Appellate court upholds former attorney’s disbarment

The 13th Court of Appeals has affirmed a former Hidalgo County attorney’s disbarment.

The appellate court issued the ruling on Wednesday in an 89-page memorandum of opinion on remand.

The Commission for Lawyer Discipline took Mark A. Cantu to trial in 2016 alleging he committed professional misconduct during bankruptcy proceedings that also involved his wife, Roxanne Cantu, and a company they owned and controlled called Mar-Rox.

In a 10-2 decision, the jury decided Cantu violated the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct during those proceedings by making false statements; taking a position that unreasonably increased the costs or other burdens of the case; and knowingly offered or used false evidence, among other violations including dishonesty, fraud, deceit and misrepresentation, according to the ruling.

In 2018, Cantu had secured a victory in the 13th Court of Appeals that reinstated him and granted him a new trial after the appellate court ruled that “erroneous” testimony had been allowed during his ethics trial.

The Texas Supreme Court, however, reversed that ruling after deciding that neither the admission of the judge’s testimony nor the admission into evidence of the judge’s memorandum opinion constituted reversible error.

“The supreme court remanded the case to this Court to consider Cantu’s remaining issues,” the most recent ruling states.

Those issues were numerous and include challenges to the admission of expert testimony, the jury charge, jury deliberations, the legal and factual sufficiency of the evidence, the propriety of sanctions based on actions he took in his individual rather than professional capacity, the trial court’s findings of fact and conclusions of law, and the award of attorney fees.

The 13th Court of Appeals ruled against each and every one.

“We affirm Cantu’s judgment of disbarment,” the ruling states.

Cantu, his wife and Mar-Rox, their company, filed for voluntary bankruptcy on May 6, 2008, which was converted to a Chapter 7 liquidation on June 24, 2009, and a trustee was appointed to administer the estate.

“At the time of the voluntary bankruptcy filing, the Cantus owned University Inn [M]otel, Palm Plaza Motel and RV Park, La Vista Mobile Home Park, and Dominion Apartments. They owned Mar-Rox, Inc., through which they owned The Atrium, an office building in McAllen, four restaurants, and several other commercial properties for real estate holdings valued at about $24 million,” the ruling states.

Personal property owned by the Cantus in their bankruptcy schedules was valued at $3.9 million, according to court records.

“Mr. Cantu owned a successful law practice. At the time of the voluntary bankruptcy filing, the Cantus had more than $37 million in secured debt and more than $10 million in unsecured debt. Their company, Mar-Rox Inc., had more than $20 million in debt,” the ruling states.

As part of those proceedings, Cantu was required to make statements of his financial affairs under the penalty of perjury and the Commission for Lawyer Discipline alleged he failed to include significant assets and transactions.

“Respondent failed to disclose Respondent’s interests in two contingency fee cases, failed to disclose jewelry sales of more than $100,000.00 and failed to schedule two life-sized bronze horses worth about $20,000.00. The horses were placed on property belonging to Respondent Cantu’s sister in an apparent attempt to conceal them,” the ruling states.

He also failed to disclose a transfer of $50,000 to a friend, which was part of a $150,000 settlement as part of a bankruptcy court claim.

“Cantu was not honest with the Court regarding how that money was spent,” the ruling states.

The court also found Cantu failed to provide records of his use of estate funds, records of cash withdrawals from the estates, including withdrawals of cash from the businesses University Inn and La Vista, which was a violation of bankruptcy court orders regarding cash collateral.

“Cantu interfered with the sale of estate assets and failed to turn over assets belonging to the estate. He [interfered] with the sale of the Atrium building, he interfered with the turnover of valuable artwork from his offices, [and] he attempted to hide the horse statues,” the ruling states.

The commission says he made material false oaths regarding the existence of water damage cases in which Mar-Rox had an interest, the  existence of contingency fee interests, jewelry sales and the transfer of $50,000 to his friend.

“Throughout the bankruptcy proceeding, Respondent Cantu disregarded the requirements of the bankruptcy code and demonstrated a pattern of omission, obfuscation and non-compliance in violation of his obligations to the court. This pattern of behavior obstructed the administration of the bankruptcy estate and the [c]ourt, increased the expense and inconvenience for the trustee, the estate and the court and otherwise interfered and complicated the bankruptcy case . . . and its administration,” the ruling states.