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South Texas College of Law Houston hosts Harvey relief training

Tue, 10/17/2017 - 11:00

A seminar was held to provide lawyers Hurricane Harvey disaster relief training on October 11 at South Texas College of Law Houston.

Saundra Brown, of Lone Star Legal Aid’s Disaster Relief Unit, led the training that focused on Federal Emergency Management Agency applications and how to file an appeal for a FEMA denial.

“We are anticipating more FEMA denials to come in so we wanted to prepare pro bono attorneys in an area where there will be a need soon,” said Teresa Messer, secretary of the State Bar of Texas Asian Pacific Interest Section. “There had already been some trainings on how to file a FEMA claim but not any that focused on what happens when the claim is denied and how to appeal that claim.”

The hope was to reach communities “that have been impacted by Harvey but where there may be language or cultural barriers to those individuals seeking legal assistance,” Messer said. “Because the legal needs for Harvey survivors will vary and last for several years, this will likely be one of many pro bono efforts that will be organized by the local community.”

Information was also provided about legal clinics and pro bono efforts lawyers can take part in.

The training was sponsored by the Asian American Bar Association of Houston, State Bar of Texas Asian Pacific Interest Section, Boat People SOS—Houston, Hispanic Bar Association of Houston, Houston ECI, Houston Lawyers Association, Lone Star Legal Aid, OCA Greater Houston, South Asian Bar Association of Houston, and South Texas College of Law Houston.

“The leaders of the various diversity organizations that co-sponsored this event shared a common goal to help the people of Houston rebuild what they have lost by providing some form of pro bono assistance,” said Punam Kaji, chair of the State Bar of Texas Asian Pacific Interest Section. “We will continue to keep our ear to the ground regarding Harvey-related access to justice needs and specific legal issues so we can inform our membership and again get attorneys trained and ready to assist.”

Stories of Recovery: ‘Half the man I used to be and twice the man I ever was’

Mon, 10/16/2017 - 14:45

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.

I am supposed to be dead! I weighed over 350 pounds, had high blood pressure, borderline high cholesterol, borderline high blood sugar, atrial fibrillation, and was taking a daily blood thinner.

For God’s sake, I was a 53-year-old lawyer with over 25 years’ experience negotiating multimillion-dollar transactions, supervising major litigation. I should be able to figure out how to lose weight! Research? I needed to do more research! Surely there was an answer!

I had exercised before—pumping iron, playing tennis, jogging, among others. I had lost weight before on numerous diets including Weight Watchers, Atkins, Stillman, the Zone, Optifast, and dozens of others, but I could never keep it off.

How many times had I promised my family, my wife, my children, I would lose weight. For the last seven years I was fiercely determined to lose that weight. I started exercising, and not just low-impact aerobics, step classes, and yoga. I was going all out. I was doing spin classes, hundred-mile bicycle rides, marathons, and Olympic-distance triathlons weighing over 350 pounds!?

I did the Tour de Tucson Century ride and the White Rock Marathon. I did the Kings Trail Triathlon in Maui. Swam a mile in the Pacific. Rode up and down Haleakala Crater three times! Walked six miles in the hot lava fields. I don’t know whether I was closer to God or closer to a heart attack! But I didn’t lose weight. How could I? Food was my friend. Food was my partner. Food was my master.

A partner at a law firm I worked at learned I was doing a triathlon. He marched down to my office, beating his breast, and said, “Anonymous, I was a triathlete in college! You’re no triathlete!” I said, “Richard (not his real name), when you’re at the starting line, you look at the person on your left and the person on the right and ask yourself, ‘Can I beat them?’ When I go to the starting line, I don’t look to my left or right, I look inside myself and I ask, ‘Can I help him?’” My favorite saying at the time was by John ‘The Penguin” Bingham, who said, “The miracle isn’t that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start.”

Sure I was nervous. I had no plans to “win.” I wanted to lose weight. I just wanted to survive. And being a lawyer, I could analyze the event, identify challenges, and craft solutions so that I didn’t die and hopefully wasn’t injured. I did the same in the practice of law. In law and in athletic events, I had fear and anxiety. What am I going to miss? But I plowed through.

I had learned to self-medicate with food. In my office and my bike jersey, I had a stash of candy and nutrition bars (a euphemism for a candy bar with fiber or protein). I could always find a vending machine. And at the office and at events there were bagels and donuts and cookies, and let’s not forget the pasta parties and client lunches and dinners. It’s called business development in the office and carbohydrate loading at the event. I now recognize it as binge eating.

I was looking up the word “restore” and found its origin from Old French “restorer,” and from Latin “restaurare.” “Restaurare” looked similar to another word … oh, restaurant — from French “restaurer” meaning provide food for, literally, “restore to a former state.” Something meant to restore me was instead destroying me. Can you tell I enjoy lawyering?

Still I found no solution. Nothing worked. I quit looking. I gave up. I had nothing left. I didn’t know anywhere else to turn except maybe stomach surgery, and for me that was not a good answer. I resigned myself to an early death.

