Sierra Martin | Chief Editor
Sa Marcos family law attorney, Art Guzman, sued her former paralegal Ashley Szymonek and her husband for assault and battery, invasion of privacy, defamation and slander, common law fraud conversion, and breach of contract.
Guzman sued Szymonek after being in a coma for several days due to antifreeze poisoning and uncovering his elaborate scheme to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars from him, have him disbarred and make it look like he had committed suicide.
According to Guzman, Szymonek, during his time at the firm, stole nearly $800,000 from him and his law firm. Additionally, he suspects that she poisoned him with antifreeze over a period of a year, which ultimately nearly led to his death.
Szymonek was Guzman’s paralegal and sole employee for about a decade and committed “multiple deceptive, fraudulent and illegal acts,” including stealing from his law firm and failing to respond to a lawsuit. a client that led to his disbarment. According to court documents, she also told people that Guzman was depressed and not attending to his law practice when she attempted to poison him in April 2020.
In May 2019, court documents show Guzman learned that a former client had filed a lawsuit against him for improperly withholding his funds. In October 2019, he realized that the client had also filed a grievance against him with the Texas State Bar. Guzman had secured $197,000 in real estate funds for the client, who requested that the funds be paid by “several small checks.”
By September 2018, Szymonek had issued the checks from his account. The customer said there were insufficient funds to cover two of them when he attempted to cash the checks. But, she gave Guzman copies of eight cleared checks, saying she got them directly from her bank.
Court documents reveal that Szymonek repeatedly told Guzman that she was in contact with her malpractice carrier and that her attorney would file a motion for summary judgment on her behalf. However, when Guzman checked the Hays County website in April, he found that a default summary judgment had been entered against him in March. Guzman did not understand how this could have happened because he believed he had an attorney to represent him.
Guzman was disbarred but didn’t know about it until several weeks later when a tenant at his law firm tipped him off. Szymonek told Guzman he had an appeal hearing with the state bar, which was postponed four times. The last date she told him the call was scheduled was April 29, 2020.
It later emerged that Szymonek sent his response to the state bar by proceeding to a misspelled email address, sending it to Marie “Hapsil” at the state bar instead of Marie Haspil. She had never filed her motion for a new trial and no appeal hearing was ever scheduled.
The family learned that Guzman did not have a carrier or malpractice attorney and that Szymonek let it expire. Instead, she had an “automatic login” on her computer for the email account of the lawyer Guzman thought was assigned to her malpractice case.
Additionally, Guzman’s wife, Shelly, received a request from the IRS about their tax returns, and Guzman unsuccessfully attempted to contact her accountant, Dax Verleye. Szymonek said she set up a phone call with Verleye on April 28 to “get everything taken care of,” according to court documents.
Guzman later learned that Verleye hadn’t done his taxes in over a decade, and Szyomek had shown him fake documents saying they had been completed.
According to Guzman, on the morning of April 28, 2020, he doesn’t remember much about the first half hour of the workday. During a walk with Szymonek, the last thing Guzman remembers before waking up in hospital a few days later was losing his balance and starting to fall.
Court documents reveal what Guzman does not remember about the following days. No one could talk to him on the phone that day, and his text replies to his wife were short and curt, which Shelly said was unlike him. He also did not return home that night, which was very worrying for his family.
Shelly spoke to Szymonek, who said they talked “about him closing the office and they were very emotional, lots of tears, and he went for a walk”. And said he was “ok but probably just tired”. Shelly asked her to check on Guzman, but Szymonek “was very carefree and said his family would go to bed and not worry. She convinced Shelly that he was fine and just needed to rest” , according to court documents.
The next day, Shelly and other family members tried to contact him and ask about the state bar appeal hearing they said was scheduled for that morning, but they didn’t. never heard from him. According to court documents, his daughter Madison called Szymonek, who told her that Guzman had said he was closing the office the day before. Szymonek claimed she “was completely taken aback” when Guzman told her and spent most of April 28 “crying and having an emotional goodbye” with Guzman. She told Madison that Guzman “seemed perfectly healthy” but was “adamant about closing the office and making this day their ‘final goodbye’.”
