Texas Court of Criminal Appeals welcomes three new judges

Three judges of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals were sworn in during a formal investiture ceremony on Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2015, at the House Chambers of the Texas Capitol. Bert Richardson, Kevin Patrick Yeary, and David Newell, all of whom were elected to the bench by the public in November 2014, are the newest judges on the state’s highest criminal court.

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District court judge, State Bar staff member receive prestigious awards

The Judicial Section of the State Bar of Texas recently presented two of its most important awards at the Bar Foundation Luncheon, held in conjunction with the Judicial Education Conference in Fort Worth, on Sept. 8, 2014. Tracy Nuckols, project manager of State Bar sections, received the Friend of the Judiciary Award, and Larry Gist, senior criminal district judge of the Jefferson County Drug Impact Court in Beaumont, received the Lifetime Achievement Award.

The Judicial Lifetime Achievement Award is given annually by the section to a current or former Texas judge who has earned a reputation for judicial excellence. “I am very honored to receive this exceptional award,” said Gist, who is the first non-Supreme Court of Texas justice to receive the award. “I hope it encourages all judges to not only be fair and impartial but to make sure that the perception of fairness is always shown. I am very proud to be a member of the judiciary of Texas and serve with so many outstanding men and women.”

In the presence of about 600 Texas judges, Nuckols accepted the Friend of the Judiciary Award, which has been presented to state lawmakers. Nuckols, who has worked for the bar for 16 years, manages a four-person department that is responsible for helping the 47 sections of the State Bar with their communications, newsletters, websites, and other initiatives.

“It meant a great deal to me that the Judicial Section recognized me by giving me this award,” said Nuckols. “I was very honored—and surprised. But it is mainly a recognition of the people who I work with—they are enthusiastic and they are problem-solvers. I could not do this job without them.”


Texas Bar Foundation provides grant to design education center

The Texas judiciary has plans to develop a Judicial Civics and Education Center and, because of a $50,000 grant from the Texas Bar Foundation, the project is now in the design phase.

Anticipated to be located in the entry-level corridor of the Tom C. Clark Building within the Capitol Complex, the education center is expected to include interactive civic displays, historic exhibits, and a conference space for lectures and forums.

“The center will be a game changer for the Texas Judiciary,” said Nathan Hecht, chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court. “It will tell the fascinating judicial history of Texas through compelling stories.”

The Texas Supreme Court, Court of Criminal Appeals, Office of Court Administration, Texas Supreme Court Historical Society, and all 14 Courts of Appeals collaborated to create a vision for the center.

“Numerous studies have shown that a lack of civic education is a growing problem in our country,” said David Slayton, administrative director of the Office of Court Administration. “Having a proper understanding of the judicial branch and its role in government is essential to enhancing the administration of justice.”

For more information, contact Megan LaVoie at Megan.LaVoie@txcourts.gov.


Seeking nominations for municipal judge award

The Municipal Judges Section of the State Bar of Texas is accepting nominations for its Judge Michael L. O’Neal Outstanding Jurist Award. Now in its 15th year, this accolade is named in honor of the former chair of the State Commission on Judicial Conduct who helped write the ethics rules for the judiciary. Judge O’Neal is known for boosting the professionalism, reputation, and respect of municipal judges in Texas.

Nominations for the Judge Michael L. O’Neal Outstanding Jurist Award can be submitted by a member of the Municipal Judges Section to maria.casanova@houstontx.gov no later than April 1.

Elsa Alcala Appointed to Court of Criminal Appeals

On Tuesday, March 22, Gov. Rick Perry appointed Elsa Alcala of Houston to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals for a term to expire at the next general election.

A justice on the First Court of Appeals in Harris County, Alcala is a former district court judge and current vice chair of the State Bar of Texas Criminal Pattern Jury Charge Committee. She will fill the vacancy left by Judge Charles Holcomb, who retired from the Court in December.

For more information about the appointment, which is pending Senate confirmation, click here


Chief Justice Delivers State of Judiciary Address

Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace B. Jefferson today delivered his biennial State of the Judiciary address. Among the issues Jefferson discussed were juvenile justice, access to justice, indigent defense, judicial selection, and the preservation of court records.

"I ask you to take action this Session," Jefferson implored members of the House and Senate. "Give us the assurance that, at this crucial juncture, we did not turn our backs on the neediest among us, but continued to serve them as the Constitution so strongly demands."

To read Jefferson's full address, click here.

Referendum 2011: Letter from Chief Justice Wallace B. Jefferson

Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace B. Jefferson has written the below open letter to Texas lawyers. The letter was published in the January issue of the Texas Bar Journal. For more information about Referendum 2011, please visit www.texasbar.com/rulesupdate.

