Rep. Muñoz granted jury trial in malpractice suit

The question of how much state Rep. Sergio Muñoz will have to pay in a malpractice suit will be put before a jury after a federal judge granted his request for a jury trial last week.

U.S. District Judge Micaela Alvarez ordered the jury trial, which will be the second trial held in the case, to assess how much in damages Muñoz owes to Law Funder LLC, a New Jersey-based company.

Muñoz was previously ordered to pay nearly $3 million in damages to Law Funder, but a ruling by the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals voided the $2.9 million judgment.

That judgment was a result of a lawsuit filed by Law Funder against Muñoz and his law firm, the Law Offices of Sergio Muñoz Jr. P.C., in 2014, alleging malpractice.

Muñoz, D-Palmview, was hired to represent Law Funder — a litigation funding company — in a divorce case in May 2011, according to court documents.

Presiding over that case was then state District Judge Jesse Contreras, with whom Muñoz apparently had a corporate relationship stemming from when they were both lawyers but which still existed when Muñoz was hired for the divorce case.

Other parties in the case filed motions to have Contreras recused from the case because of his relationship with Muñoz, and in July 2012 the judge was disqualified from the case.

Law Funder claimed in the lawsuit that Muñoz failed to disclose his business relationship with the judge.

“At no point did Defendants advise Law Funder that they had a pre-existing business relationship or a professional corporation, Contreras & Munoz, P.C., with Judge Contreras,” Law Funder stated in their complaint.

Following Contreras’ removal, all orders he had signed in the case from April 2009 through his disqualification were voided and nullified.

As a result, Law Funder claimed it sustained a significant amount of damages and filed a lawsuit against Muñoz in December 2014 alleging negligence, malpractice and breach of fiduciary duty.

In February 2017, Alvarez ruled in favor of Law Funder by default after Muñoz failed to respond to Law Funder’s motion for a summary judgment.

A bench trial on damages was then held on Sept. 12, 2017 after which Alvarez ordered Law Funder to recover the $2.9 million from Muñoz.

Muñoz then appealed the ruling to the 5th Circuit where a panel of judges upheld the default judgment against Muñoz but voided the $2.9 million reward to Law Funder, concluding that Alvarez “improperly calculated damages under Texas law.”

The court of appeals thus remanded a new trial on the damages.

Muñoz filed a motion requesting a jury trial which Judge Alvarez granted on April 16. The jury trial is scheduled for June 15.