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Lost and Found William Britton “Britt” Hall, a former Houston solo who walked away from his practice in January 2006, leaving numerous clients in the lurch, agreed to a suspension of his law license in a State Bar of Texas District No. 3B02 Grievance Committee agreed judgment signed on Feb. 2. Hall received an active suspension from the practice of law for one year and a probated suspension for an additional two years. The State Bar’s Commission for Lawyer Discipline took the unusual step of assuming Hall’s practice in March 2006, after lawyers who had referred him cases received angry telephone calls from clients wondering where Hall was. [ See "Cases & Concerns,"Texas Lawyer , April 10, 2006 page 1.] But in May 2006, Hall was practicing law again in another city after he was hired by Rigby Owen III, a Conroe solo. [ See "Lost and Found,"Texas Lawyer , Oct. 16, 2006, page 8.] Hall says he suffers from depression and was unable to manage his Houston practice. “The commission hopes that Mr. Hall will take advantage of this period of suspension to address the problems that caused his misconduct,” says Betty Blackwell, who chairs the commission. And for that, Hall says, he’s grateful. “I really hope this does put all of this behind me after the suspension is over. And there were a lot of reasons I agreed to it, but the most important one is that I wanted to acknowledge that I’d made a mistake. And that mistake hurt a lot of people, and I made every effort I could to make them whole,” Hall says. Hall adds that he has paid restitution to his former clients and is under the care of a doctor for his depression. “A lot of people have gone to great lengths to help me in this, and I appreciate them,” Hall says. He credits Owen, who employs him as a paralegal, and the State Bar’s Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program with providing him help and support. “I also appreciate the State Bar’s need to make sure that this doesn’t happen again � not only with me but with other people who may be in a similar circumstance.” DA Seeks AG Opinion Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins has requested an opinion from Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott on whether “an appearance of impropriety, a conflict of interest or a violation of any law” exists as a result of Watkins hiring a former judge to work as an assistant district attorney prosecuting cases in the domestic relations courthouse where she previously presided. Specifically, Watkins’ inquiry, dated Jan. 24, seeks clarification from the AG on any ethical restrictions facing Brenda Green, who had served as judge of the 256th District Court in Dallas County for 11 years until she left office on Dec. 31, 2006. Green now serves as an assistant DA handling matters and supervising other attorneys prosecuting domestic relations cases. Durrand Hill, the chief of the juvenile division in the DA’s office and Green’s supervisor, says, “She’s not assigned to the same court, but she’s in the same courthouse involved in the same type of cases she was as a judge, and it’s possible she could eventually be handling cases she presided over as a judge. In an abundance of caution, we wanted to get an opinion from the AG.” Watkins refers questions to Hill; Green did not return two telephone calls seeking comment. Lauri Saathoff, a spokeswoman for the AG, says Abbott does not comment on pending requests for opinions but that he will respond to Watkins within 180 days of the date of the DA’s request. Absence of Malice Reversing a trial court’s denial of summary judgment in a defamation suit, Austin’s 3rd Court of Appeals held on Feb. 13 that former Bastrop County District Attorney Charles Penick failed to produce any evidence of actual malice by the Smithville Times and one of its reporters in the paper’s publication of four articles criticizing the prosecution in a 1998 capital murder trial. The 3rd Court also held in Cox Texas Newspapers, d/b/a The Smithville Times, et al. v. Penick that the former DA failed to show that an Oct. 18, 2001, article was about him. “Although Penick was involved in the prosecution, there is no evidence to show that readers would associate the article’s criticism with him individually,” 3rd Court Chief Justice Kenneth Law wrote in the opinion, in which Justices Bob Pemberton and Alan Waldrop joined. According to the opinion, Penick filed the suit against the Times and reporter Tyanna Tyler in 2002, alleging that a series of articles, editorials and letters to the editor published in the newspaper in 2001 and early 2002 defamed him. The series dealt with the prosecution of Rodney Reed, who is on death row for the 1996 rape and murder of Stacey Stites. Law noted in the opinion that the Times made three errors in a Dec. 13, 2001, article about a complaint a citizen filed against Penick and others. “High visibility criminal prosecutions need a fair berth for reporting, even when there may be some errors,” says Mike McKetta, the defendants’ attorney and a partner in Austin’s Graves, Dougherty, Hearon & Moody. Law also noted in the opinion that the 21st District Court granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment regarding nine articles in the series but denied their motion on four others. The Times and Tyler filed an interlocutory appeal with the 3rd Court, which rendered a take-nothing judgment in their favor. “We’re disappointed in the court’s decision,” Gregory C. Anderson, Penick’s attorney, says. Anderson, a partner in El Paso’s Anderson Anderson Bright & Crout, says Penick has not decided whether to appeal the decision. [ See the court's opinion.]

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