Then on April 1, 2007, April Fool’s Day, I was tricked into going to a 12-step meeting for overeating. I went mainly to prove that it wouldn’t work. As an overweight person, family and friends give me credit for just trying a new diet. At the meeting I heard a few things: one woman said she’d lost 130 pounds in a year without exercise, someone else said “honesty will kill this disease!” and I was reminded “it’s one day at a time.”

I hated the meeting. I tried to run away, but people reached out to me in person and by phone. Two weeks later I was given a sponsor. I say “given” because I didn’t look for one. I was looking for something that would fail, not a program that worked.

Fifteen months later, without surgery, pills, or even exercise, over 150 pounds were gone. How did that happen? I was over 50, big boned, with a slow metabolism, so I thought. I tell people now that I have three college degrees but I’m most proud of my honorary Ph.D. in stupidity. I earned it.

Today I’m half the man I used to be and twice the man I ever was. I’m healthy. I don’t take any meds except a baby aspirin. There is wreckage from the past but nothing I can’t live with. Today I’m a better lawyer, better friend, better husband, father, brother, grandfather (three times, thank you). Who knew food was influencing me so profoundly and that getting honest and willing to get off my trigger foods and into fit spiritual condition was a more natural organic solution?

Today I attend meetings, not just in the overeating program, but a relationship program and Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers. I volunteer and provide service when I’m able. LCL and the Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program have helped me learn to practice law imperfectly and mostly without anxiety. I’ve learned to ask for help from other members of LCL and from my Higher Power, who I call God. I was given this gift 10 years ago. It wasn’t just losing weight. It’s the whole new life and I have to learn how to live it.

I used to have a closet full of clothes in various sizes. I’ve given those away. Today, I have a life that fits like a custom suit, altered in all the right places. I must not take this gift for granted. Every day I express my gratitude for this gift. Writing this is an expression of gratitude. Even in these challenging times, it’s great to be alive, truly alive, and in recovery.

If anyone would like to hear more, or share their story with me, please contact TLAP and ask for my number. Call me. You’ll be doing me a favor. I share to remind myself what it was like, what happened, and what it’s like today to live in recovery.

Dallas Bar honors excellence in legal reporting with Philbin Awards

Fri, 10/13/2017 - 15:12

The Stephen Philbin Award winners.

The Dallas Bar Association honored Dallas-Fort Worth area journalists who exemplify excellence in legal reporting with its 34th Annual Stephen Philbin Awards on Friday.

The grand prize was awarded to Skip Hollandworth of Texas Monthly for “The Prisoner,” which tells the story of Edwin Debrow, who is serving a 40-year prison sentence for a murder committed at age 12. The story tackles the complex subject of what to to do longterm with children who commit violent crimes.

Other winners Friday were:

  • Suburban/Specialty Article: Kathy CruzHood County News, for her series “State of Despair”
  • Series/Investigative Article: Matt Goodman, D Magazine, for his series, “Coverage of Dr. Duntsch, the First Doctor Convicted for Harming Patients”
  • Breaking News: Naheed Rajwani, The Dallas Morning News, for her article “How a Texas Teen Accused of a Sexual Assault with a Coat Hanger Walked with Probation”
  • Feature Article: Christian McPhate, Patrick Williams, Sarah Schumacher, and Danny Fulgencio, Dallas Observer, for their article “Untrue Detective”
  • Visual/Multi-Media Story: Brett Shipp, Jason Trahan, and Mark Muller, WFAA-TV, for their article “Exonoree Payments Questioned”
  • Student Publication: Matt Fulkerson, The Shorthorn at the University of Texas-Arlington, for his article “Studies Show Carcinogen Prevalence in Drinking Water”

The Philbin Awards, established in 1983, honor Stephen Philbin, who was an active member of the Dallas Bar Association and a leading authority on media law. Winners in each of the categories receive a $1,000 cash award, with the Grand Prize winner receiving a $1,750 cash award.

According to a news release on the winning entries, judges considered educational value, accuracy, resourcefulness, as well as the journalist’s initiative in pursuing the story and the story’s contribution to public debate.

Texas Bar Private Insurance Exchange hosts free open enrollment luncheon

Thu, 10/12/2017 - 17:00

The Texas Bar Private Insurance Exchange will provide information about open enrollment for health care at a free luncheon starting at noon, October 17, at the Texas Law Center in Austin.

Topics at the luncheon will include a 2018 insurance market update, specific major medical insurance options in your area, how the Texas Bar Private Insurance Exchange can help, new group options, and business owners policy.

Space for the event is limited. The first 120 respondents will receive a confirmation email. The deadline to register is October 13. To RSVP, use the following links: Austin, Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio.

The national open enrollment period for individual health care coverage starts November 1 and ends December 15. Questions may be sent to memberbenefits@texasbar.com.

