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Updated: 2 hours 13 min ago

James Woo joins State Bar board

Fri, 02/02/2018 - 06:00

Texas Supreme Court Justice Phil Johnson, left, congratulates San Antonio attorney James C. Woo after administering the oath of office to Woo, a new at-large director on the State Bar board.

San Antonio attorney James C. Woo has joined the State Bar of Texas Board of Directors as an at-large director.

The board approved Woo’s appointment on January 26 at its quarterly meeting in San Antonio. His term was effective immediately and expires in June 2020.

Woo is a shareholder at the firm of Davidson Troilo Ream & Garza and is board certified in estate planning and probate law.

He is a former chair of the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and has served in numerous leadership positions for the State Bar of Texas, San Antonio Bar Association, and other organizations.

Fifth Circuit seeks comments on proposed rule change

Thu, 02/01/2018 - 15:30

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit is accepting comments about a proposed amendment to circuit rule 35.5.

Read the full notice, which includes the proposed redline changes, on the court’s website.

The court is accepting written comments through March 9 by email at Changes@ca5.uscourts.gov or by mail at:

Clerk of Court
U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
ATTN: Rule Changes
600 S. Maestri Place
New Orleans, LA 70130

Registration now open for State Bar of Texas Annual Meeting 2018

Thu, 02/01/2018 - 14:00

Registration is now open for the State Bar of Texas Annual Meeting on June 21-22 at the Marriott Marquis—Houston.

Attorneys can select their choice of courses to earn up to a year’s worth of CLE credits in two days for just one low price, hear from motivating keynote speakers, and network and socialize with other professionals and influencers in the legal profession.

For more information about registering online and making hotel reservations, go to texasbar.com/annualmeeting.

Texas Bar Journal Must-Reads for February

Thu, 02/01/2018 - 12:30

Looking for a head start on the February issue of the Texas Bar Journal? Check out our editorial staff’s must-reads online at texasbar.com/tbj. And don’t forget to catch up on Movers and Shakers, Memorials, and Disciplinary Actions.

Lawyers as Leaders
Community engagement and leadership benefit all.
By Leah Witcher Jackson Teague

A look at impeachment using prior inconsistent statements.
By Hon. John B. Stevens

What Does Leadership Mean to You?
By the 2017-2018 LeadershipSBOT Class

Clean Breaks
A Galveston judge presides over the waters of the Gulf Coast when the surf is just right.
Interview by Eric Quitugua

Send us our next social media cover art

Thu, 02/01/2018 - 12:00

We want to highlight on our Facebook page and Twitter profile where you live and work.

We’re looking for photos of your town or city’s landmarks, skylines, courthouses, prominent buildings, monuments, natural areas, and anything else you might think to be unique to where you live and practice. Be sure to send in a pic of your law firm or workspace too.

Photos can be submitted to tbj@texasbar.com, through Twitter by tagging the State Bar account (@statebaroftexas) and using the hashtag #TXBarCoverPic in your post, and through Instagram by including the bar’s page and also using the hashtag #TXBarCoverPic in your post.

Featured photos will be selected by members of the State Bar staff and submitters will be notified of when their photo will appear as the cover photo and for which profile it will be appearing. Some of our favorites will be featured on the State Bar’s social media accounts.

Disclaimer: By submitting any photographs via social media to #TXBarCoverPic at the State Bar of Texas, you agree to give the State Bar of Texas, Texas Bar Blog, and Texas Bar Journal the right to use, publish, and edit the photograph(s) and that they can credit you by name upon publication. You also agree that the photograph(s) and additional information you submit are original, accurate, under your ownership, and that they do not violate the rights of any third party.

A New Day for Children

Wed, 01/31/2018 - 16:38

It is a new day for our most precious resource—our children. The creation of the State Bar of Texas Child Protection Law Section became a reality on January 26, when the State Bar of Texas Board of Directors voted unanimously to form the new section. Both the Family Law and Juvenile Law sections enthusiastically supported this effort. This significant accomplishment represents decades of hard work on the part of many legal professionals throughout the state who are committed to improving the lives of children.

The history of child welfare protection law is relatively brief. Traditionally, children had few rights, with full authority over their lives being vested in their parents. A paradigm shift began in the 1960s with the help of several Supreme Court decisions extending certain constitutional rights to children. During the 1960s, the Department of Public Welfare began to deal head-on with abuse and neglect in Texas. In 1962, the U.S. Congress defined abuse and neglect in the child welfare provisions of the Public Welfare Amendments to the Social Security Act. And in 1974, the federal movement to prevent child abuse and neglect began in earnest with the creation of the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, or CAPTA. This act created the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect, or NCCAN, and provided federal funding to state child-protection agencies.

