By Jim Schutze
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By Lauren Drewes Daniels
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Guajardo and Alvarado dismiss the allegations, saying the Salinas family expressed interest in their services and that when the family decided to look for other lawyers, their office stopped contacting them. "We never even represented them," Guajardo said. "The allegations are groundless," Alvarado wrote in an e-mail.
The two attorneys also deny the claims of Luis Ramirez, whom Friedman alleges was "yet another person in need that Guajardo and Alvarado have used for their own personal gain." A painter, Ramirez in 2005 suffered severe burns to 61 percent of his body, according to the pleadings, which allege that as he lay in the hospital his wife went to the consulate for help with the medical bills and was told only Alvarado's office could assist her. Guajardo allegedly arrived at the hospital and had Ramirez and his wife sign a contract, only to refer the case to another lawyer who "despite telling Luis they were negotiating a settlement not only didn't file a lawsuit but later dropped Luis, telling him they could win the case but not get any money." Guajardo said they researched Ramirez's case and found he didn't have recourse for recovery.
Both the lawyers and the consulate dismiss all these allegations as part of Garcia's grudge. Mexican Consul General Hubbard, in a March visit to the Observer, called the accusations "totally false" and "baseless." In July, he lamented that the consulate was merely caught in a war between the two sets of attorneys and that the accusations needlessly made his staff "feel their reputation is in question." Yet Susana Loera had been complaining of similar problems at the consulate long before either the Puente case or the Salinas case arose.
Loera began working at the consulate as an intern in 2004, and in late 2005, she wrote a letter to then U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez complaining of "many ethical violations and in some cases the blatant disregard for the well-being of Mexican nationals." The Mexican government later held a press conference announcing they had investigated and found no evidence of wrongdoing, but the foreign ministry ignored several requests from the Observer for a copy of the investigation, and publication in The Dallas Morning News of a 2003 letter signed by acting Mexican Consul General Juan Jose Salgado to Dallas County District Attorney Bill Hill hardly helped the government's image. "We agree that beating a wife is a shameful and regrettable act from a man," the letter read, "but we have to understand that Mexico is a culture where men are the solely [sic] command of the house, many couples survive with those problems and minor domestic violence is not really punished in our country."
In a recent interview, Loera told me that while she was working at the consulate in 2005, Guajardo was there nearly every day. "He'd literally stand close to the door and go around and coach everyone there that if any wrongful death [cases] came in, he was to get the information," she said. "There were no other lawyers that got cases referred." When once she refused to call Guajardo on his cell phone to alert him of a potential wrongful death case, she says Alvarado threatened to stop paying her salary, saying in an e-mail that she "caused too many problems." Alvarado says he doesn't recall the incident. Loera also said the enmity between Alvarado and Guajardo and Garcia was common knowledge. "If people came in and said they were represented by Domingo Garcia, Guajardo would tell them, 'Oh, he takes forever, you're never gonna see a penny,'" she said. "'You should come back and go with the consulate lawyers.'" Guajardo denies saying this and maintains that Loera's allegations stem from a personal grudge.
In turn, people close to Guajardo and Alvarado accuse Garcia of poaching cases from other lawyers. When during the fee dispute trial Lyon asked Garcia whether as a matter of professional courtesy he advised Puente to work out her differences with Alvarado's office before hiring Garcia, Garcia replied: "I do that with 99 percent of trial lawyers," he said, "but I understand that the law office of Pablo Alvarado commits barratry on a regular basis, so I don't extend that courtesy to him."
I recently visited the new consulate offices on River Bend Drive near Mockingbird Lane and Stemmons Freeway and met with Roberto Nicolas, the consul for the protection department, where six staff attorneys who are Mexican nationals provide people with legal assistance or put them in touch with local lawyers. "Our commitment is to give people a broad understanding of the legal landscape where they are," Nicolas said. "We're lawyers in Mexico, not Texas, so in more complicated cases we reach out to local lawyers for guidance and, in some cases, refer people to them." He and Consul General Hubbard insisted that they provide people with a list of criminal and civil attorneys to choose from. Yet when I called the 11 lawyers on the civil list, it seemed that hardly any get calls from consulate clients, especially for personal injury cases. "I had no idea I was on the list," attorney Fred Adams told me. "If you ever find out how people get on that list, let me know." John Lopez said he gets occasional referrals from consulate clients wanting help with a divorce, but he practices only juvenile law. Tarrant County attorney Chuck Noteboom said he does only pro bono work in consulate cases. "I don't remember the Mexican Consulate ever sending me a personal injury case," he told me. Nonetheless, Nicolas continued to insist that they provide people with a comprehensive list of qualified attorneys—attorneys who, unlike Domingo Garcia, have no sanctions on their records.