Dear Texas Lawyers,

You have the privilege to help establish the ethical standards that govern our profession. I encourage you to exercise that privilege by analyzing the proposed amendments to the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct; making educated, independent decisions regarding the amendments; and voting on them in the referendum.   

The Court proposed these amendments after engaging in a collaborative exchange with members of the State Bar of Texas and the general public. In 2003, the Court appointed a task force to analyze extensive changes made to the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct in 2002, compare the changes with the current Texas rules and other states’ rules, and make recommendations for improvements to the Texas rules. Between 2003 and 2008, the Court oversaw the work of not only the task force but also the State Bar Committee on the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct, which also submitted recommendations. Between 2008 and 2009, the Court devoted multiple administrative conferences to considering the task force’s and committee’s recommendations. We studied their proposals in conjunction with comparable ABA language, existing Texas rules, and applicable law, among other things.

Because these amendments affect all of you and the clients you serve, the Court and State Bar leadership felt the revisions should be vetted by lawyers with diverse backgrounds and expertise. To that end, the Court task force and State Bar committee included, among others, lawyers from small, mid-sized, and large firms; in-house counsel; government lawyers; academics; and representatives of disciplinary authorities. To obtain additional perspectives, we also sought feedback from all Texas lawyers and members of the general public in a public-comment period between 2009 and 2010.

The Court listened. We made many changes in response to helpful suggestions we received from lawyers in multiple practice areas, members of the general public, and academics specializing in professional responsibility. As a result, the initial version of the proposed amendments (issued in October 2009) differs substantially from the current one (issued in November 2010). This impressive collaboration among the bench, the bar, and the public has generated amendments that enhance the profession’s role as the guardian of rights and liberties under law.

If you adopt these amendments, our rules will be more consistent overall with the ABA rules. Some of them may also serve as a model for other states and the ABA in crafting ethical standards for the legal profession.

I am proud of the process that resulted in the proposed amendments. I urge you to study them carefully and exercise your right to vote. I think you will conclude, as the Court has, that the proposed amendments will serve you and your clients well.


Wallace B. Jefferson

Chief Justice, Supreme Court of Texas


Supreme Court to hear arguments in Amarillo

The Supreme Court of Texas will hear two oral arguments in Amarillo on Nov. 10, 2010, as part of the Amarillo Area Bar Association's 100th anniversary.

The arguments will begin at 9:00 am at the Globe-News Center, and are viewable by live webcast.

The Court will hear arguments on whether a tax-lien must be pleaded as an affirmative defense (Genesis Tax Loan Services Inc. et al. v. Kody and Janet Kothmann - No. 09-0828) and whether wrongful-conviction compensation should be calculated for prison time spent because of parole revocation spurred by wrongful conviction (In re Billy James Smith - No. 10-0048).

PBS Profiles Harris County Veterans' Court

PBS Need to Know logoThe Harris County Veterans' Court is being profiled this Friday evening on the national PBS series "Need to Know." The show will look at how veterans' courts are being set up to help veterans suffering from untreated post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or traumatic brain injuries who end up in the criminal justice system. KUHT in Houston is airing it at 8:30 p.m. For your local affiliate and broadcast time, visit PBS.org. 

Local bar association to treat Federal Circuit judge to East Texas hospitality

Today's issue of The Recorder, an ALM publication in California, includes an article about the Eastern District of Texas ("Big Tech Shouts 'Yipee!,' Patent Bar Chattering as Rader Heads to Texas"). 

To help prepare for his imminent elevation to chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, Judge Randall Rader will preside over five cases in Texas' Eastern District in April. While the article devotes much of its space to describing the tension between the Eastern District and the Federal Circuit and the stir Rader's early rulings have provoked, it concludes with as fine a representation of East Texas hospitality as you're likely to find. Members of the Eastern District of Texas Bar Association are continuing a tradition from before the days when the Court had a resident judge by preparing a dinner in honor of Rader at a small, lakeside lodge. According to Michael C. Smith, a partner in the Marshall office of Siebman, Burg, Phillips & Smith, L.L.P. who maintains a blog about the Eastern District, the menu will include "fried chicken, catfish, slaw, vegetables, pancakes, and cobbler."

In 2006, Smith wrote an article for the Texas Bar Journal about the Marshall Court's patent docket ("Rocket Docket: Marshall Court Leads Nation in Hearing Patent Cases"). The article is worth linking to if only for the photo that manages to capture in a single frame a successful patent application, the courthouse, the U.S. flag, and a pick-up truck. East Texas hospitality, indeed.


