Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Candidate intimidation tactics in Fort Worth Texas JP Race

By Faith Chatham - Feb. 12, 2010
The right to compete and let the voters decide has been skewed by influence money. Now in Tarrant County, an independently wealthy candidate is using his ability to out-sue, out litigate, out spend on attorney's fees to chase his opponents out of the primary and/or drain-dry the resources of opponents.

Richard (Dick) N. Abrams filed for Justice of the Peace, Pct.6 in South Fort Worth against two other Democratic opponents. He challenged the petitions of his opponents claiming that all spaces on the form were not filled in or were incorrect. Abrams threatened to sue his opponents and the County Chair if the county chair did not remove their names from the primary ballot. One opponent, John Williams, was disqualified for filing for more than one office. Tarrant County Democratic Chair Steve Maxwell reviewed the challenge and ruled that Ms. Brooks had sufficient valid signatures of registered voters in the precinct to remain on the ballot. Abrams filed a law suit in Tarrant County District Court against Maxwell and Brooks, seeking and injunction to keep her name off the Primary Ballot and all his court costs and legal fees. All judges in Fort Worth are Republicans.

"It is absurd," said Harriet Irby, Ms. Brooks' treasurer. "I don't understand why a Democratic candidate would do this. There are no Democratic judges in Tarrant County. This matter will be settled in a Republican judge's courtroom. He knew that when he filed this suit!" She added: "He seems to be someone who likes to file lawsuits and has plenty of money to easily pay the legal costs. There are a number of them filed by him in recent months. He seems to win about half of them."


There are court records to support Irby's impression of Abrams. He sued Unity Mutual Life Insurance Company over what he claimed was a hand-shake agreement for commissions. When the ruling was that hand-shake agreements ae unenforceable, he appealed it from the U.S. Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division No 99 C 3182 to the Seventh Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. All rulings were that his alleged hand-shake agreement for commission on preneed funerals were non-enforceable.

Abrams' lawsuit against Tarrant County Democratic Chair Steve Maxwell and his opponent, Roy LaVerne Brooks, is worded to indicate intentions of appealing any decision which does not remove Ms. Brooks' name from the Democratic Primary Ballot all the way to the Texas Supreme Court (another all Republican body).

Mr. Abrams has established a pattern of using his financial prowess to threaten costly legal action in attempts to intimidate less affluent citizens from exercising their constitutional right to run for public office. At each stage, he threatens further legal battles. In the brief filed by his attorney in Tarrant County District Court further threats of lawsuits and costs if he does not win are included in # 4 on the last page: "Abrams' reasonable and necessary attorney's fees incurred through trial and through any appeal taken to the court of appeals and/or the Texas Supreme Court, as permitted by Chapter 37 of the Texas Uniform Declaratory Judgements Act, or as otherwise recoverable by contract, common law and/or statue;"
and "#5. Prejudgement and post-judgement interest, if any , as provided by law;"
and "#6. All cost of suit;"
and "#7. Such other and further relief, special or general, legal or equitable, to which Abrams may show himself to be justly entitled."

NEED TO STEP-UP LATE PRIMARY FUND-RAISING EFFORT


Roy LaVerne Brooks, former Vice Chair of the Texas Democratic Party, is a candidate for Justice of the Peace, Pct. 6 in Tarrant County. Roy's vision is to partner with the community to help prevent some of the situations which bring people into the JP Court. One of her opponents, a billionaire and C.E.O. of Surety Bank, filed a challenge on all of his opponents seeking to get their names removed from the ballot. Abrams alleges that they did not have enough valid signatures on their petitions. One candidate withdrew rather than to fight legal challenges.

The challenge against Roy LaVerne was reviewed by the Tarrant County Democratic Chair. The ruling was that she had sufficient names on her petition of registered voters in the precinct and her name remains on the ballot. Mr. Abrams was not satisfied with that ruling and threatened to sue the party chair and Roy LaVerne. He filed suit in District Court, asking for an injunction to keep Roy's name off the ballot and asking that she pay all his court costs should she lose. Since all judges in Tarrant County are Republicans, he knew that this Democratic Party election case would be tried in a Republican judge's courtroom. Due to snow on the original court date, Fri. Feb. 12th, the hearing has been rescheduled for Friday, Feb. 20, 12 noon in Room 236 of the Tim Curry Court Bldg. in Fort Worth.

