcia would later deny that he had threatened Luna, in court or out. "I have never threatened, sent anybody, or done anything to Mr. Luna," he said. "That just never happened. That's all made up."
As the circus-like day wrapped, Judge Priddy ordered both sides not to talk to witnesses. The trial was set for June 22. In mid-May, however, Alvarado sent Garcia a text message "saying he wanted to mediate the case just me and him," according to Garcia's testimony during the June trial. The men signed two agreements. The first stipulated that Alvarado's office would accept $125,000 to constitute "payment in full for all services rendered by Alvarado and Lyon and complete Alvarado's and Lyon's claims in the litigation." A second agreement, which both sides claim is confidential but which was not technically sealed with the court and was referred to during the proceedings, reportedly stipulated that Alvarado and Guajardo would hold a press conference to publicly recant Luna's testimony about Garcia's alleged threats. That still has not happened.
Despite the agreement, Robert Lyon refused to settle, saying he was excluded from the mediation and insisting that he still had an individual claim to pursue. While Jenevein had represented Alvarado and Guajardo, Lyon chose to represent himself. When on June 19 Friedman and Garcia argued that Lyon's claim had been settled as part of the agreement with Alvarado and should be dismissed, Judge Priddy ruled that there were too many facts in dispute and said he wanted to have a trial to clarify them in case of an appeal.
At the trial's opening, assistants wheeled some 20 boxes into the courtroom. The paper trail filled more than two benches, nearly taking up one entire side of the gallery. Lyon, a diminutive man with a bushy, chest-length beard, launched into his opening statement with quiet seriousness, seemingly oblivious to the irony that he was fighting for a piece of pie that he accused Garcia of obtaining through fraud. "We investigated whether annulment could be obtained, and we found it could not be, and to this day that's right," he said. "She breached the contract. Therefore, the $2 million in attorney's fees, part of that's mine."
Friedman derided Lyon's approach as "the triple dip," pointing out that after getting several hundred thousand dollars in fees for representing other Navarro family members after the worker's death, as well as being entitled to half of the $125,000 agreed to in Alvarado's settlement, Lyon was now demanding part of Garcia's fees even though Garcia was the one who spent 18 months deposing witnesses and building a case. At one point, in a break from his usually staid manner, Lyon insulted Puente—his former client—in open court, wagging his finger and raising his voice. "She's a liar!" he cried. Yet Friedman laid siege to Lyon's trial experience with surgical precision, listing previous years on a projector, asking how many cases the attorney had tried before a jury in each of them and gleefully writing a zero next to nearly every year in the past decade.
The issue of Puente's marriage and Garcia's filing the allegedly fraudulent Luna affidavit continued to befuddle the court. "I'm troubled by this whole situation," Priddy said. "When one lawyer tells a client she's not entitled to a claim, can she go to another lawyer, a more aggressive lawyer? When is that crossing the line?"
"You go to a desk lawyer, you get a desk lawyer answer," Friedman replied. "You go to a trial lawyer, you get a trial lawyer answer. People come to me all the time who've been to four lawyers who didn't see a claim."
Priddy seemed to agree, finding that Puente had the right to terminate her contract with Lyon and Alvarado and ruling against Lyon's claim for any part of Garcia's attorney's fees.
The judge has not yet ruled on whether Garcia is liable for interfering with Alvarado's contingency fee contract with Puente, but after he does, he plans to hold hearings on potential sanctions against both sides in the dispute. "I want to get detailed findings of fact so there are no ambiguities," he said. "It's a complex and substantial case. There's lots of money involved, and it's likely to go up on appeal."
While Pablo Alvarado and Alvino Guajardo settled their fee dispute with Domingo Garcia in the case of Maria Alicia Puente, Friedman's class action lawsuit remains pending. The plaintiffs named in the pleadings—most current or former Garcia clients—make allegations against Alvarado, Guajardo and the consulate that dovetail with the accusations of Susana Loera, the former consulate staffer whose salary was paid by Alvarado and who was the subject of a 2006 Dallas Observer cover story.
Among Friedman's plaintiffs is Maria Salinas, who tells a tale similar to Puente's. After her husband was critically injured in a workplace accident in December 2008, according to the class action pleadings, she sought help from the consulate in getting a temporary visa for the dying man's sister to visit. A consulate staffer told the family, "We have an attorney who can help you," according to the lawsuit, and two days later Guajardo called them on behalf of the consulate. Yet instead of helping them with the visa—which the family never received before the man died eight days later—Guajardo was concerned only "about the facts of the case," according to the lawsuit, and wanted them to sign a contract. They instead sought out Domingo Garcia.