The Texas Bar Private Insurance Exchange is a multicarrier exchange launched by the State Bar of Texas as a clearinghouse for health insurance choices and other benefits for bar members, their staff, and dependents.

CANLAW Clinic helps cancer patients with estate planning

Thu, 10/12/2017 - 10:30

Two Austin attorneys discovered there was a void within the cancer community and decided to do something about it. In April 2017, they founded the CANLAW Clinic to provide estate planning legal services to cancer patients.

“The most rewarding aspect is knowing that our clients are equipped with the documents they need to deal with treatment and that the families will not be completely overwhelmed if their loved one does pass,” said co-founder Caitlin Haney Johnston. “Dealing with cancer is difficult in any situation, but not having the proper power of attorneys in place can make it even more overwhelming.”

Johnston and co-founder Randy Cubriel enlisted the Austin Bar Association, Austin Bar Foundation, Capital Area Paralegal Association, TXDocs, and other partners for the clinics. Each CANLAW Clinic offers a comprehensive estate planning package that covers wills, statutory durable power of attorney, medical power of attorney, HIPAA releases, and physicians directives (living wills). The clinics also provide documents for more complicated estate planning needs and matches clients with attorneys who can address those.

Clinics are four hours and provide qualifying clients with a one-on-one meeting with a pair of volunteer attorneys. The attorneys assist them in reviewing documents, appointing fiduciaries, and dividing up their estate. They draft documents and review them with clients. Volunteer proofreaders then go through the documents before they are signed before notaries and witnesses.

So far, CANLAW has helped more than 30 clients, including nine walk-ins at a clinic in September. Clinics, which take place twice a year, are held at community partners’ facilities around Austin. Johnston and Cubriel are determining a location for the next clinic, which will take place in spring 2018.

Cubriel said he wants the clinics to streamline estate planning for patients and survivors—whether in preparation for end of life or incapacitation—who are busy with medical appointments, work, and family.

“What we don’t want them to do is go online or to a bookstore (or office supply store) and get something that doesn’t really cover their needs and that more likely than not is not properly executed,” he said. “Our goal is to provide an opportunity for this clientele to get this issue addressed by licensed attorneys at one stop in a relatively short amount of time.”

For more information on qualifying for a clinic, go to cancerlawclinic.org.

State Bar of Texas, Dallas Bar Association win Luminary Awards

Thu, 10/12/2017 - 09:30

The State Bar of Texas received a Luminary Award for Excellence in Electronic Media and the Dallas Bar Association won one for Excellence in Special Projects at the National Association of Bar Executives Communications Section Workshop, held last week in St. Louis, Missouri.

Each year the workshop brings together bar associations from across the country to network, learn about new industry trends, and recognize their communications and marketing projects from the past year.

The State Bar received its award for a social media photo contest named #LawyerVacay. In the contest, attorneys were encouraged to share on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook photos showing how they spent their time recharging during the summer in an effort to promote a healthy work-life balance. Individuals submitted or posted photos and each of the bar’s social media platforms saw increased followers. The project received coverage on Law.com and Above the Law.

The Dallas Bar Association was honored for a special project, its North Texas Giving Day social media campaign. The goal of the project was to raise funds for the bar’s annual Equal Access to Justice Campaign, which provides free legal services in Dallas County through the Dallas Volunteer Attorney Program. In one day, $117,770 was raised.

Find our more about the other award winners on the NABE website.

Barratry PSA clarification

Mon, 10/09/2017 - 14:33

The State Bar of Texas promoted a PSA about barratry on this blog and on Texasbar.com in late August that included incomplete information about barratry or improper solicitation. The video was removed and the website was updated with additional information on September 8.

In many cases it is a crime in Texas for a lawyer or someone representing a lawyer to contact a person for purposes of legal representation if the person has not first requested the call or personal visit. The contact is not illegal if the attorney is not seeking payment or has a preexisting professional-client or family relationship with the person being contacted.

If you witness something you believe to be improper solicitation, or barratry, please get the name and phone number of the person making contact and report it to your local law enforcement authority or the State Bar Chief Disciplinary Counsel’s Office Toll Free at 866-224-5999.

Savings for outdoor events

Fri, 10/06/2017 - 08:00

Your Beneplace Savings Program has great deals to help you enjoy the great outdoors. Whether you’re testing your own limits or watching the action from box seats, check your savings website first to see how much you can save. You’ll find great deals on NFL tickets, bikes, golf equipment, and much more.

Premium Seats – Shop Premium Seats for NFL tickets, tailgate packages, hotel accommodations and VIP experiences. You’ll also find great deals on concerts, theater ticket, MLB tickets, and much more.
TicketsatWork – Planning a fall getaway? Check out TicketsatWork, where you have access to exclusive savings on admission to popular theme parks, events and attractions!
Raleigh – Whether you’re a recreational rider or a competitive cyclist, you’ll enjoy the style, performance and comfort of a Raleigh bike. Save 40%!
GolfEtail.com – Save $10 on orders over $100 at GolfEtail.com. You’ll find outstanding pricing on high quality golf apparel, equipment and more.
Ski Offers – Hit the slopes this winter without breaking the bank! Get the ultimate experience at some of the finest ski resorts the United States and Canada have to offer! Save on lift tickets, equipment rentals and lessons.

Current offers provided by Beneplace.

For more information on other discounts you’re eligible for as a member of the State Bar of Texas, visit texasbar.com/benefits.

Texas Bar Private Insurance Exchange
The Texas Bar Private Insurance Exchange is a multi-carrier private exchange designed for State Bar of Texas members and their staff and dependents. Available to both individuals and employer groups, the exchange offers a wide range of health insurance choices and more.

State Bar of Texas – Benefits & Services

Texas Bar College and Texas Bar College Endowment Fund make $20,000 donation to legal assistance programs

Wed, 10/04/2017 - 14:00

The Texas Bar College, with assistance from the Texas Bar College Endowment Fund, donated $10,000 to both the Houston Volunteer Lawyers Program and Lone Star Legal Aid to assist with post-Hurricane Harvey needs.

“The Texas Bar College board unanimously approved the donation to assist these two organizations in recovery efforts and all the victims of the hurricane’s legal issues,” Texas Bar College Executive Director Merianne Gaston said.

Gaston said the decision was made in light of the devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey, noting that Lone Star Legal Aid’s building burned as a result of the storm.

According to its website, the Texas Bar College’s mission is “(1) to recognize and encourage lawyers, paralegals and judges who maintain and enhance their professional skills and the quality of their service to the public by significant voluntary participation in legal education; (2) to promote among members of the State Bar and the general public the educational and public purposes of the College and its members; (3) to recognize and encourage the outstanding service to the legal profession and the public; and (4) to sponsor or otherwise assist in educational activities of significant merit and widespread relevance and applicability to the legal profession.”

The Texas Bar College Endowment Fund was “established by the Texas Bar College to promote professionalism of lawyers. The Fund will underwrite Texas Bar College CLE Programs for members, underwrite scholarships for Legal Aid Program lawyers, as well as other special requests for educational assistance.”

For more information on membership in the college, visit the website https://texasbarcollege.com or call Gaston at (512) 427-1819 or (800) 204-2222, ext. 1819.

Royal Furgeson retiring as UNT Dallas College of Law dean

Wed, 10/04/2017 - 10:00

Royal Furgeson, retired U.S. district judge and founding dean of the University of North Texas at Dallas College of Law, announced that he will step down from his position as dean on June 30, 2018. He will continue working on fundraising for the law school.

Furgeson, along with UNT Dallas President Bob Mong, Provost Betty Stewart, and UNT System Chancellor Lee Jackson, helped UNT Dallas College of Law gain accreditation from the American Bar Association in June 2017.

“Royal Furgeson is a true icon in Texas law and his legend has only grown stronger while building our new law school and leading it to American Bar Association accreditation,” said Mong in a press release. “We have been incredibly fortunate to have Judge Furgeson serve the UNT Dallas College of Law since beginning his appointment in 2013 and we’re thrilled that he will continue to serve the students, faculty, and staff he loves in a new role that will help prepare our law school for the bright future ahead.”

Furgeson is the former senior U.S. district judge for the Northern District of Texas, Dallas Division. He previously served in the El Paso, Midland, and San Antonio districts of the Western District of Texas prior to taking senior status. He served as a federal judge for more than 18 years.

UNT Dallas will conduct a national search for Furgeson’s replacement over the coming months.

Texas Bar Journal must-reads for October

Tue, 10/03/2017 - 12:45

Limited time? Go online to read the October issue of the Texas Bar Journal.Check out our editorial staff’s must-reads: attorneys helping victims of Hurricane Harvey, highlights from the 85th Legislature’s special session, a day in the life of an immigration attorney, and how immigration law overlaps with other practice areas. Don’t forget to read Movers and Shakers, Disciplinary Actions, and Memorials.

Hurricane Harvey
Texas attorneys answer the call to help.

The 85th Legislature’s Special Session
A recap of what happened—and why you need to know.

A Day in the Life of…
Jamie Diez, a border town immigration lawyer.

Intersection
Where immigration law overlaps other areas of practice.

“Answer-a-Thon” uses Texas Legal Answers to provide virtual pro bono assistance

Tue, 10/03/2017 - 10:00

An “Answer-a-Thon” virtual pro bono clinic was held September 21 using Texas Legal Answers, an online website created by the State Bar of Texas and the American Bar Association.

The unique clinic offered low-income Texans the chance to have their legal questions answered without having to travel to a physical location to get help. Those seeking answers registered their questions using the Texas Legal Answers website. Fifteen student volunteers from Baylor Law School and five volunteer attorneys from Naman, Howell, Smith & Lee, in Waco, worked together to provide answers to the submitted questions.

The purpose of the clinic was to provide students with an opportunity to work with experienced attorneys to help clients; increase access to justice for low-income residents; and reduce barriers to attorneys providing pro bono services.

“Servant leadership is a major theme at Baylor Law,” said Brad Toben, dean of Baylor Law School, in a press release. “These future lawyers are getting great hands on experience working along skilled attorneys helping their fellow Texans solve real legal problems. We believe this innovative program shows great promise as a model to leverage technology to address the growing access to justice gap.”

For more information about Texas Legal Answers, go to texas.freelegalanswers.org.

Update from State Bar President Tom Vick

Fri, 09/29/2017 - 18:12

Editor’s note: State Bar President Tom Vick sent the following update to members on Friday. 

I’m writing to further update you on the State Bar’s recent board meeting in Lubbock and a change to the guidelines for the 2018 election for president-elect.

I reported last Friday on our board’s vote to elect Trey Apffel of League City as the next executive director of the State Bar of Texas. If you missed that update, you can read it here.

Hurricane Harvey relief

The board also approved a $50,000 donation to the Texas Bar Foundation Hurricane Harvey Disaster Relief Fund. All donations to this fund are going directly to nonprofit organizations providing much-needed aid to Hurricane Harvey victims, including Lone Star Legal Aid, local bars, and other legal aid and volunteer legal service organizations in the more than 55 affected counties. If you would like to donate to disaster relief efforts, please visit our website.

The State Bar is providing numerous disaster relief resources for the public at texasbar.com/disasters (or texasbar.com/desastre for Spanish-language resources) and for attorneys at texasbar.com/attorneyresources. The Texas Young Lawyers Association has produced additional disaster resources in English and Spanish, including guides related to employment, enrolling children in another school, and hiring a contractor. Find those here.

At-large directors

The board also approved changes to the State Bar Board Policy Manual related to the position of at-large director, which the Texas Legislature created this year through Senate Bill 416. The new law allows the State Bar president to appoint four at-large directors, subject to board confirmation. In making appointments, the law says the president should select directors “who demonstrate knowledge gained from experience in the legal profession and community necessary to ensure the board represents the interests of attorneys from varied backgrounds that compose the membership of the State Bar.”

These new at-large directors will replace the board’s minority director positions over time as the terms of our current minority directors expire. A lawsuit was filed in December 2016 in the Western District of Texas challenging a 1991 state law that provided for the minority director positions. With the new law in place, Judge Robert L. Pitman of the Western District dismissed the lawsuit against the State Bar as moot.

Our minority directors have served with distinction, and we thank them for their service to the bar over the past 26 years. Their ranks have included Lisa Tatum, who went on to be elected State Bar president; Rehan Alimohammad, who is our current board chair; and Pablo J. Almaguer, a former board chair and current chair of the Commission for Lawyer Discipline. Although these positions are changing, your State Bar leadership is fully committed to ensuring that the rich diversity of our membership and our state continues to be reflected on our board.

To that end, the board has created an At-large Directors Nomination Committee chaired by Houston director Angelica Hernandez to review applicants and recommend finalists for appointment. Directors Amie Peace of Denton, Dinesh Singhal of Houston, Sam Houston of San Antonio, and Audrey Moorehead of Dallas also will serve on this committee. For information on the nomination process for at-large directors, go here. The deadline for nominations is October 27.

2018 election

The 2018 race for president-elect is quickly approaching. The State Bar board’s Nominations and Elections Subcommittee has taken a significant step toward ensuring all candidates—whether they are nominated by the board or certified through petition—have the same opportunities to campaign under our election guidelines.

The subcommittee recently voted to suspend certain election guidelines for the 2018 president-elect race, including those that limit how and when candidates can campaign through in-person contacts, mailings, and online communications. For a complete list of the suspended election guidelines, click here.

Our board will vote to nominate candidates for president-elect on January 26, 2018. We are aware of two attorneys, Lisa Blue of Dallas and Randall O. Sorrels of Houston, who are currently seeking certification as petition candidates. Those seeking election as a petition candidate have until March 1 to be certified for a place on the ballot. The election will take place April 2 to May 1.

As always, if you have questions or comments, please let me know. It’s an honor to serve as your State Bar president.

A recap of the 85th session

Fri, 09/29/2017 - 16:05

In the 85th session of the Texas Legislature, 49 members of the House of Representatives were attorneys. During the regular session, the lawyers in the house gathered for a group photo, a tradition started in 2013. Read the recap of the regular session in this month’s Texas Bar Journal.

Foundation’s ‘Remembering Our Heroes’ campaign honors veterans, active duty military

Fri, 09/29/2017 - 10:30

The Texas Access to Justice Foundation launched a new campaign to benefit the Joe Jamail Endowment for Veteran Legal Services, a fund created to ensure Texas veterans have fair and equitable access to the justice system. “Remembering Our Heroes” will allow the endowment’s contributors to make donations in name of military veterans—living or deceased—and active duty personnel. The foundation will honor them during Veterans Day events.

“This campaign expands the endowment’s mission to continue the legacy of legal legend Joe Jamail by honoring the legacies of other veterans and providing funding for free legal assistance to those who have fought for our freedom,” Terry Tottenham, chair of the endowment committee of the foundation’s board of directors, said in a press release.

Access to free legal services is critical in Texas, which has the second-highest population of veterans in the United States. Legal issues make up five of the top 10 unmet needs of homeless veterans, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The Texas Access to Justice Foundation funds 14 nonprofit organizations across the state that provide free legal services to low-income veterans with civil legal matters that include the denial of critical medical care, legal issues related to disabilities, family law matters, denial of benefits, and additional issues that may arise because of a veteran’s absence from home during military service. These organizations offer legal services that reach more than 8,000 veterans each year.

Houston attorney Richard Mithoff, a protégé of Jamail, created the endowment to honor his mentor’s vision of access to justice for all.

“The endowment honors Joe’s commitment to access to justice and to our veterans,” Mithoff said in a press release. “But he wasn’t alone in that cause. Remembering Our Heroes will honor the continued legacy of all veterans.”

Guest blog: Directing a dispute resolution center

Fri, 09/29/2017 - 09:30

By Tammie S. Haynes

On a beautiful autumn day, I walked into the redbrick Montgomery County Courthouse annex to a nondescript back hallway. Halfway down a line of chairs along the wall, a lone man sat with his hands clasped, elbows resting on his knees, his head bowed. On a door, a plaque read “Dispute Resolution Center, Helping People Have Difficult Conversations Since 1988.” I entered a small room where three people waited, sitting with legs and arms crossed, defensive body language at odds with three joyful bookmarks displayed on a large white board. “Avoid conflict,” “Make peace,” and “We should all get along” were written in various childish scripts along with drawings of dogs, stick figures, and a bunny.

Beyond the waiting room, the first door opens to the office of Elaine Roberts, the executive director of the Dispute Resolution Center of Montgomery County, or the DRC, one of many similar organizations in Texas that provide reduced-fee mediation services and conflict resolution training. As a volunteer mediator, I usually head into a conference room to mediate a case. On this visit, I sat down across from Elaine at her large desk. Framed diplomas and court admittances, including for the United States Supreme Court, hang on the wall.

Elaine has led the DRC for more than three years with minimal help—a paid administrative staff of two, and around 50 volunteer mediators. Providing over 1,000 mediations a year, the DRC functions as a clearing house for the local courts, sends mediators to the Justice of the Peace courts, and conducts community outreach and conflict resolution training.

A trial attorney who handled discrimination cases, Elaine was one of the first volunteers to train as a mediator in Houston. She became a member of the Dispute Resolution Center of Harris County Board of Directors. And after some time leading Texas’ disability rights legal services—she was responsible for 14 offices across the state—and a stint living with her husband in Australia, Elaine settled in Montgomery County while working in the Houston Mayor’s Office. Then the DRC position became available.

“The best thing about running the DRC has been the quality of the people I work with every day. We have volunteers with integrity and intelligence,” Elaine said. Her small staff does a great job, using limited funding efficiently and social media effectively. Last year, she set up an art contest to promote peaceful conflict resolution among school children. The goal was to teach kids alternatives to using violence or other destructive means to resolve conflict. Judges and other local dignitaries sifted through creative entries to choose the winners, and the top designs were made into bookmarks and distributed at no cost. With over 2,000 entries last year, the contest was a success.

Elaine wants the program to reach all ethnic and minority groups by offering mediation in different languages and in locations accessible to citizens with limited transportation. “The mediators need to be relatable to the changing demographics of Montgomery County.”

I asked her opinion on the biggest misconception about mediation. She identified two, “In our area, some people look at mediation as a way to strong arm parties into doing what the attorneys want them to do. I think it is to let the parties make their own agreements or not and to give them the forum to talk about their dispute.” As for the second, Elaine believes some attorneys think facilitative mediation isn’t effective. In her opinion, that comes from a lack of understanding of the different purposes of the types of mediation. As she elaborated, “When parties have an ongoing relationship, such as co-parenting a child, they need a process to re-establish communication to work together in the best interest of the child, even if they don’t like each other. Mediation can do that while going to trial doesn’t.”

Elaine has advice for starting a volunteer mediation center. There is a practical need to convince county officials that mediation is effective and saves taxpayer money. She recommends using available studies and polling the various Texas centers on how they got started—what worked and what didn’t. “Even if elected officials don’t understand mediation, they do understand taxpayer savings and making government, including courts, more efficient.” Elaine may spend her days promoting nonviolent cooperation but it’s clear she advocates vigorously for accessible conflict resolution for everyone in the community.