Thankfully, the historical treatment of children as chattel has given way to our current recognition that children are individuals entitled to protection and respect. Today society realizes that children are frequently innocent participants in events over which they have no control and from which they must be sheltered. Two competing realities present real challenges in this area of the law: (1) children frequently lack the maturity and knowledge necessary to protect themselves and to make appropriate decisions, and (2) children are worthy individuals entitled to varying degrees of independence, deference, and respect depending upon their maturity levels.

As a jurist who has devoted much of my professional career to helping children, I am proud beyond words of this meaningful action taken by the State Bar. The willingness of the bar to create and support this section reflects society’s move toward recognition of children as autonomous beings with individual needs, desires, feelings, and concerns. I admire the State Bar of Texas for rising to the challenge—our children deserve it.

Debra H. Lehrmann is a justice of the Supreme Court of Texas and the inaugural chair of the State Bar of Texas Child Protection Law Section.


Ex-FBI agent: State Bar of Texas response to 2012 embezzlement ‘adequate and proper’

Wed, 01/31/2018 - 16:13

Procedural changes made by State Bar of Texas staff immediately after a 2012 embezzlement case were “adequate and proper” and should be enough to prevent another such theft, according to a member of the financial task force appointed by President-elect Joe K. Longley.

Dallas attorney William D. Brown, a former FBI special agent and a forensic accountant who specializes in fraud and misconduct investigations, analyzed the internal control system at the State Bar before and after the crime. The bar’s current written controls are sufficient to address the issues raised by the embezzlement, Brown said during a State Bar Board of Directors meeting Friday in San Antonio.

“I think the controls and the changes that were made subsequent to the discovery of the theft are adequate and proper, and I think we should probably not have any problems like this in the future,” Brown said, noting that it’s virtually impossible to entirely rule out such a crime. He later added: “The proper corrective actions were taken.”

Brown, who also provided a written report summarizing his findings for Longley’s Financial Responsibility and Fiscal Control Task Force, praised State Bar staff members for aiding his investigation. The staff provided a large volume of audit reports and other documentation and met with him for hours to corroborate accounting policies and procedures, he said, adding that the staff was fully cooperative.

“The type of work that I do is incredibly intrusive,” Brown told the board. “I’m really appreciative of the effort they [the staff] put in.”

Brown’s findings echo past comments by State Bar officials, including Immediate Past President Frank Stevenson and former Executive Director Michelle Hunter, who defended the bar’s handling of the embezzlement when it became an issue in the 2017 president-elect race.

State Bar staff discovered in April 2012 that the bar’s membership director, Kathleen M. “Kathy” Holder, who also worked as a deputy clerk for the Texas Supreme Court, had been embezzling funds for years from a Supreme Court account that was outside the scope of the State Bar’s audit. The State Bar’s chief finance officer, Cheryl Howell, discovered the embezzlement when a monthly bank statement was inadvertently delivered to the accounting department instead of Holder. Holder was quickly fired, charges were filed, a conviction was obtained, and processes were changed to prevent it from happening again, State Bar officials have said.

Brown said Holder had exclusive access to the account in question in her capacity as deputy clerk of the Supreme Court. “The accounting department inside the State Bar really had no responsibility for monitoring this account,” Brown said. “It was just happenstance that they found this [embezzlement].”

The State Bar immediately reported the theft to Austin police and within a week provided detailed financial records to assist in the investigation, which Brown called an “unbelievably quick” response. Through an insurance claim and court-ordered restitution, the State Bar recovered a “vast majority” of the more than $550,000 shown to have been stolen by Holder, he said.

The task force continues to investigate whether to recommend issuing Holder an IRS Form 1099, in an attempt to force her to pay income tax on the amount stolen, Brown said.

Update from State Bar President Tom Vick—Candidates Approved and Other News

Mon, 01/29/2018 - 16:57

Editor’s note: State Bar of Texas President Tom Vick sent the following message to members Friday. 

I hope the new year finds you well. Please read below for updates from Friday’s quarterly meeting of the State Bar Board of Directors in San Antonio.

2018 President-elect Race

The State Bar board unanimously approved the nominations of Lisa Blue of Dallas and Randy Sorrels of Houston in the race for the next president-elect. Click here to read the news release and to learn more about these candidates, and pick up the April issue of the Texas Bar Journal for a Q&A. Voting is April 2 to May 1, and results will be announced May 1. The winner will serve as State Bar president from June 2019 until June 2020.