In addition to Get Out the Vote and other campaign expense, she is now forced to hire an attorney to defend her right to run for office. Unlike her opponent, Roy LaVerne Brooks is not a woman of independent wealth. She is a hard-working Democratic activist, community organizer, who is employed as a hospice counselor.

Mr. Abrams has the right to pursue legal means, as do all citizens. He is not the only Tarrant County JP candidate to challenge his opponent this year. He is the JP candidate who has already filed lawsuits and refused to accept the ruling of the court this year. He is the one who said he'd sue instead of mediate and whose brief asks the court to have his opponent pay his cost up to and through appeals to the Texas Supreme Court if she loses. He is the candidate whose substantial wealth dwarfs that of his opponent. Just because he has the right to sue and the means to doesn't mean that suing is the right thing to do, or that it is fair for him to. Bigger, stronger "kids" can tell a weaker one what they can do and what they have done. It's intimidating when someone with a history of taking things to the mat has many more resources to arm and fight than you do. When you do something to show your strength to intimidate instead of seeking a fair resolution, that is bullying.

She has strong name recognition in the district and years of community service/activism. Many believe that Mr. Abrams knows that she will probably beat him if the election is fair and if she is given an equal opportunity to take it to the voters. He prefers to bully and sue his way, to attempt to keep his opponent enmeshed in court, attorney's offices and in last minute fundraising to pay court costs.

Mr. Abrams track-record in banking leaves questions about why he is pursuing election as Justice of the Peace. The Dallas Business Journal published an article about the sale of Surety Bank, a financial institution which Mr. Abrams served as C.E.O./C.O.B. from 2000-2007.
The former chairman of Surety Bank, Dick Abrams, remains one of the largest shareholders in Surety Capital Corp., Surety Bank's holding company.But he was barred in June by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency from engaging in banking and leading the holding company.
The number of shares owned by Abrams is in dispute, but Surety's bankruptcy filings describe Abrams as one of the corporation's largest shareholders and notes that his son, girlfriend and family trust are also significant shareholders. Abrams could not be reached for comment.
Abrams stepped down on Oct. 1 as Surety Capital Corp's chairman. Weiner, another shareholder in the bank, took that role on the condition that Abrams promise not to sue him, Weiner said.
Says Thompson: "He volunteered to do the job that nobody else wanted."
Since then, Weiner has focused on getting the institution sold and getting investors' money out of the institution.
Surety Capital Corp. filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on Dec. 21.


This Fund Raising Appeal in support of Roy LaVerne Brooks is an appeal to stand up for the right of ordinary Americans to run for public office.

It is an appeal to stand with her against a man who is trying to bully and harass his way onto the General Election ballot instead of campaigning and letting the voters decide.

This is an appeal to help her defend this case in court and defend the right of all citizens to exercise their civil right to participate in the democratic process which is the foundation of our American system.

This is an appeal to let the Voters' Decide who they want as the Democratic Nominee for Justice of the Peace, Pct. 6.

Contributions of ANY AMOUNT are welcome. We welcome contributions as small as your weekly coffee money or as large as you can afford. If you can join us Saturday and show Roy LaVerne that you stand with her, we welcome your presence at the tea.

Contributions can be made securely on-line at BROOKS FOR JP6


THIS IS A CASE OF "I'll Drain You Dry in Court If My Challenge Doesn't Result in You Being Thrown Off of The Ballot."
If Mr. Abrams had a pristine registered voters petition list, we might think he was fighting over principle. However, his petition has more incomplete boxes than Ms. Brooks and many more names of people who live outside the district. If he wins and gets her thrown off the ballot on the grounds he claims in his brief, a counter-suit on the same grounds should result in him being removed from the ballot.

His financial resources are greater than the two other candidates in the race. (John Williams withdrew rather than face the challenge by Richard Abrams.

In June 2000 Richard N. Abrams Richard N. Abrams, Northfield, Illinois filed with the F.D.I.C. to acquire additional voting shares of Surety Capital Corporation, Fort Worth, Texas, and thereby indirectly acquire additional voting shares of Surety Bank, National Association, Fort Worth, Texas.