Tammie S. Haynes is an attorney and credentialed advanced mediator living in the northern suburbs of Houston. She may be reached at tshaynes@tshayneslaw.com

 

State Bar of Texas Harvey Media Reports – Sept. 29, 2017

Fri, 09/29/2017 - 09:27

Editor’s Note: The State Bar of Texas is providing a daily collection of important links, blog posts, and media stories to keep its members and the public informed of the latest news and resources related to Hurricane Harvey relief and recovery efforts.

Important Harvey Links

State Bar Disaster Resources the Public — The State Bar of Texas legal hotline — (800) 504-7030 — helps people find answers to basic legal questions and connects them with local legal aid providers following declared disasters.

State Bar Disaster Resources for Attorneys — Information on this page includes recovery plans, court closures, court orders, and other items.

If you would like to donate money to the hurricane relief effort in Texas, you can give by clicking here.

If you are an attorney who wants to help by giving brief advice, limited-scope service, or full representation to Harvey survivors, please complete the form at texasbar.com/attorneyvolunteer.

Latest Harvey News

Harris County courts adjusting after Hurricane Harvey — The administrative judge of courts in hurricane-ravaged Houston has a message for lawyers practicing in Harris County. “We are back up and running,” said 152nd Civil District Judge Bob Schaffer. “We are doing the best we can to get this system where it was before the storm. It’s going to take a while, but that’s our goal.” (Subscription required) — Texas Lawyer

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick releases Hurricane Harvey-related interim charges — As recovery efforts in southeast Texas continue after Hurricane Harvey, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick on Thursday released a list of Harvey-related topics for Texas Senate committees to look into ahead of the next legislative session. — The Texas Tribune

Hundreds of Harvey victims join suit against San Jacinto River Authority — Flood victims in Kingwood are banding together to sue the San Jacinto River Authority. Their homes didn’t initially flood during Hurricane Harvey. Rather, they claim their homes flooded after the river authority opened floodgates at Lake Conroe. — KTRK – Houston

Can flooded-out Houstonians win lawsuits against Army Corps? — During Tropical Storm Harvey, the federal agency released a torrent from Houston’s two reservoirs, knowing it would flood properties downstream. Now, flooded property owners on both sides of the reservoirs are demanding compensation. — The Texas Tribune

‘Neighborhood should have not been built’: Homeowners file lawsuit against developer after flooding issues — When Etti Clingman and her husband bought a house in the Millwood at Riverstone subdivision, they never imagined neighborhood gatherings would include trading flood stories. — KTRK – Houston

Harris County looking at stricter regulations for flood plain development — Harris County officials have recommended replacing the 100-year flood standard that has mapped out hazards and helped shape the county’s booming development, a move that could result in one of the largest overhauls of flood plain regulations in three decades. (Subscription required) — Houston Chronicle

Hey, Texplainer: Will previous home damage affect filing claims post-Harvey? — Previous home damage doesn’t impact someone’s ability to file a claim post-Harvey. And just to be safe, both state and federal officials encourage anyone who sustained home damages during Hurricane Harvey to apply for aid. — The Texas Tribune

EPA finds Harvey damage at Houston Superfund site — The Environmental Protection Agency is ordering companies responsible for cleaning up a Houston Superfund site flooded during Hurricane Harvey to immediately address damage to a protective cap and subsequent high levels of waste material detected in a sediment sample from the site. — The Associated Press

Blown away: On the Texas Coast, a recovery haunted by the past — Since the storm, Carlos Hernandez and his wife have spent most days under a portable canopy in front of their ruined house, looking out at cotton fields stripped clean by Hurricane Harvey’s winds. — Austin American-Statesman

Kingwood residents taking landlord to court — Directly across from Kingwood High School, which suffered so much flood damage it won’t reopen until the fall of 2018, is the Kingwood Lakes apartment complex. It also flooded during Hurricane Harvey as all first-floor units were feet deep in water. — Houston Public Media

How to spot a car with flood damage — As many are dealing with the damage of Hurricane Harvey, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is warning Texans about scams. There may be some people taking advantage and trying to sell you a flood damaged car. — KWES — Midland

Lawsuit filed against Royal Caribbean over Hurricane Harvey cancellation — A popular cruise line is being sued after passengers said they were forced to fly to Houston at the height of Hurricane Harvey. — KPRC – Houtson

Harvey forecast to exceed Katrina in hotel stays — Hurricane Harvey is expected to fill more hotel rooms in the Houston area than Hurricane Katrina did in 2005, when as many as a quarter-million New Orleanians sought shelter here. — Houston Chronicle

State Bar board appoints Waxahachie lawyer to State Commission on Judicial Conduct

Fri, 09/29/2017 - 07:06

The State Bar of Texas Board of Directors appointed Waxahachie lawyer Ron Bunch to the State Commission on Judicial Conduct at its Sept. 22 meeting.

Bunch served on the State Bar Board of Directors from 2004 to 2007 and the Commission for Lawyer Discipline from 2007 to 2013. He was chair of the Commission for Lawyer Discipline from 2011 to 2013. He has been a member of the State Bar’s General Practice, Solo, and Small Firm Section council from 2007 to present. He is a member of the Ellis County Bar Association who served as president from 1988-1992.