Election Policy Changes  

The board approved changes to State Bar policy and rules to update our election procedures for president-elect and district director to ensure that the process is fair and all candidates have the same opportunities to campaign. The board voted to add a 180-day expiration date on petition signatures—a provision that matches the law governing petitions in other state elections. The board also decided to approve board-nominated candidates in September in future years, instead of January. Taken together, these changes will ensure that the campaign periods are roughly equal for president-elect candidates, regardless of whether they are nominated by our board or certified through petition.

As part of the same process, the board approved sweeping changes to the board policy manual that relaxed or removed many campaign restrictions to ensure that director and president-elect candidates are all able to freely present their views of and visions for the bar.

Update on Embezzlement Issue 

A member of President-elect Joe K. Longley’ s financial task force reported that the procedural changes State Bar staff made immediately following a 2012 embezzlement case would likely prevent the incident from happening today. As we have reported in the past, the State Bar staff discovered in 2012 that an employee embezzled funds from an account outside the State Bar’s audit authority. As soon as the theft was discovered, that employee was fired, charges were filed, a conviction obtained, and processes were changed to ensure that it could not happen again.

As part of the task force’s work, Dallas attorney William D. Brown, who has more than 40 years of forensic accounting and/investigative experience, was tasked with analyzing the internal control system at the State Bar before and after the embezzlement. He determined that current written controls “adequately address the issues raised” by the theft. At the meeting Friday, he also thanked the State Bar staff for their cooperation and transparency in aiding his extensive analysis. I encourage you to read the whole report here. 

Internal Records Policy 

Some members have contacted us with questions about a proposed internal records policy pending before the board of directors. This article from the Texas Bar Blog offers a good overview of the proposal. Currently, the State Bar lacks a policy on how to handle requests from officers and directors for records not subject to the Texas Public Information Act when the executive director has concerns about a particular request. The proposed policy was designed to provide more transparency, not less, by giving the final authority to release such records to the board of directors—your elected representatives—instead of the executive director. At the board meeting Friday, the policy manual subcommittee informed the board it was delaying action on this proposal to allow for more study.

Open Enrollment & Teledoc Benefit 

Despite an open enrollment period half as long as in years past (45 vs. 90 days), enrollments in the Texas Bar Private Insurance Exchange have far exceeded expectations. We saw an astonishing 18 percent increase in individual major medical enrollments and a healthy 16 percent increase in employer and employee major medical enrollments in 2018—surpassing last year’s projections.

These numbers are particularly impressive given that nationwide, health care enrollments for 2018 are either the same as or slightly lower than for 2017. These numbers are good news for the State Bar’s efforts to provide health insurance opportunities for hardworking Texas attorneys, their families, and their employees.

In addition, enrollments in Teladoc, which allows lawyers and their families to receive extremely low-cost medical evaluations and even (in certain cases) prescriptions via web, phone, and mobile app—without ever setting foot in a doctor’s office—are up 88 percent when compared to last year. Any member who has purchased a product from the Texas Bar Private Insurance Exchange is eligible to receive Teladoc at no cost. In many cases, Teladoc allows Texas attorneys and their families to avoid crowded (and potentially infectious) medical waiting rooms while obtaining quality care for their medical needs.

It’s an honor to serve as your State Bar president. If you have any questions or suggestions, please let me know.

State Bar of Texas, TYLA announce president-elect candidates

Fri, 01/26/2018 - 15:38

Texas attorneys will choose between Lisa Blue of Dallas and Randy Sorrels of Houston in the race for the next president-elect of the State Bar of Texas. The State Bar Board of Directors today approved their nominations as president-elect candidates during its quarterly meeting in San Antonio.

Also, the Texas Young Lawyers Association recently nominated Raymond Baeza of El Paso and Victor Flores of Denton as candidates for TYLA president-elect.

State Bar of Texas and TYLA members will cast ballots April 2 to May 1, and election results will be announced May 1. The winner of each race will serve as president from June 2019 until June 2020.

Here are the candidates:

State Bar of Texas candidates

Lisa Blue

Lisa Blue practices in the Dallas law firm of Baron and Blue. With her late husband, Fred Baron, she supervised 800-plus employees and managed all financial aspects at Baron & Budd, which became one of the largest environmental law firms in the U.S. Before that, she worked in the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office, where she prosecuted more than 125 cases to verdict before advancing to the DA’s Organized Crime Unit. Blue has tried 80-90 complex civil cases to verdict.

Blue served as president of the American Association for Justice from 2014-2015 and was inducted into the National Trial Lawyer Hall of Fame in 2015. She has been named one of the Top 100 Most Influential Lawyers in America, one of the Top 50 Women Litigators in the U.S. by National Law Journal, and received numerous other state and national recognitions for her legal expertise.

Blue received her undergraduate degree from the University of Georgia, two master’s degrees in counseling psychology from the University of Virginia, a Ph.D. in counseling psychology from the University of North Texas, and a J.D. from South Texas College of Law Houston. Blue is currently a full-time practicing lawyer with a caseload of over 500 individual cases ranging from nuisance, defect cases, negligence, and general personal injury.

Randy Sorrels

Randy Sorrels practices law and manages a law firm. The product of a military family, his approach is straightforward: have a disciplined plan, use common sense, build consensus, and work hard.

Sorrels is double board certified in personal injury trial law and civil trial law. He is the managing partner at Abraham, Watkins, Nichols, Sorrels, Agosto & Aziz, which is the oldest plaintiffs personal injury law firm in Texas. While he is regularly recognized by Texas Monthly as one of its Top 100 Lawyers in Texas in his client representation, he also is passionate about pro bono work. His philanthropy has established The Randall O. Sorrels Legal Clinics at South Texas College of Law Houston, which houses 19 different clinics supporting the Houston community.

Sorrels also has been a leader in the legal community. He has served as president of the Houston Bar Association, the Houston Trial Lawyers Association and the Texas Association of Civil Trial & Appellate Specialists. He serves on the board of directors of South Texas College of Law Houston and the Texas Trial Lawyers Association. He is a past chair of the Fellows of the Texas Bar Foundation.

A magna cum laude graduate of both Houston Baptist University and South Texas College of Law Houston, Sorrels is married to a lawyer and has four children, including two who seek to become lawyers.

Texas Young Lawyers Association candidates

Raymond Baeza

Raymond Baeza is a trial attorney for Farmers Insurance in El Paso. He serves as the vice president of the TYLA Board of Directors and the District 14 director. He has served as a co-chair to the Law Focused Education and Public Service in the Community committees.

Baeza received the TYLA President’s Award of Merit in 2015 and 2016. He has contributed to and presented multiple TYLA programs, including: Resources for Foster Care Children, Vote America, and I Was The First. You Can Be a Lawyer Too! He is a graduate of the LeadershipSBOT program and a Texas Bar Foundation Fellow.

Baeza is a board member of the El Paso Young Lawyers Association, serving twice as the treasurer and most recently, the vice president. In 2016, Baeza was awarded El Paso’s Outstanding Young Lawyer of the Year.

When he’s not in the courtroom, he tries to keep up with his wife, Melissa, and their 2-year-old son, Ethan.

Baeza graduated from Texas Tech University School of Law in 2010.

Victor Flores

Victor Flores is a U.S. Marine Corps Iraq War veteran. He practices government law in Denton and serves on the Texas Bar Journal Board of Editors, State Bar of Texas Government Law Council, Texas Young Lawyers Association, and ABA Young Lawyer Division Council.

Flores has led many TYLA projects and partnerships including, Vote America!, which inspired civic engagement among youth; Strength in Unity, aimed at improving police-community relations; Breaking the Silence, addressing attorney mental health; and One Love, helping students avoid abusive relationships.

He also is a Texas Bar Foundation fellow, frequent speaker at State Bar continuing legal education programs, a mentor with Communities In Schools of North Texas, and legal counsel for his church.

For his service to the public and the bar, Flores has received the Pedro “Pete” Serrano Leadership Award, a resolution from 2016–17 State Bar President Frank Stevenson, and TYLA’s President’s Award of Merit.

Flores’ favorite breaks from work are date nights with his wife, Kristal, and reading bedtime stories with his son, Brennan.

Austin Bar Foundation honors attorneys at annual fundraising gala

Thu, 01/25/2018 - 16:00

Above from left: Austin Bar Foundation award winners Richard Pena, Randy Cubriel, Betty Baili Torres, Clarke Heidrick Jr., Tracy Walters McCormack, Rev. Joseph C. Parker Jr., and Caitlin Haney Johnston.
Photograph courtesy of the Austin Bar Association.

More than 550 members of the Austin legal community attended the 15th annual Austin Bar Foundation Gala on January 20 at the JW Marriott in Austin. The event raised funds to support and expand legal-related charitable and education programs in Central Texas, including Austin Adoption Day, free legal advice clinics for veterans, the Self-Represented Litigant Project, the Diversity Fellowship Program, and scholarships for Texas LGBT law students in conjunction with the Austin LGBT Bar Association. The foundation has also awarded more than $132,000 in grants to organizations such as CASA of Travis County, American Gateways, Austin Tenants Council, Texas Accountants, Lawyers for the Arts, volunteer legal services, and others.

Seven attorneys were honored at the gala for their contributions to the Austin legal community, and the community at large.

The Distinguished Lawyer Award, which recognizes attorneys who have practiced law for 30 years or more and have significantly contributed to the legal profession and the greater community, was awarded to Clarke Heidrick Jr., an attorney with Graves, Dougherty, Hearon & Moody; the Rev. Joseph C. Parker Jr., senior pastor of David Chapel Missionary Baptist Church; and Betty Baili Torres, executive director of the Texas Access to Justice Foundation.

Randy Cubriel and Caitlin Haney Johnston, cofounders of the Cancer Law Clinic, or CANLAW, received the Donald H. Walter Community Excellence Award, which is presented to an attorney or judge who has recently made a significant impact in the community and raised the profile of the legal profession.

Tracy Walters McCormack, a senior lecturer and director of advocacy at the University of Texas School of Law, received the Larry F. York Mentoring Award, which is given to an Austin-area lawyer or judge who has demonstrated exceptional skill and generosity in mentoring younger members of the bar.

Richard Pena, president and CEO of The Law Offices of Richard Pena, received the Joseph C. Parker Jr. Diversity Award, which honors a firm or an individual who has led the way in bringing diversity to Austin’s legal community.

Texas’ high courts hold historic joint hearing, establish mental health commission

Thu, 01/25/2018 - 09:00

The Texas Supreme Court and the Court of Criminal Appeals held a first-ever joint hearing on January 11 and established the Judicial Commission on Mental Health. The move came after hours of testimony from its supporters who say the time is now for the judiciary to step up its efforts in helping people with mental health issues.

Through the collaboration among the judiciary, policymakers, and mental health experts, the commission will help the state’s two highest courts better serve people struggling with mental health issues.

“We often think of mental illness as an invisible disease, but its effects can clearly be seen in our courts as Texans with these challenges find themselves in every part of the justice system: criminal, civil, probate, juvenile, and child welfare,” Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan L. Hecht said at the packed Supreme Court Courtroom. “Because people in mental health crises are more likely to encounter law enforcement than medical professionals, the courts often serve as the point of entry to access mental health services.”

A 2016 report by the Texas Judicial Council’s Mental Health Committee stressed the importance of the judiciary’s role in improving the lives of people living with mental health issues. The report cited the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute, which found the state spends about $1.4 billion each year in emergency room costs and $650 million in local justice system costs to address mental illness and substance use disorders.

“Lawmakers have made great strides for passing judicial council-led reforms, including allocating additional funding for mental health and instituting better screening processes, jail diversion, and competency restoration,” said Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Presiding Judge Sharon Keller, who served as the council’s vice-chair alongside Hecht, who served as chair. “Despite these improvements, there is more work to be done.”

The committee report found that of the 27 million people living in Texas in 2016, about one million adults experience serious and persistent mental illnesses. Those include schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder, and major depression. About 500,000 children 17 or younger have severe emotional disturbance, the report said.

Retired Justice Harriet O’Neill, who spearheaded the formation of the Supreme Court’s Children’s Commission and served on the board of directors of the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute, relayed to the high courts her findings researching the intersection of the judiciary and mental health. Courts need a new problem-solving collaborative model to stop the cycle of arrest and decompensation, or deteriorating mental health, she said.

Courts act as gatekeepers for families in crisis, O’Neill said. Children in foster care don’t enter or leave foster care without court and judicial supervision. The same is true for youth and adults with mental health issues who come through the juvenile or criminal justice systems, she said.

“At these critical intervention points, courts have a unique opportunity to profoundly impact lives for better or for worse,” O’Neill said.

Angel Carroll, a junior at Texas Tech University, spoke to the courts of her experiences with mental health issues and the juvenile justice system.

When she was 9, her stepfather died in Afghanistan and her mother suffered from alcohol abuse and debilitating mental health illness, she said. Carroll’s struggles manifested in anxiety, depression, and an addiction to prescription pills. She was in and out of the juvenile justice system, and by the age of 15, she was placed in foster care.

“As an adult I’ve often wondered how many times I could have avoided being sent to jail, detention, being on probation if someone only knew what I was going through, and I could receive that proper treatment,” Carroll said.

It wasn’t until she met with a court-appointed attorney that things turned around. That attorney, she said, listened to her concerns, understood her challenges, and tried her best to help. These days, Carroll is out of trouble and pursuing an education in communications and social work. With a similar support system through a judicial commission on mental health, courts can similarly improve the future and change the lives of millions, Carroll said.

“I firmly believe one of the most critical factors between me becoming successful and where I am today and not a statistic is the fact that she (the attorney) had an education and understanding of mental illness,” Carroll said. “I was lucky to have had that support system.”





Texas Bar Foundation grant helps prosecutors attend Conference on Crimes Against Women

Wed, 01/24/2018 - 09:00

A grant from the Texas Bar Foundation will give about 10 prosecutors and other legal professionals from rural communities access to workshops, computer labs, and case studies at the 13th Annual Conference on Crimes Against Women, or CCAW, in Dallas April 16-19.

The foundation provided $10,000 in scholarship funding, which will cover registration and hotel expenses. This is the fifth year that the foundation has provided funding for this event.

The conference, which trains and educates attendees on identification, investigation, and prosecution on domestic and dating violence, sexual assault, stalking, and human trafficking, is presented by the Genesis Women’s Shelter & Support and the Dallas Police Department.

According to a press release by the Genesis Women’s Shelter & Support, more than one in three Texas women will experience abuse in their lifetime. The conference focuses primarily on women and girls from all ethnicities, cultures, and socio-economic backgrounds, including underserved victims such as tribal and undocumented women.

For more information, go to conferencecaw.org.

State Bar considers policy for internal records requests

Tue, 01/23/2018 - 14:07

The State Bar of Texas Board of Directors is considering a policy that would establish a process for handling certain internal records requests from State Bar officers and directors.

The proposed policy sets forth guidelines for records requests from officers and directors other than requests subject to the Texas Public Information Act, or TPIA. The State Bar would continue to follow the TPIA and all applicable state and federal law in providing public access to State Bar records.

The board’s executive committee voted 11-1 to approve the proposed policy during its January 11 meeting, with President-elect Joe K. Longley voting against it. The full board of directors will consider the policy for approval at its January 26 board meeting in San Antonio.

Under the proposed policy, requests by an officer or director for State Bar records not subject to the TPIA would first be submitted to the State Bar executive director in writing, with a copy to all officers and the chair of the board.

The executive director would then review the records pursuant to a “reasonable procedure,” to be developed in consultation with the president, president-elect, immediate past president, and the chair of the board. The executive director would also determine whether state or federal law restricted compliance with a request.

It is anticipated that the executive director will respond directly and fully to most internal requests from officers and directors. The policy would come in to play only if the executive director felt the need to seek the guidance and will of the board regarding how to respond to a particular request. A majority vote by the board of directors would be required to accept or deny an officer’s or director’s request. Forty-six directors from across the state make up the State Bar board’s voting members.

Under the proposed policy, in the event a requesting officer or director disagrees with the decision of the executive director regarding a records request, they may appeal the decision to the board of directors. The majority vote of the board would be needed to make the final determination.

The executive director manages the State Bar’s day-to-day operations and by statute serves as its public information officer and custodian of records. But currently, the State Bar lacks a policy on how to handle requests from officers and directors for records not subject to the TPIA when the executive director has concerns about a particular request, President Tom Vick said.

“The idea is to set up a procedure so that when these [internal records] requests are made, that they can be complied with, and if somebody is not satisfied with the decision made on the E.D. [executive director] level, who is the keeper of our records, then it provides for an appeal to the board,” Vick said during the executive committee meeting. “So the board gets to make that decision.”

Longley opposed the policy, saying, “We don’t need a gatekeeper to let us see what we’re entitled to as officers and directors of the State Bar of Texas.” Any officer or director “should be able to access, confidentially, documents that are on the State Bar server or email that is a State Bar record as defined in the proposal,” Longley said.

Baylor Law to offer executive LL.M. in litigation management

Tue, 01/23/2018 - 09:00

Baylor Law School will offer an executive LL.M. in litigation management beginning in the fall 2018.

The niche degree, open only to attorneys with at least three years of law practice, will focus on controlling rising litigation costs. Led by attorneys and judges, the online and in-person courses will include fundamentals of 21st century litigation management and strategy, proving and attacking damages, managing complex arbitration and ADR issues, data analytics and cybersecurity, managing e-discovery, regulatory issues, and practical strategies for successfully navigating through trial.

“Litigation is a fact of life for businesses in America,” David Dial, a partner in Weinberg Wheeler Hudgins Gunn & Dial, said in a press release. “Successfully and efficiently managing litigation involves teamwork between the client and the attorneys. This cannot happen unless one truly understands the process and has the tools necessary for managing litigation. I believe the Baylor Executive LL.M. in Litigation Management will provide that understanding and equip its participants with the necessary tools.”

Attorneys in the program can expect to spend about 10 hours weekly over 14 months working on the degree through interactive online learning. Attorneys will then gather three times in Waco at the law school for intense, two-week residential learning experiences, working with experts to synthesize and master material.

“Graduates of the program will leave with an agile sense of both the business and the strategy of litigation,” Professor Liz Fraley, co-creator of the degree, said in a press release. “We’re addressing a key issue both for clients and for attorneys: how to manage complex and expensive litigation in a way that is both cost effective and goal oriented.”

Professor Jim Wren, the creative drive behind the executive LL.M., said the students will learn from national leaders in the field.

“We have been talking almost every day to people from around the nation who are the cream of the crop and who are already doing litigation management well,” he said in a press release. “We’re going out there and finding the people doing various aspects in the very best way and we’re bringing them in. It’s going to be a melting pot of the best of practices out there.”

Baylor Law is now accepting applications for the inaugural class. To apply or to find more information, go to llm.baylor.edu or email Ed Nelson at ed_nelson@baylor.edu.

State Bar of Texas Native American Law Section celebrates culture at annual conference

Mon, 01/22/2018 - 17:00

When the Native American Law Section Conference comes to the Texas Law Center in Austin, it’s a celebration. On January 19 the Chickasaw Nation Stomp Dance Troupe performed a friendship song and a stomp dance to the large crowd gathered in the lobby. Myomay, a bateleur eagle from Tanzania, wowed the group as well. The 10-year-old bird survives on a diet of rabbit and quail and calls Sia, the Comanche Nation Ethno-Ornithological Initiative in Oklahoma, home.

Special recognition was also given to the founders and leaders of the State Bar of Texas Native American Law Section, whose members advocate the common professional interests of Native American lawyers and those with an interest in Native American law in the state.

The State Commission on Judicial Conduct releases annual report

Fri, 01/19/2018 - 16:00

The State Commission on Judicial Conduct has released its fiscal year 2017 annual report, which covers its activities from Sept. 1, 2016 to Aug. 31, 2017. It is available online at scjc.texas.gov/about/annual-reports/.

The State Bar of Texas’ annual report can be found on the bar’s website. The Texas Young Lawyers Association has also released its annual report. The Commission for Lawyer Discipline released its annual report, which can be found online.

Share Your Blog on Texas Bar Today

Wed, 01/17/2018 - 06:13

Share your blog with more readers!

Texas Bar Today is a curated blog updated daily that features legal news and commentary by Texas legal professionals: www.texasbartoday.com.

Stories of Recovery: It’s a Disease, Not a Character Flaw (And It Won’t Get Better on Its Own)

Wed, 01/17/2018 - 06:00

Editor’s note: This post is part of the Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program’s Stories of Recovery series. TLAP offers confidential assistance for lawyers, law students, and judges with substance abuse or mental health issues. Call TLAP at 1-800-343-8527 (TLAP) and find more information at tlaphelps.org.

There is no doubt that I am an alcoholic, and there is no doubt that I was an actively drinking alcoholic for years but didn’t recognize or admit it. It did great damage to my life and the lives of those around me. So how could it be that I, a longtime successful trial lawyer handling complex cases for national and international companies, could have failed to see or understand this crucial fact that is now so obvious to me and to those around me?

There were several reasons. The first reason was shame. My father was loving and attentive, but he was, for all of his adult life, a man who suffered from raging alcoholism. Although he was relatively successful professionally, his drinking did most certainly wreck his life. He was arrested and jailed many times for public drunkenness and DWI, all of which caused me great shame and embarrassment. I was never going to be like him, i.e. an alcoholic. On an intellectual level I knew that alcoholism was a disease, but on an emotional and psychological level, I felt it would be shameful for me to be an alcoholic. There was a lot of nonsense in this, but it was a powerful conviction that drove my actions for many years.

A second reason was that I was afraid that if I admitted I was an alcoholic, it would seriously damage my career—the precise opposite of what actually happened. But more about that a little later.

A third, and maybe the most important, reason was that I did not want to quit drinking. While I was composed and confident on the outside, inside it was a very different story. I was insecure and riddled with anxiety, and alcohol was what I used to banish my fears and quiet my ever-increasing anxieties. Suggesting to me that I should give up alcohol would be like suggesting to a man in deep water who cannot swim and is holding on to a life preserver that he should let go of the life preserver and try to make it on his own. It was out of the question.

