State Rep. Ron Reynolds files for bankruptcy

September 7, 2016 GMT

Embattled state Rep. Ron Reynolds has filed for personal bankruptcy following a judge’s order to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to a former client.

The filing comes as Reynolds, the Democratic whip in the House, is also appealing a conviction last year in Montgomery County on barratry charges, commonly known as ambulance chasing. He has also been suspended by the state bar.

Despite the legal troubles, the Fort Bend County Democrat remains the heavy favorite to win re-election in November in the solidly blue district.

In April, a Harris County judge ordered Reynolds to pay $504,000 to a former client, Nancy Ann Calloway, because he failed to pass along her share of a $250,000 settlement stemming from a car crash that killed Calloway’s daughter. The 55-year-old flight attendant said she had earmarked some of that money for her daughter’s tombstone.

Reynolds filed for Chapter 7 personal bankruptcy on July 14, federal court records show. Legal experts said Texas law allows filers to keep their homes while selling other assets to pay their debts.

In his filings, Reynolds listed $580,000 in assets against more than $1.3 million in liabilities, including the debt to Calloway. He also listed $3,000 in unpaid Houston-area tolls and $15,000 in fines owed to the Texas Ethics Commissions for failing to file financial disclosure forms.

Reynolds was convicted of barratry last year in Montgomery County after jurors agreed he paid a middleman to approach recent accident victims within 30 days of accidents, which Texas law forbids in an effort to fight fraud and keep mourning relatives from being swarmed by personal injury lawyers.

He said his legal troubles are personal issues that “won’t have any impact” on his work for the district, which includes Missouri City, Stafford, Sienna Plantation and parts of Houston and Sugar Land. Questions about his ability to effectively legislate are “just campaign rhetoric,” he said.

“It’s easy to say it from afar, and maybe someone else would be distracted ... but for me I’ve been very focused,” Reynolds said in a phone interview. He said his office helps constituents with issues ranging from air quality to road construction and child support.

Pastors have told him that he has shown faith and perseverance, he added.

The conviction, suspension and bankruptcy have left a “stain” on Reynold’s candidacy, according to University of Houston political scientist Brandon Rottinghaus.

However, House District 27 has been drawn in such a way that a Republican has little chance of winning, especially in a year when Donald Trump’s candidacy may motivate more Democrats to head to the polls.

Reynolds beat back several serious Democratic primary challengers this year and survived a low-turnout runoff election by 225 votes. The legislator has won each of the past three general elections by carrying more than 65 percent of the vote.

Reynolds said he feels “very optimistic” about his chances in November. “We just really have a pulse on a real wide gamut of issues and people from different ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds. ... That’s why I feel very good, because I’m pretty hands-on and in the trenches.”

His Republican challenger, criminal defense attorney Ken Bryant, has solid credentials like serving as a Fort Bend ISD trustee but, according to Rottinghaus, is unlikely to unseat Reynolds. Bryant could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday.