Texas Supreme Court approves restyled evidence rules

The Texas Supreme Court approved an order Wednesday adopting revised evidence rules, triggering a comment period that ends Feb. 28.

The revisions to the Texas Rules of Evidence are intended to mirror 2011 amendments to the Federal Rules of Evidence, with the goal of making the rules easier to understand, according to the court order.

Final approval of the restyled rules will be effective April 1.

 

“With clearer language and a better format, the rules of evidence should be much easier for trial lawyers and judges to use,” Chief Justice Nathan L. Hecht said in a statement. “The many people who worked on this project built on the restyled federal rules, adapted them to Texas but with the objective of keeping our rules as consistent as possible with the federal rules and without changing Texas evidence law.”

Many of the revisions result from formatting changes, but the restyled rules will keep the same numbers to reduce the effect on research, according to the court order. Substantive changes have been made in two rules:

  • Amendments to Rule 511 align Texas law with Federal Rule of Evidence 502 on waiving privilege by voluntary disclosure.
  • Amendments to Rule 613 retain the requirement that a witness be given an opportunity to explain or deny (a) a prior inconsistent statement or (b) circumstances or a statement showing bias or interest, but the requirement is no longer part of the foundation that an examining attorney must lay before introducing extrinsic evidence of the statement or its circumstances.

Martha Newton, the court’s rules attorney who led the project, credited law Professor Steven Goode, an evidence expert at the University of Texas, for drafting the rules changes with help from the State Bar of Texas Administration of Rules of Evidence Committee and the Supreme Court Advisory Committee. The combined effort drew seasoned trial lawyers and judges in several drafting and reviewing stages.

“Their product was exceptional,” Newton said in a statement provided by the court, “and the product of several years of hard work.”

Read the full order here

 

New lawyers inducted at Austin ceremony

The Supreme Court of Texas held an induction ceremony for new members of the State Bar of Texas on Monday at the Frank Erwin Center in Austin.

Tom Owens, the high scorer on the July 2013 bar exam, addressed the crowd before Chief Justice Nathan Hecht led licensees in the lawyer's oath. State Bar of Texas President Lisa M. Tatum and Texas Young Lawyers Association President Kristy Blanchard welcomed the new lawyers to the profession.

The ceremony also featured the presentation of two awards. Megan Sheffield of the University of Texas School of Law received the Access to Justice Law Student Pro Bono Award, which honors a law student from an accredited Texas law school who has most enhanced the delivery of quality legal services to poor Texans and underserved communities.

St. Mary’s University School of Law received the Access to Justice Law School Commitment to Service Award, which honors an accredited law school in Texas that has made significant and innovative strides toward increasing access to justice.

Pictured: Tom Owens, front right, and other new attorneys take the lawyer's oath Monday at the Frank Erwin Center in Austin. 

For more photos from the ceremony, visit the State Bar of Texas on Facebook or Flickr.

Hecht, Brown take oaths at Texas Supreme Court ceremony

Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Hecht and Justice Jeff Brown were sworn in Monday during a formal investiture ceremony at the Texas Capitol.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was on hand to administer the ceremonial oaths of office inside a crowded House Chamber. Scalia, who is responsible for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, which includes Texas, has sworn in each of the past three Texas chief justices, including Hecht, Wallace Jefferson and Thomas Phillips.

Hecht, a longtime state Supreme Court justice, took office as chief justice Oct. 1 after Gov. Rick Perry appointed him to replace Jefferson, who left the court to return to private practice. Perry then appointed Brown, a justice on the 14th Court of Appeals in Houston, to fill Hecht’s seat.

For photos of the event, and from the State Bar of Texas reception that followed, visit the State Bar’s Facebook and Flickr pages.

Retired Chief Justice Pope donates law library to UNT Dallas College of Law

Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan L. Hecht joined former chief justices, state political leaders, and UNT Dallas College of Law faculty on Monday to celebrate retired Chief Justice Jack Pope’s gift of more than 300 books to the school.

Pope, who turned 100 this year, donated his personal law library to the new law school, which will seat its first class in fall 2014.

The collection includes signed copies of his personal set of South Western Reporters covering 1950 to 1985, when he served on the San Antonio Court of Civil Appeals and the Texas Supreme Court, the college announced at a luncheon in Austin.

“I was proud of my library before I started giving it away,” Pope told the assembled group, which included retired Chief Justices Wallace B. Jefferson and Thomas Phillips and UNT Dallas College of Law Founding Dean Royal Furgeson.

 

Among others attending the event were state Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, who worked as a law clerk to Pope in 1983-1984, and state Sen. Royce West, who wrote the bill that created the Dallas law school.

Branch said the donation would help “extend Pope’s legacy to the young North Texas law students of the next generation.” The donation will also help future students appreciate what a South Western Reporter looked like, he said, “because at some point they are going to think it was all digital."

Austin attorney Stephen McConnico, who was a briefing attorney to Pope from 1976 to 1977, said some of the donated books even have Pope’s handwritten notes in the margins.

“This personal and signed collection from Justice Pope has special meaning for a new, 21st-century law school library,” said Edward Hart, assistant professor and assistant dean for the law library, in a statement.

“While technological and digital advancements have greatly altered tools and techniques for finding and using information, this collection represents what remains essential to law and lawyering, including the common law process, the civil justice system, and principled judging.”

Pope served as an associate justice on the Texas Supreme Court from 1964 to 1982 and as chief justice from 1982 to 1985.

Pictured: Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan L. Hecht, second from left, joins former Chief Justices Wallace B. Jefferson, Jack Pope, and Thomas Phillips, from left, to celebrate Pope’s donation of his personal law library to the new UNT Dallas College of Law.

Proclamations help kick off National Pro Bono Celebration in Texas

Proclamations from Gov. Rick Perry and the Supreme Court of Texas helped the State Bar of Texas kick off its weeklong observance of the National Pro Bono Celebration on Monday.

Perry and the state Supreme Court signed proclamations encouraging Texans to observe the celebration, which is designed to focus attention on the need for pro bono legal services and commend attorneys who perform the work. The American Bar Association Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service started the celebration in 2009, after the recession intensified the need for pro bono legal services.

“In 2012, Texas lawyers volunteered more than 2.4 million hours of pro bono work and donated an additional $13.26 million to providing legal assistance for low-income Texans,” Perry said in the proclamation. “Each year, a week in October is dedicated to recognizing those professionals who have stepped up to the plate and to encourage other lawyers to volunteer a portion of their time. The Lone Star State is well known for its hospitality, and these dedicated individuals are doing a great service to their communities and their state.”

During the celebration, the State Bar of Texas is promoting its new Care Campaign, a program designed to further empower Texas attorneys to provide pro bono services. The campaign offers practical training tools, interpreters for clients with limited English-language abilities, and access to malpractice insurance through a specialized network. The program includes a “Care Kit” with all of the resources local bar associations and legal organizations need to easily hold a legal advice clinic.

The national celebration is under way through Saturday and includes events in Houston, Lubbock, San Antonio, Beaumont, Austin, Corpus Christi, Dallas, Fort Worth, Texarkana, Tyler, and other Texas cities. A full list of Texas events is available here

Pictured: Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Hecht, left, and State Bar of Texas President Lisa M. Tatum stand with proclamations from the Supreme Court of Texas and Gov. Rick Perry encouraging Texans to observe the National Pro Bono Celebration this week.

Justice Scalia to administer oaths at Texas Supreme Court ceremony

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia will administer the ceremonial oaths of office to Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan L. Hecht and Justice Jeff Brown during a public investiture at 11 a.m. Nov. 11.

The ceremony will take place in the Texas Capitol House Chamber, and parking will be available at the Capitol visitors lot at 1201 San Jacinto Blvd. in Austin.

Hecht, a longtime Texas Supreme Court justice, was appointed by Gov. Rick Perry to fulfill the term of former Chief Justice Wallace B. Jefferson, who recently left the court to return to private practice. Perry then appointed Brown, formerly a justice of the 14th Court of Appeals, to fill the seat Hecht vacated.

Hecht takes oath as Texas Supreme Court chief justice

Nathan L. Hecht of Austin took the oath of office as the 27th chief justice of the Supreme Court of Texas on Tuesday, replacing Wallace B. Jefferson, who retired.

“This is a great day,” Jefferson told a crowd of justices, clerks, family members, and other spectators inside the Supreme Court before administering the oath to Hecht. “This is a wonderful day because the governor has made an inspired choice.”

Gov. Rick Perry appointed Hecht to serve the remainder of Jefferson’s term, which expires in 2014. A formal investiture ceremony will be schedule later this fall, Hecht said.

“We wanted to have this [swearing in] for the court family this afternoon,” he said.

Hecht, a graduate of Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law, was first elected to the Supreme Court in 1988 and was the court’s senior justice.

“He has been the leader on this court in terms of our development of the rules of procedure,” said Jefferson, who served with Hecht since 2001. “His scholarship and his writing are second to none. Nathan Hecht has a national reputation as a person with a huge intellect and who brings scholarship in the law. It is a lot of fun working with Nathan Hecht, simply because he is so brilliant at what he does.”

Speakers in turn praised the retiring Jefferson for his leadership, including his focus on access-to-justice issues.

“Obviously, the chief justice has brought honor to the court, to the state, and to himself with the many things he’s accomplished during the terms that he has been the chief justice and, before that, a justice on the Supreme Court,” said Justice Paul W. Green, who was first elected to the court in 2004. “The national recognition, the leadership roles that he’s undertaken and been asked to undertake were performed so well.”

Jefferson was in private practice in San Antonio when Perry appointed him to the court as a justice in March 2001. He won a full term in November 2002 before Perry appointed him chief justice in 2005. He was then elected chief justice in 2006 and re-elected in 2008.

Jefferson thanked Perry, saying the appointments “changed my life.”

“It’s been just a tremendous thrill to be a part of the development of the law in this state and, to some extent, in this country when people are relying on our decisions,” Jefferson said.

Pictured: Outgoing Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace B. Jefferson, right, swears in his successor, Nathan L. Hecht, on Tuesday at the Supreme Court.