Judge rejects State Rep. Muñoz’s motion for new trial

McALLEN — A federal judge did not change her mind about ordering state Rep. Sergio Muñoz Jr. to pay nearly $3 million related to a legal malpractice suit.

U.S. District Judge Micaela Alvarez denied a motion for a new trial and a motion for relief from a previous judgment on Friday “after duly considering the record and relevant authorities,” court documents read.

Muñoz filed an amended notice of appeal to the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday from the judgment that Alvarez handed on Sept. 29, after Muñoz previously requested that Alvarez reverse her initial decision.

That Sept. 29 judgment came from a nearly three-year-old lawsuit that the plaintiff — Law Funder LLC — recover $2.98 million from Muñoz and the Law Offices of Sergio Muñoz Jr., according to court documents.

Alvarez’s judgment concluded that the lawmaker failed to disclose a business relationship with state District Judge Jesse Contreras during a case Muñoz took in Contreras’ courtroom.

Muñoz referred comment to his legal counsel when reached late Friday.

Muñoz, D-Palmview, sought relief from Alvarez’s judgment because he was “unfairly surprised when the court scheduled the parties for a ‘miscellaneous conference’ and actually it was a trial on damages before the court,” court documents state.

“The reason for the delay in filing a response was due to a failure to docket the response deadline in the office docketing system,” Muñoz argued, court documents state, despite Alvarez’s ruling that he did not provide discovery documents. “The truth of the matter, is that defendants at the deposition of the defendants, produced boxes of responsive documents. Additionally, the defendants even offered to permit the plaintiff to depose the defendants once they had a reasonable opportunity to review the boxes of documents that defendants produced to plaintiff…”

Muñoz previously represented Law Funder, which is a litigation funding company. In May 2011, Law Funder retained the services of Muñoz for representation in a divorce case where Contreras was the presiding judge.

Almost a year later, multiple motions were filed to disqualify and/or recuse Contreras due to a corporate relationship with Muñoz, according to court documents.

“At no point did defendants advise Law Funder that they had a pre-existing business relationship or a professional corporation, Contreras & Muñoz P.C., with Judge Contreras,” court documents read.

In July 2012, a hearing was held before state senior District Judge Dick Alcala, of San Antonio, where the court ruled to disqualify Contreras from hearing the divorce case “because of the corporate association with the defendant Sergio Muñoz Jr., that was in existence when they were lawyers together and continued throughout the time Muñoz appeared for Law Funder,” court documents further read.

Alcala also disqualified Contreras “because Judge Contreras arguably had an interest in the subject matter of the litigation and court resolved that doubt in favor of disqualification,” according to court documents. Alcala then entered an order disqualifying Contreras.

Law Funder “sustained a significant amount of damages,” which eventually led to Law Funder retaining the representation of McAllen attorney Francisco Tinoco, who then filed suit in federal court against Muñoz and his law offices for legal malpractice, court documents read.

Muñoz was served with an initial request to produce documents and failed to produce any, court documents state. Law Funder then filed a motion to compel production, in which Muñoz “promised to act in good faith and turn over appropriate documentation.”

Law Funder served Muñoz with its second request to produce documents in September 2016, but Muñoz never responded.

“Defendants and defendants’ counsel have also failed to appear or have arrived late to three hearings held specifically for the purpose of resolving discovery disputes,” court documents state. “Plaintiff’s counsel also informs the court that defendants failed to ‘produce a single document’ in response to the plaintiff’s subpoena duces tecum. In sum, this case was filed in federal court in December 2014, and after almost two years, discovery has not been completed.”

Law Funder’s motion was granted by Alvarez.

“The court grants plaintiff’s motion,” Alvarez ruled, according to court documents. “Defendants’ answer is stricken.”