Guzman later learned that Szymonek had already started working for James Evans as a paralegal, but had asked for April 28 and 29 leave.
Court documents also say Szymonek told other family members and co-workers that Guzman had “been depressed for a long time” and was “so checked out.”
Worried that her father would miss such a vital appeal hearing, Madison went to her father’s office only to find that all the locks “contained broken keys”, and despite knocking hard on the windows and doors, his father did not answer. She then texted Szymonek asking for a key code to enter the office.
When she entered, Guzman said his daughter found him unconscious and in a distressed state. After unsuccessfully trying to wake him, she called 911.
When Guzman arrived at the hospital, his body temperature was dangerously low, his organs were shutting down, and doctors suspected he had been poisoned. While his family members waited in the hospital, they were told by the police that there were two arrest warrants for Guzman for stealing from a client, but Szymonek claimed to know all about it. Doctors determined that Guzman was most likely poisoned by “antifreeze ingested in large quantities”, court documents reveal. He remained in a coma for several days.
Guzman said he first realized his paralegal was responsible for everything that happened to him while he was in the hospital.
“I knew something was wrong then because she was at the center of everything that had gone wrong. But then again, she was like a family member you never suspected when you think of everything. the rest,” Guzman said. “And then when we found emails, and you know, she left a paper trail when I saw it was confirmed. But the first time [I realized] was in the hospital when I came out of intensive care. I was like… oh my god.
Looking back, Guzman recalls that some of the coffees or other drinks his paralegal gave him “taste like metal,” to the point that he sometimes spat them out.
After the incident, Guzman was hospitalized for nearly two weeks and on dialysis due to extensive kidney damage. During the difficult recovery process, he had to regain the strength and use of his body. After two years, Guzman said he was just beginning to feel like himself again.
While he was recovering, Guzman’s daughter and his ex-wife, Valarie Guzman (who had run the office years before), went to his law office and found many important documents missing, as well as about eighty filters and blocks in his office messaging system. Filters and blocks would prevent its banks, accountants, clients, judges, and the state bar from accessing its inbox.
Guzman and his family also learned that his office had been posted for seizure. When Guzman’s situation was explained, the bank allowed them to refinance. Additionally, on May 29, 2020, someone opened a checking account under Guzman’s son’s name and social security number and attempted to deposit nearly $20,000 in fraudulent paychecks. The bank flagged the checks and they weren’t deposited. The bank sent the family copies of the deposit slips, and one of the first things that was noticed was “the handwriting on the deposit slip looks remarkably like Ashley’s handwriting,” according to court documents. .
Guzman said that while he is practicing law again and has regained his certification in family law, he will once again be very careful who he trusts. Toung-in-cheek, he says he will get his own coffee in the future. “It changes you. It really is,” Guzman said.
“Imagine losing your career, losing your house, losing your reputation, all of that like the snap of a finger. I mean, it was shameful,” Guzman said.
Szymonek and her husband, Paul Szymonek, attempted this month to dismiss claims of confidentiality, libel and libel from the lawsuit under the Texas Citizens’ Involvement Act, but a Texas trial court ruled. denied the request.
Ashley Szymonek was sentenced to Hays County Jail on February 11, 2022 for first-degree robbery. She was released the next day on $20,000 bond.
Civilian attorney Mark Cusack, who is currently running for 207th district judge in the 2022 primary election, is representing Guzman in his case.
“I’ve known Art for over 30 years and litigators in a small town like San Marcos know each other very well. I can say that Art has always been a zealous advocate for his client and from what I have seen has always treated his staff well. There is simply no excuse or justification for committing such heinous acts against him that are alleged in this case. I look forward to our day in court,” Cusack said.
Guzman said the experience gave her a new perspective on life, her friends and her family. He also feels like he is fighting harder than ever for his clients and enjoys being a lawyer more.