Task Force meets to preserve court records

The Texas Court Records Preservation Task Force had its first meeting yesterday at the Supreme Court of Texas. The 20 member task force was formed to discuss the issues surrounding preservation of local court records in counties across the state. The task force is chaired by Bill Kroger of Baker Botts L.L.P. and was created partly from the awareness of Kroger’s work on preserving Harris County court records. The Supreme Court wrote a court order establishing the task force and has asked them to develop a report that discusses statewide county preservation needs, the importance of protecting the records, and providing assistance to counties to do that.

The meeting included presentations about larger counties' preservation efforts, resources available to counties regarding historical records preservation, and prior efforts made across the state. The task force circulated a draft survey that they intend to distribute to district court clerks statewide to gather information about their efforts. The survey will go out within the next 30 days, and they hope to complete the survey 60 days after that. At the meeting, they also formed four different committees for different aspects of the issue: preservation, security and enforcement, fundraising, and public and education.

Issues that courts often run into are old and crumbling documents, fire hazards, water damage, lack of security, and determining rules for public access, such as whether the public should be allowed to touch historical court documents with their hands. There have also been many thefts of court records. "One of the most egregious was with a court minute book in Lufkin. Someone was taking pages being ripped out of the minute book and selling them on eBay," says Kroger. "Some people are tearing apart court records and auctioning them off. There’s a market for slavery records and Republic of Texas records. We are trying to stop people from stealing and selling them. There needs to be greater recognition that it is a crime and greater enforcement of those laws."

The main records the task force are looking at date from 1838 to 1950. Those are the records that are of interest to collectors, historians, and genealogists. The task force wants to protect the historical records for future generations.

The Texas Court Records Preservation Task Force is co-chaired by Mark Lambert, Deputy Commissioner of the Archives and Records Division of the Texas General Land Office, and is comprised of a diverse and mutli-disciplined group of people including attorneys, judges, historians, document preservationists, and county and statewide officials. They plan to meet about six times a year and to continue their initial efforts for about a year and a half. However, the preservation of all statewide historical court records will be an ongoing effort. For more information about the task force and its efforts, you can contact Bill Kroger at (713) 229-1736 or email him at bill.kroger@bakerbotts.com.

170 Candles for the Supreme Court of Texas

On January 13th, the Supreme Court of Texas celebrated its 170th anniversary. A special open session of the Court, where the Texas Supreme Court Historical Society observed its 20th anniversary, was followed by a reception at the Texas Law Center. Roland K. Johnson, president of the State Bar of Texas, and Larry McNeill, president of the Texas Supreme Court Historical Society, spoke. Each emphasized how much history the Court has seen—and made— in the 170 years it has served the people of Texas. Chief Justice Wallace B. Jefferson and Senior Justice Nathan Hecht responded on behalf of the court.

The inaugural term of the Texas Supreme Court began on January 13, 1840, and lasted two weeks. The Texas Supreme Court Historical Society was established on January 13, 1990 to preserve the legacy of the state’s highest court.


Guzman sworn in as Supreme Court Justice

Justice Eva Guzman, the first Latina to serve on the Texas Supreme Court, celebrated her formal investiture on Monday, January 11. The ceremony took place in the Texas House of Representatives Chamber, in front of an audience filled with Guzman’s colleagues, friends, and family. Governor Rick Perry administered the oath of office, praising Guzman’s “consistent fairness and wisdom” and “strict constructionist view of the Constitution.” After Senior Justice Nathan Hecht paid tribute to departing justice Scott Brister, U.S. Senator John Cornyn and Justice Kem Thompson Frost spoke about Guzman’s dedication to the law and the historic nature of the occasion. Guzman, formerly a justice on the 14th District Court of Appeals in Houston, thanked the governor for this opportunity, saying “For this day, I have prayed, I have dreamed, and I have worked.” 

Supreme Court of Texas Celebrates 170 Years - An Invitation

All Texas lawyers are invited to join the Supreme Court of Texas for its 170th anniversary on Wednesday, January 13. The celebration will begin with an open session of the Court in the Supreme Court of Texas Courtroom at 4:00 p.m.  Special remarks will be made by Chief Justice Wallace B. Jefferson, State Bar of Texas President Roland K. Johnson, Justice Nathan L. Hecht and Texas Supreme Court Historical Society President Larry McNeill. Following the open session, there will be a reception at the Texas Law Center in the Hatton Sumners Conference Room.  The celebration also marks the 20th anniversary of the Supreme Court of Texas Historical Society.