Another less important but still significant reason I didn’t want to quit drinking was that I couldn’t imagine what life would be like without alcohol. I thought that being sober and being around sober people would be boring.

It turns out that, in fact, my life is much richer and more interesting than when I was drinking. As far as boredom is concerned, when I achieved a degree of sobriety and was around a group of people drinking heavily, I found out what real boredom was. There are few things more tiresome than to be around people who are drinking heavily. But I didn’t know that then.

Not only is it clear that alcoholism is a disease, it is a disease that is permanent, progressive, and ultimately fatal unless addressed. It would be a form of insanity for someone who has the disease to drink alcohol. So what was my solution? It was simple. I just didn’t admit that I was an alcoholic. That way I wouldn’t have to quit drinking.

The looniness of my way of thinking on that subject still baffles me. It is just like people who have some other serious disease—multiple sclerosis, for example—simply refusing to admit they have the disease, reasoning that then they won’t be harmed. Plus, I truly believed that I could control and moderate my drinking if I tried hard enough.

I thought I was giving up valuable ground if I admitted I was an alcoholic, but I was doing no such thing. If I was alcoholic and admitted it, I was an alcoholic. If I denied it, I was still an alcoholic. The only difference was that in the former case I would have been able to see that I needed to take meaningful steps to arrest the disease. Even though alcoholism is a permanent and progressive disease, it is one that can be brought and kept under control if the person will take a few simple steps. The steps are simple, but not easy.

The first and most crucial step is purely internal; it is for the person to admit that he or she cannot control his or her drinking. This is where I went so wrong. I knew that I drank too much, but I truly believed that if I were careful, I could drink like a normal person and control my drinking. I even bought a Breathalyzer so I could stop drinking before I was legally intoxicated. Really. I’m not making that up. Question: How many normal drinkers do you know who have bought their own Breathalyzer? Alas it didn’t work, and my drinking continued to increase.

Though it is hard to believe that I could persist in this grotesque delusion, it is exactly what happened to me and what happens to practically every person who has contracted the disease of alcoholism. Maybe not the part about buying a Breathalyzer, but every one of us has gone through amazing, almost unbelievable, self-delusion. And my persisting in drinking severely damaged me and my family. Would that I had understood much earlier that I had contracted the disease, because if I had truly understood that I was alcoholic, I would have known what to do. And what would that have been?

It would have been to seek help, help of exactly the kind that the Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program offers. It is of paramount importance to understand that recovery without help is extremely difficult, if not impossible, whereas recovery with help is quite doable.

And what is successful recovery? For me it is living without alcohol and not missing it at all. Really. I’m not making that up, either. Before I entered my life of recovery, I could not imagine living without alcohol; now I’m genuinely happy to have it out of my life. My belief that alcohol was necessary for me was just one more of the illusions I entertained that turned out to be the precise opposite of reality.

Remember when I mentioned my fear of career damage? Well, what I found was that the group of people with whom I found help were some of the most intelligent, successful, and supportive men and women I have known, including many, many prominent lawyers, judges, and law school professors. Not only did entering into recovery from alcoholism not harm my career, it helped it greatly.

I wish I had understood earlier. I’m glad I finally did.

Update: Ongoing job scam targets law offices

Fri, 01/12/2018 - 09:00

A job scam related to fraudulent job postings for an office assistant position with a law firm on Indeed.com and other job listing sites first reported in September 2017 is ongoing.

Applicants to the fake job posting received an email response from the poster that said, “Thank you very much for your application. We really appreciate you taking the time to consider us as a potential employer. However, the position you applied for has been filled, but you have been offered another position at our client’s company as a Personal Assistant due to your exceptional resume.”

The email asked for personal details such as address, phone number, and email address. Following emails originally came from a person claiming to be “Dominique Walter,” but the name has been changed to “Amber” in recent emails.

Respondents to the email would receive a check in the mail, which was to be cashed or deposited in his or her bank account. The recipients of the check are told to notify the sender once the check has been deposited. It is at this point that contact between the two parties would cease.

Comments sought on proposed rule revisions by February 8

Thu, 01/11/2018 - 09:49

The State Bar of Texas is seeking comment on proposed rule revisions. As a result of legislation passed following the Sunset Review process, changes to attorney disciplinary process are required through rule revisions proposed by the Chief Disciplinary Counsel (CDC) and adopted by the Texas Supreme Court.

The primary objective of the legislative mandates is to promote earlier resolution of complaints and increased consistency in the process.

Click here to learn more about the proposed revisions and provide comment.

The State Bar will collect comments through February 8, 2018.