Bunch received a State Bar of Texas Presidential Citation in 2007, a Bar Presidents’ Award in 2013, and was given a Citizen Diplomat Citation from the U.S. State Department Judicial System Program in 2015, among other honors.

His six-year term begins Nov. 20.

Texas attorneys nominated to U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals

Thu, 09/28/2017 - 17:25

Texas Supreme Court Justice Don Willett and attorney James C. Ho were nominated to the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals today by President Donald J. Trump.

Willett was appointed to the Texas Supreme Court in 2005 by then-Gov. Rick Perry. Willett replaced former Justice Priscilla Owen, who had been nominated for the 5th Circuit by then-President George W. Bush. Willett was re-elected to the court in 2006 and 2012.

He previously served as deputy attorney general for legal counsel under then-Attorney General of Texas Greg Abbott from 2003 to 2005. He was deputy assistant attorney general in the U.S. Department of Justice from 2002 to 2003. He clerked for 5th Circuit Judge Jerre Stockton Williams. Willett received his Juris Doctor from Duke University.

Willett had been on the shortlist of President Trump’s potential U.S. Supreme Court nominees.

Ho is currently a partner in the Dallas office of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, and co-chair of the firm’s appellate and constitutional law practice. He previously served as solicitor general of Texas under Attorney General Abbott and chief counsel to Sen. John Cornyn. He clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and Judge Jerry E. Smith of the 5th Circuit.

Also nominated was Kyle Duncan, a partner in Schaerr Duncan in Washington, D.C., who served in the Texas Attorney General’s office as an assistant solicitor general from 1992 to 2002, and Kurt D. Engelhardt, chief judge of the Eastern District of Louisiana.

State Bar of Texas Harvey Media Reports – Sept. 28, 2017

Thu, 09/28/2017 - 08:46

Editor’s Note: The State Bar of Texas is providing a daily collection of important links, blog posts, and media stories to keep its members and the public informed of the latest news and resources related to Hurricane Harvey relief and recovery efforts.

Important Harvey Links

State Bar Disaster Resources the Public — The State Bar of Texas legal hotline — (800) 504-7030 — helps people find answers to basic legal questions and connects them with local legal aid providers following declared disasters.

State Bar Disaster Resources for Attorneys — Information on this page includes recovery plans, court closures, court orders, and other items.

If you would like to donate money to the hurricane relief effort in Texas, you can give by clicking here.

If you are an attorney who wants to help by giving brief advice, limited-scope service, or full representation to Harvey survivors, please complete the form at texasbar.com/attorneyvolunteer.

Latest Harvey News

Woman dies from flesh-eating infection after falling in floodwaters — After falling into floodwaters, a 77-year-old Kingwood woman died from necrotizing fasciitis, a flesh-eating infection caused from exposure to bacteria, according to Roxanne Mena, a forensic investigator with the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences. — Houston Press

Documents detail concerns about Houston dams — before Harvey — How concerned is the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers about the integrity of Addicks and Barker reservoirs? The agency has never answered the question clearly, but documents offer new clues. — The Texas Tribune

Army Corps should have bought easements to make room for flood pools, lawsuit says — A federal lawsuit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers claims government officials knew for years that water impounded behind Addicks and Barker dams would flood thousands of suburban homes during an extreme storm – and yet did nothing to advise or compensate property owners. (Subscription required) — Houston Chronicle

Texas’ oil regulator took vacation amid Harvey — Texas’ chief oil and gas regulator was on vacation in the critical days surrounding Hurricane Harvey as her agency grappled with fuel shortages and scrambled to respond to refinery spills caused by the storm. — The Associated Press

Why won’t Gov. Abbott tap the Rainy Day Fund for Harvey relief? — In a letter to Governor Greg Abbott requesting that the state tap into its $10 billion Rainy Day Fund, Mayor Sylvester Turner couldn’t help stating the obvious: Hurricane Harvey, which pounded the Texas Coast for days, was the wettest storm in U.S. history. What better time to make use of a fund saved for rainy days? — Houston Press

Lives upended, Harvey evacuees attending San Antonio schools — Crouched over a Northside Independent School District enrollment application, Lori Bailey, a 29-year-old mother of three, hesitated. Her hand hovered over the word “homeless” as she considered the words and images associated with it. Then she checked the box. (Subscription required) — San Antonio Express-News

Slideshow: For southeast Texas, recovery after Harvey is slow — Reporter Morgan Smith and photographer Michael Stravato recently toured southeast Texas to document Harvey’s aftermath. — The Texas Tribune

Texas A.G. warns consumers about buying flood-damaged vehicles — From Texas Attorney General’s Office – Attorney General Ken Paxton today is advising any Texan considering a used car purchase to be wary of vehicles for sale that might have suffered flood damage from Hurricane Harvey. — KFDM – Beaumont

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