Editor’s note: State Bar of Texas President Tom Vick sent the following message to members on Friday.
I’m writing with an update on today’s State Bar of Texas Board of Directors meeting in Fort Worth, which included action on transparency, the budget, and president-elect task forces; an update on possible advertising review changes; a next step in our general counsel search; and the election of a new board chair. As promised, the meeting was taped, and the video will be available at texasbar.com/board by next week.
The board voted unanimously to request proposals from qualified firms to conduct a thorough, independent review of transparency issues at the State Bar. The findings will be reported to the board and shared publicly.
This is a positive step that further illustrates our commitment to being a leader in open government. It is the latest in a series of transparency improvements at the State Bar in recent months, including the launch of the Our Finances webpage and the videotaping of board meetings. We are looking into technology to allow possible live streaming of future board meetings.
President-elect Task Forces
President-elect Joe K. Longley has appointed two president-elect task forces—one on State Bar finances, the other on transparency. The board voted to request that both task forces present an update at the June 20 board meeting in Houston and prepare a written report to the board two weeks before that meeting.
The State Bar leadership and staff have worked in good faith to fulfill every request of these task forces, including sending staff members to answer in-person questions and assigning staff members as liaisons to facilitate their work. We have made it known to the task forces that we welcome any recommendations as to how we can better address financial and transparency issues. And we widely publicized the first and only official report we have received from either task force to date, which looked at the State Bar’s proactive response to an embezzlement of funds from a Supreme Court account that the State Bar discovered in 2012.
At today’s board meeting, State Bar director Scott Stolley of Dallas and a number of other board members raised concerns about how the Transparency Task Force has been operating. Scott was appointed to that task force and later resigned over his concerns. He called it a “flawed vehicle” for achieving what we all want: a more open State Bar.
One of Scott’s major concerns was that statements made by the State Bar’s legal counsel to the task force in March were taken from their intended context and used against the State Bar in a pending litigation matter. His concerns prompted considerable discussion by the board, and I invite you to watch the discussion on the State Bar website when the video is available if you’re interested.
Our directors were clear that they support the objectives of both task forces. Both task forces will continue their work.Our directors simply want to ensure their work is progressing and isn’t duplicative of the work being done by the board’s existing committees. In the meantime, they directed State Bar staff to continue responding to written requests from the task forces but to pause additional in-person interviews until the board receives the requested reports.
The State Bar has invested more than 400 staff hours and approximately $50,000 in time and expenses to support the work of the Financial Responsibility & Fiscal Control Task Force since it started meeting in August. The State Bar has also devoted resources to the Transparency Task Force, which formed in November and started meeting in January. As the governing body of the State Bar, the board has a responsibility to ensure these resources are being used wisely. We look forward to hearing from the task forces in coming weeks.
General Counsel Search
The board’s General Counsel Search Committee announced it has narrowed its short list of candidates from six to three (listed in alphabetical order): Martha S. Dickie, Ross Fischer, and Michael A. Shaunessy. The committee is gathering more information on the candidates and will continue deliberations. The committee ultimately will make a recommendation to the full board, which will elect the general counsel by a majority vote.
As I explained in prior messages, the board voted unanimously in January to approve the hiring of a general counsel, a statutory position under the State Bar Act. The general counsel will provide counsel to the State Bar board and officers on an as-needed, contract basis as the board directed. As prescribed by the RFP, this individual will be independent—reporting straight to the board, not to the executive director—and will perform duties usually expected of a general counsel.
You should know that a group calling itself Texas Lawyers for State Bar Reform has distributed emails on the general counsel search that contain inaccurate and misleading statements. I want to directly address those claims here, so there is no confusion about the board’s actions:
- The board is not hiring an “outside law firm” to serve as general counsel. The State Bar Act is clear that the general counsel is an individual, and the board will be electing an individual to this position.
- The State Bar Act does not require the general counsel to be a full-time, in-house position. The board agreed to structure the position as an independent contractor after determining there wasn’t enough work to justify the cost of a full-time general counsel. The general counsel will still fulfill all statutory requirements—including by serving as an ex officio member of the board’s executive committee.
- The State Bar’s in-house legal counsel will not perform the general counsel’s work, nor will the general counsel report to the in-house counsel or to the executive director. If you read the RFP used to solicit the candidates, you will see the roles of general counsel and legal counsel are clearly delineated and independent of each other.
If you have any questions or comments on the search process or the candidates, please contact Amy Turner, the State Bar’s human resources director, at (512) 427-1708.
Ad Review Changes
This year, I asked the Advertising Review Committee to take a look at the advertising rules and regulatory structure and recommend improvements, and the committee submitted a report with some thoughtful recommendations.
The report describes how the committee is making changes to its administrative procedures to streamline the ad review system. The committee is also making suggestions for amending many of the disciplinary rules that govern lawyer advertising.
Today, the board voted to refer the report to its Discipline and Client Attorney Assistance Committee for review. That committee will return with its recommendations on the proposed rule changes at a future board meeting.
State Bar Budget
The board voted unanimously to submit the proposed 2018-2019 State Bar budget to the Texas Supreme Court, which will review and consider approval of the budget in May. I have sent several messages about this budget (the latest one is here), but in short it would reduce overall general-fund spending by 5 percent compared with the current budget while adding additional money in reserves and without reducing member services.
Board Chair Election
I want to congratulate Laura Gibson of Houston, whom the board elected to serve as chair for the 2018-2019 bar year starting in June. Laura is a partner in Dentons’ litigation and dispute resolution practice. She is board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and is a dedicated volunteer for our profession, having served as president of the Houston Bar Association among many other roles. Laura will succeed our current board chair, Rehan Alimohammad of Sugar Land.
Remember to Vote!
Finally, don’t forget to vote in the 2018 State Bar and Texas Young Lawyers Association election, which ends at 5 p.m. CT on May 1. Go to texasbar.com/election to cast your ballot or to learn more about the candidates.
As always, I welcome your questions and comments.
Tom Vick, President
State Bar of Texas