DALLAS — A lawsuit filed Tuesday alleges that a Dallas City Councilwoman broke the law by conspiring with a Florida attorney to solicit business from the family of the victim of a fatal dog attack in May.
Councilwoman Tiffinni Young declined to respond to the allegations on camera, but told News 8 she's done nothing wrong. Chris Chestnut, the attorney named as a defendant in the lawsuit, also said he's done nothing wrong.
Antoinette Brown died on May 9, a week after being attacked by a pack of wild dogs in southern Dallas. Brown’s daughter, Matisha Ward, said that while her mother was still in the hospital, Councilwoman Young contacted her via text message. Ward said she didn’t know Young, who first expressed sympathy, but then, according to Ward, began talking about suing the city.
“I didn’t know anything about her,” Ward said. “It was so much stuff going on in my mind and I thought, ‘OK, let me reach back out to her to see who she is.’”
Ward kept the texts, which she shared with News 8. In a May 6 text, Young wrote to Ward: "...I am praying for your mother and your family and am deeply saddened to hear about what happened...”
On May 8, via text, Young offered to come to the hospital and meet with Ward. Ward said Young showed up, offered her sympathies then suggested she consider suing the city of Dallas.
“When she was getting ready to leave she told me, ‘You do have a case’, and I was like, ‘OK,’” Ward said. “I asked her how would I go about trying to get this case started and she told me that technically she couldn’t give me that information.”
Ward’s mother was removed from life support on May 9. On May 12, Ward texted Young to tell her that she was taking her advice and “decided to [talk] with [a] lawyer,” her text shows.
The next day, Young texted back: “Call me.” Ward said she called Young and recorded the conversation which she has shared with News 8.
Young: Hey how are you?
Ward: I’m good, how are you?
Young: I’m good, now, what, tell me what attorneys you’ve talked to?
Ward: I haven’t talked to one yet.
Young: Oh you haven’t?
Young: I have one sitting here. Do you want to talk to him?
Ward: Yes ma’am.
Young: Hold on one second. Can you talk to her Chris?
Chris: How are you doing?
Ward: I’m fine, how are you?
Chris: I’m good, I’m good. I was just talking and I’m so sorry to hear about your mother.”
Young handed to phone off to attorney Christopher Chestnut, an old friend of Young's from college days who was with her that day attending a seminar in Chicago.
"I’m out of Florida and Atlanta,” Chestnut told Ward on the phone recording. “I specialize in wrongful death cases. She (Young) was telling me about what happened (to your mother). That’s a tragedy.”
Chestnut has been in trouble in Florida. Last year, the state bar there publicly reprimanded him for failing to keep a client informed about a case. In 2014, a jury found he overcharged a client, prompting a state bar complaint which is pending in the Florida Supreme Court.
After a few minutes of conversation, Ward told Chestnut someone should be held accountable for her mother’s death. “I mean, so that owner needs to pay,” Ward told Chestnut over the phone. “The mayor needs to pay, the animal control business, whoever they are, they need to pay.”
Chestnut responded, “They need to pay.” Ward and Chestnut never spoke again.
Ward has since hired Dallas attorney Tom Carse, who has filed suit against Chestnut and Young, accusing them both of “barratry and solicitation of professional employment.”
Carse says both Young and Chestnut committed the crime of “barratry” by, according to the lawsuit, illegally conspiring to solicit legal business from Ward. Barratry is a third degree felony in Texas.
“When Mrs. Ward said ‘I’ve talked to a lawyer’ and when the response was ‘call me,’ as opposed to, ‘I wish you the best,’ and drop it, Young didn’t drop it,” Carse said.
Chestnut told News 8 neither he nor Young did anything wrong. “I perceive it as Ms. Young trying to help a constituent who just lost her mom tragically in a horrific death,” Chestnut said when reached about the allegations. “She was just following up with the lady to see if I could help.”
Young told News 8 she was only trying to help Ward and even assisted her in setting up a Go Fund Me page to help pay for her mother’s funeral.
“I did not encourage her to file suit against the city,” Young told News 8 in a phone call. “I just said that if you feel you have a grievance with the city, you have a right to talk to an attorney.”
Ward says she feels Young was only interested in helping Chestnut get hired.
“If you are a city councilwoman, first of all, you don’t need to be trying to exploit people,” Ward said. “If you are going to be concerned, be concerned in the right way. Because, to me, she was just playing with my emotions and my heart.”
Councilwoman Young first told News 8 she never introduced Chestnut to Ward. After we told her of the telephone conversation recording, she has since declined to comment.
Ward is suing Chestnut and Young seeking up to $500,000 in damages. She also plans to sue the city of Dallas over the death of her mother.