STATE BAR BOARD UPDATE

State Bar Board Tackles COVID-19 Issues in First Virtual Meeting

Written by Lowell Brown


The State Bar of Texas Board of Directors handled a mix of emergency items and routine business on April 17 during its first-ever virtual meeting, after the COVID-19 crisis and resulting stay-at-home orders forced the cancellation of a planned in-person gathering.

The 46-voting-member board met by videoconference in compliance with Gov. Greg Abbott’s order temporarily suspending certain open meetings provisions due to the coronavirus pandemic. The bar accommodated public comments by teleconference and livestreamed the meeting on YouTube.

The board delegated emergency authority to Executive Director Trey Apffel to take actions as needed during the crisis. President Randy Sorrels said the action would ensure the State Bar could quickly respond to the needs of its members and the general public. The executive director would consult State Bar officers and update the board and its executive committee on any emergency actions taken, Sorrels said.

Officials with the bar and Texas Supreme Court updated the board on the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the legal profession and the resources available to lawyers and the public. The State Bar created a webpage at texasbar.com/coronavirus as a clearinghouse for court guidance and closures, free online TexasBarCLE courses, law practice management videos, and other resources.

The Supreme Court and the bar are developing a task force to address needs arising from the crisis, said Justice Debra Lehrmann, the court’s liaison to the bar. “Of course there’s going to be a huge demand on our court system for a lot of different proceedings that have not been able to go forward [because of stay-at-home orders], especially jury trials and certainly in criminal matters,” she said. “So we’re going to have to develop a plan for that.”

As of April 17, the Supreme Court had issued 11 emergency orders related to the pandemic. The court has continued its work during the crisis by holding oral arguments and formal conferences by videoconference, Lehrmann said.

 

Judicial Independence Resolution
The board approved a resolution supporting judicial independence as a crucial pillar of the separation of powers protecting the rights of all Americans. The resolution calls on all Americans, including lawyers and elected officials, to support and defend the integrity of an independent judiciary..

 

Legal Incubator Workgroup
The board voted to create a workgroup to consider making the Texas Opportunity & Justice Incubator an independent entity that could accept grants and operate without State Bar funding. Dallas attorney Frank Stevenson, who helped launch the program as State Bar president in 2016-2017, will chair the workgroup. The incubator has helped kickstart the practices of nearly 70 lawyers and in January transformed into a virtual, statewide program.

Finance and Budget
The board voted to submit the proposed 2020-2021 fiscal year budget to the Supreme Court for review and approval. The proposed budget and other financial documents are available at texasbar.com/finances.

Proposed Rule Changes
The board endorsed proposed amendments to Rules 3.01, 3.02, and 3.03 of the Texas Rules of Disciplinary Procedure and voted to hold the proposals for submission to the Supreme Court at a later date as a bundle with other proposed rules. The board also approved a resolution asking the Committee on Disciplinary Rules and Referenda to initiate the rule proposal process related to the appointment of custodian attorneys for the temporary cessation of practice due to a disabling circumstance.

New Board Chair-Elect
The board elected District 1 Director John Charles “Charlie” Ginn 2020-2021 chair of the board. Ginn, a personal injury attorney in McKinney, is a member of the Texas Trial Lawyers Association and the Dallas Trial Lawyers Association and is serving a term on the Texas Trial Lawyers Board of Advocates.

New At-Large Director
Houston attorney David N. Calvillo, certified in civil trial law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, was appointed to an at-large director position. He will serve a three-year term starting in June.

Committee Appointments
The board approved President-elect Larry McDougal’s appointments to State Bar standing committees for 2020-2021.

Staff Excellence Award
Apffel presented the quarterly Staff Excellence Award to all members of the State Bar staff in recognition of their work during the COVID-19 crisis. “Every day they exhibit a resilient work ethic that reflects their abiding commitment to the public and our members during a very difficult and challenging time,” he said.TBJ

 

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