Musslewhite v. The State Bar of Texas

786 S.W.2d 437 (1990)

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Musslewhite v. The State Bar of Texas

Texas Court of Appeals
786 S.W.2d 437 (1990)

Facts

The State Bar of Texas (Bar) (plaintiff) moved to suspend attorney Benton Musslewhite (defendant) from legal practice for three years for issuing false and misleading communications to potential clients in violation of professional conduct rules and Musslewhite’s probation. Per the terms of his probation from a previous disciplinary action, Musslewhite was prohibited from committing professional misconduct, accepting new employment until November 1, 1988, and practicing law until January 30, 1989. Notwithstanding his suspension, when the off-shore oil platform known as the Piper Alpha exploded off the coast of Scotland on July 6, 1988, Musslewhite took immediate action towards securing clients. Within days of the disaster, Musslewhite consulted with two American attorneys, including Kelly Newman, regarding referrals and assistance with potential Piper Alpha cases. Musslewhite and Newman travelled to Scotland, where they contacted local solicitors and retained a public-relations consultant who issued a press release regarding a team of internationally renowned American attorneys that would be working with local solicitors to represent Piper Alpha victims. The public-relations consultant also placed an advertisement in a local newspaper and contacted victims via letters, over Newman’s signature, that made similar claims to those in the press release and encouraged victims to have their attorneys contact the team. Musslewhite was aware of the advertisement and the letters. The Bar moved to revoke Musslewhite’s probation for violating DR 2-101, which proscribed attorneys from making false or misleading communications with respect to their services. The trial court found the press release, letters, and advertisement to be false and misleading for failing to identify the names of the attorneys on the team, suggesting that Musslewhite already had Piper Alpha-related clients when he did not, failing to notify potential clients of Musslewhite’s suspension, and failing to include a disclaimer that Musslewhite was not certified by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. The trial court revoked Musslewhite’s probation and suspended him from practice for three years. Musslewhite appealed.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Robertson, J.)

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