Surety had problems with the S.E.C. In the Sept. 12, 2001 Share Holder's Report Richard N. Abrams, C.E.O. wrote:

We entered into a formal agreement with the Office of the Controller of Currency in November, 1998. This Formal Agreement still remains in place, although the bank is currently in compliance with all requirements. Hopefully, we will be operating without this Formal Agreement next time I address the shareholders. However, due to the Formal Agreement, the bank can not pay dividends to the holding company. Therefore, we are unable to meet the holding company's financial obligations, i.e., debenture interest and operating expenses. I have guaranteed these payments for 2001. All loans made for this purpose are evidenced by a note payable which is convertible into stock of the holding company at $0.36 per share.


In return for meeting the Holding Company's obligations, Mr. Abrams and the board granted him (them) generous stock options. Surety's 2001 Stock Holder's Report showed Richard N. Abrams, age 60, as a Chairman of the Board, Director and C.E.O. since 2000. His bio at that time was:
RICHARD N. ABRAMS has served as a director of Surety Capital since May 2000 and was named Chairman of the Board of Directors and Chief Executive Officer in March 2001. He has served as Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer of Funeral Financial Systems, Ltd. (a special purpose finance company that specializes in the funeral industry) since August 1985, and of Executive Offices, Ltd. (a shared office building) since October 1986. Mr. Abrams has also served as Chairman of the Board of FuneraLeasing, Ltd. (a leasing company that specializes in the funeral industry) since December 1998. Mr. Abrams is a certified public accountant. Mr. Abrams has served as a director of Surety Bank since March 2000.


It baffles many who are watching this race. Why would a man with Richard Abrams financial interest run for Justice of the Peace??? Few can envision him actually sitting in a Justice of the Peace courtroom five days a week listening to truancy and eviction cases? Why is he doing this?

Abrams grabs power in troubled by exercising stock options.
His relative, Rodney Abrams, also increased his bank s
tock.

Following an S.E.C. investigation on Surety Holding's insurance division, this notice was sent to Surety Bank Stock Holders (signed by Richard N. Abrams, C.E.O.):

We entered into a formal agreement with the Office of the Controller of Currency in November, 1998. This Formal Agreement still remains in place, although the bank is currently in compliance with all requirements. Hopefully, we will be operating without this Formal Agreement next time I address the shareholders. However, due to the Formal Agreement, the bank can not pay dividends to the holding company. Therefore, we are unable to meet the holding company's financial obligations, i.e., debenture interest and operating expenses. I have guaranteed these payments for 2001. All loans made for this purpose are evidenced by a note payable which is convertible into stock of the holding company at $0.36 per share.


Mr. Abrams acquired an option on stock at a fixed $0.36 per share which he could exercise after the price of the stock rose.

COMPENSATION OF DIRECTORS

Surety Capital's and Surety Bank's board of directors consist of the same members and both organizations hold meetings on the same dates. In 2000, the bank paid each director $500 for each bank meeting attended. In 2001, the cash compensation was stopped and each outside director now will receive 2,000 shares of unregistered common stock for each board meeting attended and 1,000 shares for each committee meeting attended.

We have adopted the 1996 Stock Option Plan for Directors and the 1997 Non-Qualified Stock Option Plan for Non-Employee Directors. Under the 1996 and 1997 Directors Plans, an aggregate of 250,000 shares of our common stock were set aside for issuance pursuant to the exercise of options granted thereunder. The 1996 Directors Plan is a formula plan pursuant to which annual options are automatically granted to our directors who are not our employees at fair market value. All options under the 1996 Directors Plan are non-qualified stock options, and vest one year following the date of grant. On the first business day of each calendar year, each non-employee director is automatically granted an option to purchase 2,000 shares of our common stock at 100% of fair market value on the grant date.

2000, each non-employee director received an option to purchase 2,000 shares of our common stock at an exercise price of $0.74 per share. The 1997 Directors Plan provided for the one time grant of 25,000 non-qualified stock options to directors who were not employees at fair market value. In 1997, each non-employee director received an option to purchase 25,000 shares of our common stock at exercise prices ranging from $4.18 to $5.375 per share. These options vest over five years.

We also adopted the 2000 Non-Qualified Stock Option Plan for advisory directors. Under the provisions of the plan, 100,000 shares were allocated for non-qualified stock options to advisory directors. Grantees are awarded 10-year options to acquire shares at the market price on the date the option is granted. The options vest and become fully exercisable based on a vesting schedule as determined by the compensation committee on the date of grant. On November 6, 2000, grantees were awarded options to acquire 28,000 shares of our common stock at $0.55 per share, which vest and become fully exercisable on November 6, 2001.


