Jury Verdict - 10/15/12
We are proud to announce the latest verdict--approximately $867,000.00--returned by a Bexar County Jury today after nearly a two week trial on behalf of our client, Isabel Sloan.
In 2004, Isabel Sloan allegedly spoke to Oscar C. Gonzalez about an heirship dispute. Gonzalez allegedly stated that Eric Turton would work with Gonzalez on the matter and quoted a retainer and specific hourly rates for himself and for Turton. Weeks later, Isabel Sloan signed a written fee agreement retaining the Law Office of Oscar C. Gonzalez, Inc., which named two attorneys, Oscar C. Gonzalez and Eric Turton as the responsible attorneys with specific rates for the time spent by each.
Turton had a long and very serious history of active suspension of his law license up until 2002, but Sloan was never informed of this. In March, 2008, her case settled for $100,000.00, and her settlement funds were received by the lawyers. Sloan was not informed of the receipt of her money until early 2009, and then was informed (by Turton) that only part of the money had been received, which was untrue. Turton deposited $100,000.00 in his trust account on 3/3/08. Beginning on 3/4/08 and continuing through 2009, Turton paid Gonzalez over $17,000.00 for Turton’s “rent” from the trust account, using trust account checks. Gonzalez or his staff accepted the trust checks. Turton also paid other office-related expenses, his mortgage and other personal expenses. Turton became ill and was comatose beginning on 2/2/10 and remained comatose for about 6 weeks. Whiel Turton was comatose, Gonzalez received and deposited another trust check from Turton’s trust account, dated 2/8/10, into an account on which Gonzalez had signatory authority, requested Wells-Fargo bank to transfer the balance of Turton’s operating account, on which only Turton signed, into an account on which Gonzalez signed, and caused a deed to Turton’s home, which Gonzalez held in trust for Turton's ex-wife, to be recorded. Gonzalez received deeds from the beneficiary of the trust conveying the home to Gonzalez, individually for reasons that were not explained. Gonzalez, then the sole owner of the home, sold the home. The sale was closed by a title company and all liens were paid, yet Gonzalez deposited the net proceeds into his own trust account. Gonzalez had now taken all of Turton's money, and his home. When Turton was released from the hospital, he was literally homeless. Sloan alleged that the Law Office of Oscar C. Gonzalez, Oscar C. Gonzalez, and Eric Turton were her attorneys and had a duty to safeguard her settlement money and that all three defendants criminally misapplied her trust money. Sloan alleged that Gonzalez took all of Turton's property on which she held a constructive trust lien. Sloan alleged breach of fiduciary duty, negligence, negligent misrepresentation, fraud, and DTPA violation (Section 17.46 [b] ), gross negligence and malice, and sought damages actual and exemplary. She alleged that theft and misapplication of fiduciary property permitted unlimited exemplary damages. Gonzalez denied having ever heard of Sloan and denied any attorney client relationship with her.
The case was tried before the Honorable Larry Noll, in the 408th District Couirt beginning on 10/2/123. The jury was seated on 10/4/12. Plaintiff rested on 10/10/12. The jury retired on 10/12/12 at about 5:45 and worked until about 8:30 that evening. The jury returned on Monday, 10/15/12 and returned a verdict Monday afternoon 8 hours of deliberation. The jury answered “yes” to the existence of an attorney-client relationship between Gonzalez and Sloan, "Yes" to a joint enterprise and joint venture between Turton and Gonzalez, and "Yes" to each the Plaintiff’ s counts for breach of fiduciary duty, fraud, negligent misrepresentation, negligence, and deceptive trade practices. The jury awarded, jointly and severally, actual damages of $77,500.00. The jury found "gross negligence" and "malice" against all defendants. The jury awarded additional damages of $300,000.00 as against Turton, who was truthful in his testimony about his misatkes, and whom Gonzalez had characterized as the primary actor, while denying his own participation. The jury rejected Gonzalez' argument, and awarded substantially more, $500,000.00 as against Gonzalez as additional damages. The jury awarded about $290,000.00 in attorneys' fees to the Plaintiff. The jury also found that Gonzalez and Turton each misapplied fiduciary property of $1500.00 or more, and that each had committed theft of $20,000.00 or more, eliminating any caps on punitive damages. A motion to enter judgment on the verdict is being filed. No money has been paid or collected for the client at this time.
A San Antonio Express-News story on the case can be found at: http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/local_news/article/Jurors-sock-lawyers-for-more-than-867-000-3950958.php
An ABA Journal story on the case can be found at: http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/ex-client_awarded_867k_law_firm_that_referred_her_to_lawyer_who_stole_75k/
Original Charge of the Court-Signed by Jurors.pdf