The second of nine public education hearings on the proposed rules changes took place today in El Paso. The crowd of 26 was predominantly lawyers. The hearing was again moderated by Roland Johnson, immediate past president, with a presentation by Tom Watkins, chair of the Supreme Court Task Force that studied the issue in depth. Steve James, section representative to the State Bar of Texas Board of Directors, was also on hand to listen to local comments. Click here to listen to the recording of today’s hearing

Excerpts of comments and concerns raised today:

  • An attorney from Texas RioGrande Legal Aid raised a question regarding proposed Rule 3.05, having to do with maintaining impartiality of a tribunal, namely, ensuring that the public knows about decisions being made that directly affect them. “We must have transparency to have justice; it is essential that the public have access to information. The proposed rule limits administrative attorneys’ ability to serve their clients.” Her suggestion was to leave the rules language as is concerning ex parte communications.
  • A lawyer from the Office of the City Attorney commented on arbitration agreements between attorneys and prospective clients, and how enforcement of the proposed new rule would work with respect to agreements already standing. His question was in regard to whether past agreements would have to be redone to comply with new rules if adopted. While no decisions have been made in that regard, Court Rules Attorney Kennon Peterson indicated the Court would probably make the rules effective going forward from any date of adoption.
  • Mark Osborn, an El Paso attorney who serves on the Professional Ethics Committee, addressed what he deemed a problematic issue with changes to Rule 3.05 pertaining to “pending matters.” “The rules already provide that you can’t unduly influence decision makers, and the proposed change is a green light for rich people to buy boards,” he worried.

In response to a question as to whether the rules would be offered as a package or voted on singly in a forthcoming referendum, Johnson responded that no decision had been made on whether the Bar would make a recommendation about a proposed ballot in its report to the Court.

Watkins added in response to a comment that the rules should not be changed for the sake of change, that the changes had been considered over many years and that all the changes had to be considered within the parameter of first protecting the public, then serving lawyers, and then providing uniformity over multiple jurisdictions. With increasing interstate practice and rapid-fire challenges presented by technology, careful consideration has gone into the drafting of each proposed rule change.

Johnson reminded the crowd that there is still time for the board to recommend changes for the Court to consider, and that the Court is open to input from lawyers and the public, as demonstrated by the presence of Supreme Court justices at the hearings. Today’s hearing was attended by Justice Dale Wainwright. Justice Phil Johnson attended the hearing in Lubbock.

The hearing Wednesday will take place in Houston. Participating lawyers will earn 0.5 hours ethics credit for attending the hearings. Public protection is an important core function of the Bar and citizens are encouraged to offer input, too. Click here to post a comment and click here for details on the proposed rules changes

The State Bar Board of Directors will take up the issue at its Oct. 1 meeting and make a recommendation to the Texas Supreme Court by Oct. 6.