In infomercials, attorney Tom Corea seemed to have a passion for the legal system. But sitting in the back of a police car, he was more candid. Justice, he told the police officers, is "a scam."
Dark words coming from a Dallas attorney known for advertising his "zealous advocacy and personal connection with his clients."
But his clients would probably agree about that whole justice-being-a-scam theory. They accuse Corea of stealing thousands of dollars of their settlement money.
As the accusations piled up, the state bar of Texas finally stripped Corea of his legal license last year. To add insult to injury, he had gone bankrupt and could no longer pay the rent to his Design District law office, among many other expenses. He went out of the building with a bang, or more accurately, a boner: He trashed the place and scribbled penis graffiti on the wall. Call it Dallas' answer to Banksy, if you will.
Tuesday was the first day of his trial for misusing clients' funds. He pleaded guilty to three of the nine charges he's facing, though the attorneys fighting his case all disagree about how much money he actually stole. Anyway, it's now up to State District Judge Mike Snipes to determine Corea's punishment, which could be anywhere from five years to life.
Throughout the day, a series of former clients testified about being down on their luck, struggling to pay off medical bills or debt collectors, when they found Corea through an informercial or one of his many billboards. They'd win a relatively meager settlement from whichever company had wronged them, get told by a paralegal at Corea's firm that it would take a few months for the money to come in, and then never hear from Corea again.
After lunch, things briefly took a lighter turn. Prosecutors Jacob Harris and Donna Strittmatter decided to play a random video from the night Corea was arrested amid accusations that he pulled his wife's hair. On his ride to the police station, he goes on a tirade about the evils of police officers, the justice system and, of course, his wife. In the courtroom, the bailiffs and the prosecuting attorneys quietly laughed. None of it really had anything to do with the charges of misapplication of fiduciary funds that Corea is currently facing. Judge Snipes was not pleased and criticized Harris and Strittmatter for showing the video at all. The trial, Snipes said, is not "about [Corea's] sophomoric behavior. That has scant relevance."
Probably true in the court of law, but on Unfair Park, sophomoric behavior has lots of relevance. On that note, here are the most memorable quotes, some more sophomoric than others, from Tuesday at the Tom Corea trial:
* "Seventeen years I've been in this bullshit profession," Corea told the cops as they drove him to jail. "I don't believe in justice, it doesn't exist, anybody that believes it does is an idiot. It's a scam."
*"Who do you think we are, on fucking welfare or something? We have private doctors." That's Tom Corea again, same video, discussing his family's health insurance policy. One of Corea's former clients, meanwhile, testified earlier Tuesday about being forced to go on welfare after never getting the settlement money he won from a bad car accident.
*"I tell you what, she's going to have to get her fat ass a job for the first time ever," Corea said of his wife in the same video. He alternated between making superficial attacks on her fat ass and expressing fear for her mental health. He claimed she was bipolar and had gone off her medication, warning officers: "When you've got a grisly scene to go look at later, you can thank yourself."
*A police officer then remarked that Corea's wife didn't seem crazy, because she was not exhibiting bizarre behavior such as speaking in tongues. "Oh my God, you people are dumb. Do you think bipolar people talk in tongues?" Corea shot back. The officers didn't really have much of a response. He also called the police "dingleberries" and accused them of being on power trips: "I'm sitting in the back of your police car, because numb-nuts up there, your supervisor, has a hard-on for it."
*"I hope I don't crush you when I see you because I'm probably going to grab onto you so fucking tight," Corea says to Shannon McCarty, his office manager-turned-mistress, in a phone conversation also played to the court on Tuesday. It would have been very romantic, had he not been making the sentiment in a collect call from jail.
*"I don't want a cashier's check out of our account made out to Cowboy Bail Bonds." McCarty in that same phone conversation, deciding that it would probably be better to pay the $10,000 necessary to bail Corea out of jail in cash rather than with a check.
*"He told me point blank to quit calling his office and harassing his staff, because he knew where I lived." That's Jackie Wright, one of Corea's former clients. She needed Corea's services for help suing a rehab clinic that she said had mistreated her father-in-law. The case was settled for $225,000. She waited patiently for five months for her settlement check, she said, and then starting calling his office constantly to find out where the money was. She was one of the few people to actually get in touch with Corea himself at this stage, though the conversation clearly did not go well.
*"We had to suspend payments from the fund, because there isn't enough money to go around," said Maureen Ray, from the State Bar of Texas, talking about a Client Security Fund that's set up by the bar to compensate people who have been taken advantage of by their attorneys. So many people have filed claims against Corea, Ray says, that the fund is now running empty.
*"I hope sincerely that you get right with the lord, because this judgment isn't the only one you have to worry about," Steve Waddle, a former client who found himself in debt after a car accident in 2011, told Corea from the witness stand. Waddle was depending on his $90,000 settlement, which was really going to be more like $30,000 after legal and medical fees were taken out. He never saw a dime.