A currently disbarred local attorney faces misdemeanor charges for allegedly threatening a state district judge last month.
According to a criminal complaint filed last week, Mark Alberto Cantu, of McAllen, left a voicemail on 332nd state District Judge Mario Ramirez’s office phone line on Oct. 8, stating he would go to federal authorities about his dealings with local attorneys Carlos Guerra and Michael Moore.
The probable cause affidavit, which was signed Nov. 14 by Justice of the Peace Jaime “Jerry” Muñoz, stated a Texas Department of Public Safety trooper interviewed Ramirez Nov. 7, during which Ramirez said he felt threatened by a voicemail left by Cantu in which he threatened to go to federal authorities if he signed an order related to Cantu’s civil case against Hidalgo County District Attorney Ricardo Rodriguez Jr.
“You better call me back at (redacted) because I’m going to call the FBI and tell the FBI what the hell you are doing as the Presiding Judge of the 332nd getting involved with helping your friend (Guerra and Moore),” Cantu said in the voicemail, according to the complaint. “You better call me and you better straighten it out and if I were you I would not sign any orders and if you signed some orders, I would resend them immediately, thank you.”
Additionally, the affidavit states Ramirez further explained that Cantu, who has been unable to practice law since his disbarment April 11, 2016, had filed several civil lawsuits against Rodriguez in different Hidalgo County state district courts — stating he believed Cantu was “forum shopping” and had filed a nonsuit in Ramirez’s court, and then continued to file the case in other state district courts
Ramirez, who explained in the affidavit that he was the presiding judge for the courts, which requires him to enforce the local rules, stated he had recused himself from Cantu’s case as a result of the voicemail Cantu left.
Cantu was booked into Hidalgo County jail Nov. 15, on two Class A misdemeanor charges, coercion of a public servant, and improper influence.
Jail records show Cantu posted a $1,000 bond before he was released.
Cantu’s disbarment in April 2016 came shortly after an ethics trial that took place in early 2016 — a result of disciplinary action brought against him by the Commission For Lawyer Discipline.
The CLD alleged Cantu had committed professional misconduct during a personal bankruptcy case, which involved Cantu’s wife and a company the couple controlled.
The Commission for Lawyer Discipline, made up of six attorneys appointed by the president of the State Bar and six public members appointed by the Supreme Court of Texas, is a standing committee of the State Bar of Texas and serves as the client in the Texas attorney discipline system, according to the Texas State Bar website.
After the jury trial, which took place in the 398th District Court in Hidalgo County and ended with a 10-2 ruling against Cantu, state District Judge Lori Valenzuela of Bexar County took the case under advisement on March 10, 2016, and ruled a month later, according to court records.
The ruling, filed on April 11, 2016, prohibited Cantu from practicing law in the state, “holding himself out as an attorney at law, performing any legal services for others, accepting any fee directly or indirectly for legal services rendered after today…”
In addition, the ruling also prohibited him from “appearing as counsel or in any representative capacity in any proceeding in any Texas court or before any Texas administrative body, or holding himself out to others or using his name, in any manner, in conjunction with the words ‘attorney at law,’ or ‘attorney,’ or ‘counselor at law,’ or ‘lawyer.”
Cantu subsequently appealed Valenzuela’s decision, leading to the appellate court’s decision to remand the case for a new trial.
On May 31, 2018, the Texas 13th Court of Appeals reversed the April 2016 trial court’s decision to disbar Cantu, and ordered a new ethics trial after determining that the plaintiffs in Cantu’s case, the Commission For Lawyer Discipline, erred by having U.S Bankruptcy Judge Marvin Isgur testify during Cantu’s ethics trial.
In the ruling, retired 14th Court of Appeals Justice Don Wittig, who was assigned to this appellate court by the chief justice of the Supreme Court of Texas, said the judges agreed with
Cantu’s assertion that the trial court erred in allowing Isgur’s testimony — thus reversing the “judgment of disbarment, and remand(ing) (the case) for a new trial,” the court record states.
TEXAS SUPREME COURT REVERSES APPEAL
Despite the order for a new trial, the Texas Supreme Court on Oct. 25 reversed the appellate court’s decision to reverse Cantu’s disbarment due to Judge Isgur’s testimony in the ethics trial, stating that it agreed with the CLD that allowing the judge’s testimony “was not an error,” according to the Supreme Court’s decision.
“…We reverse the court of appeals’ judgment and remand the case back to that court,” the summary reads in part.
In October 2017, in a separate but related defamation lawsuit between Cantu and AIM Media Texas, owners of The Monitor, state District Judge Luis Singleterry ordered Cantu to pay $120,842 in legal fees to AIM Media Texas.
Following the Texas Bar’s filing of disbarment proceedings against Cantu, Cantu sued The Monitor, the Valley Morning Star and AIM Media Texas to recover damages for reporting what the Texas Supreme Court and a U.S. Bankruptcy judge said about Cantu’s misconduct.
The newspapers won the libel case on First Amendment grounds and Texas statutory grounds, a decision that was affirmed by the intermediate appeals court for the Rio Grande Valley. Afterward, AIM Media Texas was to recover legal expenses defending itself as prescribed by a Texas statute.
State District Judge Luis Singleterry declined to rule on AIM’s motion to recover the statutorily required defense funds in the libel case, and the matter remains pending in front of Singleterry.
AIM Media Texas, The Monitor and Valley Morning Star continue to press the court to recover their legal expenses in the libel suit they won against Cantu.
If convicted of the Class A misdemeanors, the 58-year-old man faces up to a year in jail, and up to $4,000 in fines.