San Antonio FELA lawyer, Bryan Cartall, 61, was charged with one count of conspiracy to commit bribery in a case in Cleveland, Ohio and faces up to five years in federal prison if convicted.
Cartall faces the criminal charge of paying a cash bribe to two railroad union officials so that injured union members would seek representation from his firm.
The information charges that Cartall, a San Antonio plaintiff’s personal injury attorney specializing in representing injured railroad workers, paid a bribe to Thomas E. Miller, who served as a special representative of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (“BLET”) and Edward W. Rodzwicz, who served as national president and first vice president of the BLET, which is headquartered in Cleveland, Ohio.
“We are committed to prosecuting all those involved in labor corruption, whether they are the self-dealing union official or a licensed attorney seeking union business,”said Steven M. Dettelbach, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio.
“I don’t think that I can comment at this point in time, simply because of who I’m dealing with,” Cartall said.
Cartall of The Cartell Law Firm PLLC is the fourth person charged in connection in an alleged bribery scheme involving the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, part of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.
The other three entered into plea agreements.
“These cases involve extensive schemes that took place over a period of years and multiple states, involving large amounts of cash,” said Justin J. Roberts, an assistant U.S. attorney in Cleveland.
Roberts declined to say if Cartall is cooperating. The investigation is continuing, Roberts said, but he didn’t know if others would be charged.
According to court documents, Cartall met union Special Representative Thomas E. Miller in an airport parking lot to deliver $10,000 in 2001.
In exchange, it adds, Cartall was placed on a list of lawyers who were being held out to union members as attorneys who handled lawsuits under the Federal Employers Liability Act. The act gives railroad workers the right to sue their employers for damages if injured on the job.
Inclusion on the list was “typically highly lucrative for a designated attorney,” the court documents allege.
Cartall, who worked as a railroad engineer before becoming a FELA lawyer, has been practicing law since 1989.
Personal Comment by Houston FELA lawyer, Steve Gordon:
I met Mr. Cartall when I worked at a law firm which was then called Schechter & Eisenman. That was around 1986 and, at that time, he was a very good sort of “up and coming” FELA lawyer. Since that time, I have not kept in touch with him as our paths only crossed a couple of times. I obviously have no comment on the facts of his personal issues of being charged with this offense, however, I would like to comment, as I have in the past, on the entire Designated Legal Counsel, or DLC, process.
I believe the DLC selection process of all unions is fundamentally flawed. I do believe the Railroad Unions, such as the United Transportation Union (UTU), Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees (BMWE), Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLE), and other union railroad unions have a vested interest in trying to make sure that their members are represented by good, honest and hard working FELA counsel and, therefore, the reason for having the DLC serves a legitimate purpose. The problem is the selection process chosen by these unions is pathetic.
To be more specific on the interests to be served by the unions and the problems of the current situation, I would like to review some of them.
(1) Interest Number 1: Competency of Counsel. Some state bar associations have specialization or certification programs and some states do not. In fact, most states do not have their own programs. However, no state offers a specific program to become certified in FELA. The closest state certifications would be specializations in Civil Trial Law or, in states like Texas, a Personal Injury Trial Law Certification. However, these certifications do not specifically test you on FELA aspects. Hence, there is no specific certification on FELA and I am not advocating for such a specialized certification because it is not necessary. However, it is necessary that the unions adopt some sort of method to determine the competency of its DLC applicants. It would be extremely easy for each Union to appoint a member to a committee that worked with five DLC practitioners from different firms and five non-DLC practitioners from different firms and those persons would come up with a written test to be administered by each Union. If the applicant passed the test, they were designated; if they failed, they would have to wait a year before they could re-take the test.
(2) Interest Number 2: DLC Appointments should be Specific to the Lawyer and Not the Law Firm. The need for competent counsel should extend to all lawyers. What happens in reality is, for whatever reason, one or two partners or associates, or some combination thereof, get a DLC designation and then that means that any lawyer at the firm can represent the injured member. Usually, the designation means more business to the law firm and another lawyer in the DLC firm [not the lawyer that actually caused the DLC appointment] ends up handling the lesser valued cases. This is borne from necessity simply because of time availability. This is not good. If a member chooses a lawyer it should be that lawyer that handles the depositions, files the motions, argues at hearings, attends mediations and, if necessary, tries the case. If there was a competency test and a law firm wanted another lawyer in the firm to handle a case, then that lawyer should take and pass the exam.
(3) Interest Number 3: The Almighty Dollar: Historically, DLC have been requested to fund meetings, conventions, etc. That is alright but it should be established in the beginning what the amounts should be and the DLC firm should pay it annually upon receipt of their DLC appointment. It should be the same amount per firm. For example, if a lawyer in a firm receives a BMWE designation, he/she should pay their pro rata share of the total amount needed; they should not get hassled to pay more and, in fact, they should not be permitted to pay more. Obviously, the laws governing bribery are present and this method of payment up front of a known amount should help avoid situations that occur all too often from human greed;
(4) Interest Number 4: Competency should be Maintained: The competency exam should be re-administered every five years to maintain the DLC appointment.
(5) Interest Number 5: No More “Good Ol’ Boy [or Girl]” System: Historically, a DLC appointment has been coveted because of what it means to the law firm economically and lawyers will go to extraordinary [sometimes illegal] means to keep it. But it should be the opposite; it is better for the members to have more competent DLC to choose from than less lawyers. The exam method would “open the doors” to other competent FELA counsel that have historically not been able to get an appointment because of other reasons.
(6) Interest Number 6: Prior FELA Claimants and Communication of Their Experiences/Opinions: We believe our successes are generally better than some DLC lawyers on like or similar cases that we handle but what we think does not matter; it is what the clients think that matters! If the newly injured union member was presented with a list of the names and phone numbers of previously injured members, then that newly injured member could do their own research of which lawyer to choose. Of course, the previously injured member would need to give their permission to have their contact information given out to the newly injured member; but it has been our experience that when a client is happy with your services they do not mind telling the world about it. However, if the numbers of DLC were increased AND the newly injured person could speak to an actual real person that had their experiences to share, that, to me, is a recipe for success.