A Milestone for Legal Ethics in Texas

Happy Birthday to the Texas Lawyer's Creed! The Creed contains principles for civility and courtesy between lawyers and honesty in statements to judges and lawyers and was promulgated in 1989 by both the Supreme Court of Texas and Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.

On Thursday, Nov. 5, two former justices of the Texas Supreme Court were on hand to help celebrate the 20th anniversaries of the Texas Lawyer’s Creed and the Texas Center for Legal Ethics at a ceremony at the Texas Law Center in Austin. Former Chief Justice Jack Pope and former Justice Eugene Cook were instrumental in the creation of the Center and the Creed. Also on hand were Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Jennifer Elrod, who served as master of ceremonies, as well as current Supreme Court Justices Nathan Hecht, Phil Johnson, Paul Green, and Don Willett.

After several speeches commemorating the anniversaries, those in attendance sang "Happy Birthday" and celebrated with cupcakes and a reception.

“Today we are honoring hundreds of people, those who had vision, raised money [for the creation of the Center], and worked day-to-day to keep that vision alive," said Chief Justice Pope. “The organization is here because of them.”

The November issue of the Texas Bar Journal (www.texasbar.com/tbj) includes a special section about how and why the Creed came into existence. A free 30-minute online ethics CLE on the Creed is available at www.texasbarcle.com. For details on the Center, visit www.legalethicstexas.com.

Kim Askew Testifies at Sotomayor Hearing

On July 16, Dallas lawyer Kim J. Askew, chair of the American Bar Association Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary, testified regarding the ABA's rating of Judge Sonia Sotomayor as "well qualified" to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court. Askew is a partner in K&L Gates and a former chair of the State Bar of Texas board of directors. In case you missed her testimony, here it is:

Seeking a clerkship? Look no further

Texas appellate lawyer Dylan Drummond, an associate with Kane Russell Coleman & Logan, PC in Houston, tells us that the Clerkship Notification Blog (CNB) is now active for the 2009-2010 hiring season. Drummond is editor-in-chief of the blog, which was founded in 2005 by Yale alumna and currrent Kirkland Ellis attorney Katherine McDaniel as a clearinghouse for clerkship information. Anyone can post messages regarding which judges around the country are seeking or have hired clerks.

Clerkship information is broken down by court type and grouped by state or territory. The blog also includes advice on transitioning from private practice to clerking and information on post-clerkship career options.

Another Texas lawyer, Mani Walia, now a clerk for the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, is managing editor of the CNB.

Federal judge's book comforts kids with jailed parents

U.S. District Judge Vanessa D. GilmoreIn 2008, U.S. District Judge Vanessa D. Gilmore (pictured) asked a classroom of 50 girls in Houston whether any of them had a parent in prison. Every one raised her hand.

“70 percent of children who have incarcerated parents are later incarcerated themselves, says Gilmore. “They see that as their path.” As a judge, she had seen first-hand how incarceration and its collateral damage tears families apart.

Judge Gilmore and her friend, psychiatrist Dr. Janice M. Beal, realized there was not a tool to help these children through their feelings of isolation, anger, fear, sadness, and guilt. These children are often under the burden of keeping a family secret, when in fact they should be talking about their feelings. So Gilmore and Beal self-published a coloring book, “A Boy Named Rocky,” as a therapeutic resource for schools and counselors to help realize they’re not alone or to blame for their situation.

The book tells the story of Rocky, whose mother is in jail, how this affects him, and how he finds help. The last page of the book is a form letter than kids can fill out and send to parents in jail to express their feelings. Parents are asked to write back and accept responsibility for their actions.

Gilmore and Beal have distributed more than 7,500 copies of the book, which are used by every Big Brothers Big Sisters program in Texas and many schools, churches, and prisons.

For children, just talking about their situation is a huge relief. “When they hear the story, a lot of kids say, ‘This is my story! This is my story! Nobody’s ever told my story before,’” says Gilmore. “They’re happy to know they’re not the only ones dealing with an issue like this.”

Judge Gilmore related the story of a respected deacon at her church who came up to her, crying, after a reading of the coloring book. “He told me the book dredged up feelings he hadn’t had in 50 years,” she said. “His father was in prison when he was a child and it was only his mother’s grit and determination that kept him out of trouble himself."

In addition to a sequel to “A Boy Named Rocky,” Judge Gilmore is working on three books about adoption, inspired by her own adoption of a son.

For more on the book, visit www.4theloveofkids.com

Editor’s note: We learned about this story in Texas Bar Circle, our exclusive network of Texas lawyers. Join today and share your story at www.TexasBarCircle.com