Abrams capitalized on the bank's situation:
In addition, in consideration for the extraordinary time and effort the members of the board of directors have given to the company and the bank, various members of the board were awarded shares of unregistered common stock at the August, 2001 board meeting. The awards were as follows: Mr. Abrams received 400,000 shares, Mr. Chappell received 60,000 shares, Mr. Bley received 30,000 shares, Mr. Kwentus received 15,000 shares and Mr. Morris received 10,000 shares. Mr. Abrams also received shares of restricted stock which will vest upon certain events. Pursuant to the grant, Mr. Abrams will receive 300,000 shares of common stock when the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency terminates the formal agreement entered into by Surety Bank prior to Mr. Abrams' affiliation; 200,000 shares if he remains as the Chief Executive Officer until the end of the 2002 fiscal year; and he will receive one share of common stock for every $3.00 of net profit realized by Surety Bank, as determined on a quarterly basis with a maximum of 400,000 shares over any two year period.

The following table shows beneficial ownership of shares of our common stock by all current directors, nominees for director and named executive officers individually, and together with all current executive officers of the Company as a group, as of August 28, 2001:

Amount and
Name of Individual Nature of
or Number of Beneficial Percent
Persons In Group Ownership (1) of Class (2)
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Richard N. Abrams 1,266,744(3) 16.2%

Charles M. Ireland 44,583(4) *

Garrett Morris 166,749(5) 2.2%

David F. Chappell 115,555(6) 1.5%

Thomas J. Kwentus 17,777 *

Guy J. Butts 0 --

Milton M. Bley 99,000(7) 1.1%

All directors and 1,710,408(8) 21.6%
executive officers as
a group (7 persons

-------------------- * Less than 1% of all the issued and outstanding shares of common stock.

(2) Based on 7,624,511 shares of common stock issued and outstanding at August 28, 2001, as adjusted for shares convertible or exercisable within sixty (60) days which are deemed outstanding for a specific stockholder pursuant to Rule 13d-3(d)(1) under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934.

(3) Includes 184,444 shares of common stock which are convertible from notes and 2,000 shares which Mr. Abrams has the right to acquire within sixty (60) days from the date hereof. Also includes 65,100 shares owned by Funeral Financial Systems, Ltd., a company under the control of Mr. Abrams. Does not include the restricted stock described on page 5.

(4) Includes 33,333 shares of common stock which Mr. Ireland has the right to acquire within sixty (60) days from the date hereof.

(5) Includes 19,000 shares of common stock which Mr. Morris has the right to acquire within sixty (60) days from the date hereof.

(6) Includes 55,000 shares of common stock which Mr. Chappell has the right to acquire within sixty (60) days from the date hereof.

The following table sets forth certain information with respect to our stockholders who were known to be beneficial owners of more than five percent (5%) of the issued and outstanding shares of the common stock as of August 28, 2001, except for Richard N. Abrams, whose ownership interest is disclosed in the preceding table.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Name and Address Amount and Nature Percent
of Beneficial Owner of Beneficial of Class(2)
Ownership(1)
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Carlson Capital, L.P. (3) 519,300 6.8%
301 Commerce Street, Suite 3300
Fort Worth, Texas 76102

Pine Capital Management, Incorporated(4) 528,647 6.9%
353 Sacramento Street, 10th Floor
San Francisco, California 94111

Cullen W. Turner(5) 471,377 6.2%

Rodney A. Abrams(6) 575,055 7.5%

With his relative, Rodney Abrams' shares, Richard N. Abrams controlled more Surety stock than the rest of the board combined by August 2001


Questions about his employment status
In January and February 2007 he made Federal Campaign contributions and listed "retired" as his employment status on the donor cards. In March 2007 he lists CEO Mortuary Financial on another Federal Campaign donor card. On June 11, 2007 the Comptroller of the Currency issued a cease and desist order to Surety Bank, National Association, Fort Worth, Richard N. Abrams, C.E.O.


S.E.C. Investigations and Cease and Desist Orders
In 2001, Surety's S.E.C. difficulties were attributed to his predecessor. However, in 2007 when Surety was issued a Cease and Desist Order by the Comptroller of the Currency, Richard N. Abrams has been at the helm of Surety Bank of Fort Worth and Surety Holding for seven years. Difficulties could no longer be attributed to any failure of leadership other than his own. He was the major stockholder and controlled more voting shares than any other member of the Board.

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