On March 29, the El Paso Children’s Hospital Foundation announced it had received a $250,000 donation from Cesar Ornelas Injury Law, a law firm with offices in several cities in Texas. According to the Foundation, the donation was made on March 20. The El Paso Children’s Hospital renamed its emergency room after Ornelas because of the donation.
According to the law firm’s website, Cesar Ornelas Injury Law is the “official law firm for the EL [sic] Paso Chihuahuas and Locomotive.” The firm, based in San Antonio, operates offices in Dallas, Odessa, Laredo and El Paso in Texas, as well as two cities in New Mexico; Carlsbad and Hobbs. The legal firm focuses on personal injury law.
In 2019, Cesar Ornelas Injury Law made headlines after several lawsuits were filed against Ornelas and his firm for, what the lawsuits alleged as “ambulance chasing”.
In 2019 and 2020, at least five complaints were filed against Cesar Ornelas, his law firm, and his father who owns several funeral homes, as well as Grupo De Especialiadedes Jurdicas Mexicoamericanas also known as Group of Legal Specialties (GLS). Ornelas attempted to have the civil cases dismissed but failed each time. The cases were eventually settled under confidentiality agreements.
The cases alleged barratry – which is illegal in Texas – is often colloquially referred to as “ambulance chasing.” Barratry is when a lawyer solicits clients at the scene of an accident or through direct and unsolicited contact with the victim of a crime or accident.
One of the civil cases outlines how the barratry allegedly happened. The case filed by Rachel Rodriguez Medina and Jesus Elias Garcia on August 7, 2019 explains how Cesar Ornelas II and his father Cesar Ornelas I conspired “illegally and unethically” to solicit clients. The father owns several funeral homes and operates Group of Legal Specialties (GLS). The son, who is an attorney, owns the law firm where clients were referred to by the father, according to the complaints.
The Medina and Garcia claim alleges that the scheme to illegally recruit clients to the law firm was operated by the father and the son. The scheme, as outlined in the lawsuit, involved sponsoring meetings to funeral home operators who were then solicited and trained on how to refer legal clients to GLS, who in turn then referred them to the Ornelas law firm in return for compensation and paid funeral expenses, which are illegal in Texas.
The training of the funeral home owners was outlined in what was purported to be a training manual for the funeral operators that was filed in court.
According to the Medina and Garcia lawsuit, some funeral directors received “more than $100,000 for referring cases to the Ornelas Firm.”
The case outlines how in El Paso Jesus Elias Garcia met with Salvador “Sal” Perches, the owner of the Perches Funeral Home, to discuss the burial of their father. Perches owns several funeral homes, including one with the Ornelas father. At the funeral home, Garcia and other family members met with Victor Chavez who told them “they had a big lawsuit” for their father’s death. Although the two children of the deceased refused to hire the Ornelas Firm, the common law wife of the deceased agreed to hire the law firm at the urging of Chavez.
In a second complaint filed in El Paso, Helen Castruita describes a similar experience when planning for her deceased toddler’s funeral at La Paz funeral home in 2019. Perches, who is accused on the other lawsuit of soliciting clients at his Perches Funeral Home, approached Castruita at La Paz telling her “she should get justice for her son” by hiring the Ornelas law firm. In a telephone call organized by Pereches, the Ornelas father told Castruita that he would pay for her toddler’s funeral expenses if she hired his son’s law firm.
The law firm of Glasheen, Valles & Inderman with offices in Albuquerque, Austin, Lubbock, Odessa and El Paso keeps a page on its website devoted to the Ornelas controversy. In the page, the legal firm has outlines that it calls the “Cesar Ornelas Funeral Home Scam.”
At least five cases were filed alleging barratry against Ornelas, his father and the related companies. In 2021, the cases were settled before going to trial. All were settled under confidentiality agreements.
However, Cesar Ornelas tried several times to have the cases thrown out of court, failing each time. After failing to have the cases thrown out of court, Ornelas settled with the plaintiffs. However, that was not the end of the controversy.
Father Accuses Ornelas Of Stealing From Him
According to the San Antonio Express-News, in a May 10, 2021 Facebook post, the elder Cesar Ornelas accused his son of stealing from him. In the Facebook post, the funeral home owner posted that his son, the lawyer, “steals millions of dollars from his dad, don’t know how a son could ever do this to his father but he sure did.” In addition to the Facebook, the father “staged what sounded like a picket” in front of his son’s office.
Shortly after the Facebook post, in a May 14, 2021 order, a San Antonio arbitrator, Wade Shelton wrote that the elder Ornelas had acted with “reckless disregard for the truth of his statements.”
Ornelas Blamed Law Firm “Territory War” For Controversy
Cesar Ornelas, the lawyer, has blamed attorney Kevin Glasheen for the civil lawsuit controversies. According to Ornelas, the law firm of Glasheen, Valles & Inderman, didn’t want Ornelas’ law firm of “encroaching” on the cities it does legal business in, including El Paso. Both law firms operate in the same cities. But for El Paso Children’s Hospital, the controversy of its acceptance of the donation by the law firm is not the first time the children’s hospital is connected to a controversial donation.
Not The First Time Children’s Accepts Questionable Donation
On November 20, 2020, the El Paso Children’s Hospital Foundation accepted a $10,000 donation from Abner Tinoco and his company, Kikit. A month before the Foundation accepted the donation, Tinoco started defrauding investors out of $3.9 million through a Ponzi scheme.
Earlier this year, Tinoco plead guilty to operating a Ponzi scheme. He faces 20 years in prison when he is sentenced. A review of the documents filed by the court appointed receivership to recoup investor losses does not show that the El Paso Children’s Hospital returned the Tinoco $10,000 donation.
Of the $10,785,977.55 in claims against the fraudster accepted by the court, $9,150,012.23 were recovered, leaving $1,635,965.32 unrecovered for the fraudster’s creditors. When El Paso News originally reported the Kikit donation we asked El Paso Children’s Hospital if they would be returning the donation. The children’s hospital did not respond to our questions.
The El Paso Children’s Hospital faces two problems with donations that are either tainted or become tainted. The first consideration is that the non-profit needs the donations to offer its services. The other is whether a donation from ill-gotten gains is acceptable. The issue is what standard of behavior is acceptable from individuals making donations to the non-profit.
In the case of Kikit, the $10,000 donation was clearly tainted money the moment it was given to the children’s hospital because it was derived from a fraud. In the case of the Ornelas donation, the donation is more complicated.
Although a case of “ambulance chasing” has been alleged and the court settlements suggest that it is a likely scenario, the fact remains that the allegations have not been proven. In that scenario, is the $250,000 a donation from “clean” funds or are they tainted? Moreover, what are the optics of a personal injury attorney who was accused of using a funeral home as a recruitment site for clients now having their name on the children’s hospital’s emergency room?
Is it proper for the hospital to have its emergency room named after a personal injury attorney?
You ask a lot of good questions at the end of the article. I think you already know the answers.
Since medical malpractice is commonplace at the El Paso Children’s Hospital, is this lawyer under any obligation to turn down potential cases from there?
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