In 2007, former television journalist and journalism professor Eric Gormly made history at the University of North Texas for suing one of his own students. In the suit, he accused two professors and the student of conspiring to give him a bad performance review that got him fired. School officials said it was the first time they had heard of a UNT professor suing a student. "The university is disappointed that a former faculty member would file a lawsuit against a student who trusted him to do his job and follow university policy with respect to initiating complaints," a UNT official said at the time.
In an interview now, Gormly downplays his lawsuit against a student. "I did not sue a student. My attorney at the time included a student as one of the defendants," he says.
However you slice it, Gormly clearly caught the legal bug. After leaving teaching, as he explains online, he got a degree from the SMU Dedman School of Law and opened a practice in Richardson that specializes in LGBT cases and family law.
But now it's Gormly's legal career that faces a bump in the road. In February, Gormly was sued in Dallas by the Commission for Lawyer Discipline, a committee in the State Bar responsible for disciplining attorneys. According to the petition filed by the committee, a man named Anthony John Gonzalez had hired Gormly for a post-divorce family law case. Gonzalez paid $2,500 upfront. But Gormly "neglected" the client, the State Bar committee says, so Gonzalez fired him.
Gormly wasn't going to let himself be fired. Gormly "failed to withdraw from the ease, filing a petition on March 12, 2014, after he had been fired and after Gonzalez had made demand that his money be refunded," the commission writes. "Upon termination of representation, Respondent failed to refund advance payment of a fee that had not been earned."
Gormly says that he believes Gonzalez didn't deserve a refund and is confident that he has done nothing wrong. He suggests that his former client acted unethically. "Let's just say he made some accusations that were unfounded and inappropriate and then he threatened to take action," Gormly says.
In fact, Gormly describes angry clients as a widespread problem in the legal industry. "It's becoming more common that the client will fire the attorney and demand all their money back, and if they don't get their money back he'll file a complaint with the State Bar."
When an attorney faces a complaint from a client, the first, lowest level in the grievance procedure is a private disciplinary action handled by the State Bar. Public discipline against attorneys in the district court, on the other hand, isn't common. Gormly is the only attorney so far this year and the first since December to be sued in Dallas by the Commission for Lawyer Discipline, public records show. Nevertheless, Gormly says he wants to be sued by the State Bar.
"When this happened to me, I was so outraged by the unfounded accusations, the audacity -- check that I didn't say that -- I was so outraged by the unfounded accusations, I decided that since I had done absolutely nothing wrong and I had nothing to hide, I wanted to pull this out of the administrative system and put this out in the district court. That was my decision."
He adds: "We're going to fight it in the public, that's my choice,"
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the Observer's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Dallas's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
In that spirit, you can read his disciplinary suit below:
Send your story tips to the author, Amy Silverstein.