A task force designed to help the Texas courts system resume criminal proceedings in light of the COVID-19 pandemic won approval June 24 from the State Bar of Texas Board of Directors.
The board approved the Presidential Task Force on Criminal Court Proceedings at the request of 2020-2021 State Bar President Larry McDougal, a Richmond criminal defense attorney.
The 17-member task force will meet by videoconference and advise the Texas Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals regarding the resumption of criminal jury trials and other criminal law issues “to make sure we do it right,” McDougal told the board.
A preliminary report was expected by July 31.
The task force will supplement the work of the Jury Trial Advisory Group, which was formed in May at the request of the Supreme Court and with the support of the State Bar. The Jury Trial Advisory Group is assisting the Office of Court Administration as part of the judiciary’s plans to resume court operations. The Supreme Court issued an emergency order on June 29 further suspending jury proceedings in most circumstances until September 1.
McDougal said the task force evolved from his discussions with Texas District & County Attorneys Association President Kenda Culpepper and Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association President-elect Grant Scheiner on how criminal proceedings should occur in light of the pandemic. “Criminal trials provide, with constitutional protections, a lot of complications—rights that cannot be waived that can be waived in the civil courts,” McDougal said, explaining the need for a specialized task force.
Culpepper, the Rockwall County criminal district attorney, and Scheiner, a Houston criminal defense lawyer, will co-chair the task force along with State District Judge Alfonso Charles, of Longview, the presiding judge of the 10thAdministrative Judicial Region.
Also serving on the task force are McDougal, Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Bert Richardson, and 12 additional members selected by the co-chairs. David Slayton, administrative director of the Office of Court Administration, and Trey Apffel, executive director of the State Bar, are liaisons to the group.
Disciplinary Rule Proposals
The board approved proposed amendments to Part VII of the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct, which deal with lawyer advertising and solicitation, and a new proposed Rule 13.04 of the Texas Rules of Disciplinary Procedure, regarding the voluntary appointment of custodian attorneys to assist with the cessation of practice. The proposals came from the Committee on Disciplinary Rules and Referenda, a nine-member committee created by the Texas Legislature in 2017 to review the disciplinary rules and oversee the initial process of proposing a change or addition to the disciplinary rules.
In January, the board sent an earlier version of the proposed advertising rules back to the committee for further consideration, including the possibility of amending it to allow the use of trade names. The revised proposal approved by the board would allow a Texas lawyer to practice law using a trade name that is not false or misleading.
The proposed rule is in line with the majority other states concerning the regulation of firm names, said State Bar Director Stephen J. Naylor, of Fort Worth, who chairs the board’s Discipline & Client Attorney Assistance Committee. Among other changes, the proposal also would simplify advertising disclaimer and filing requirements while maintaining prohibitions on false or misleading communications about a lawyer’s qualifications or services.
“Overall, the proposal generally streamlines and modernizes the current advertising rules, which are very complex and in some ways outdated,” Naylor said. “We believe that lawyers will appreciate these changes, as the rules provide better guidance for compliance purposes. At the same time, they protect the public from false and misleading communications, which is the main intent of the rules.”
The board voted to hold the proposals for submission to the Supreme Court at a later date as a bundle with other proposed rules. A rules vote by the membership is tentatively scheduled for February 2021, but the timeline could be delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Naylor said.
For a rule change to take effect under the process, it must be approved by the committee, the board, the State Bar membership, and the Supreme Court.
El Paso solo practitioner Sylvia Borunda Firth was sworn in as State Bar president-elect during the board’s June 25 meeting. She is the first Hispanic woman and first person from El Paso to serve in that role. John Charles “Charlie” Ginn, of McKinney, succeeded Jerry C. Alexander, of Dallas, as chair of the board of directors. Supreme Court Justice Debra Lehrmann administered the oath of office to new officers and directors.
2019-2020 State Bar President Randy Sorrels presented presidential citations to:
- State Bar directors August W. Harris III, of Austin, David C. Kent, of Dallas, and Robert E. McKnight Jr., of Victoria;
- Associate Executive Director and Legal Counsel John Sirman;
- Public Information Director Amy Starnes;
- Communications Division Director Lowell Brown; and
- the following State Bar divisions and departments: Information Technology, Law Practice Management, TexasBarCLE, and Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program.
Alexander, the outgoing board chair, presented the Public Member Award to Jarrod T. Foerster, of Houston, and the Outstanding Third-Year Director Award to Leslie W. Dippel, of Austin.
The board also adopted a joint resolution honoring Dallas lawyer Karen McCloud. McCloud was serving as first vice president of the Dallas Bar Association when she died in April after a battle with cancer. She was a past president of the J.L. Turner Legal Association, Dallas Women Lawyers Association, and Dallas Association of Young Lawyers and was in line to become Dallas Bar president in 2022.
Also adopting the joint resolution were the Dallas Asian American Bar Association, Dallas Association of Young Lawyers, Dallas Bar Association, Dallas Hispanic Bar Association, Dallas Women Lawyers Association, and J.L. Turner Legal Association.
In other action, the board:
- Heard a report from outside counsel on the McDonald v. Sorrels litigation, which challenges the mandatory bar in Texas. Go to texasbar.com/mcdonaldvsorrels to read filings in the case;
- Heard but did not approve a proposed Annual Meeting resolution submitted by lawyer James Lee Murphy, of Alamo Heights, regarding a proposed constitutional amendment related to political expression;
- Approved revisions to State Bar Board Policy Manual Sections 5.01 and 5.02.04 regarding State Bar sections.