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A State Bar of Texas-sponsored continuing legal education course on legal issues surrounding the fall of Enron Corp. almost collapsed like the energy giant. Several lawyers allege Bar politics played a role, but others say that’s just not so. Richard Orsinger, chairman of the State Bar’s CLE Committee and a director of the course, says an advertisement for the course was pulled Feb. 8 in the middle of a blast fax promoting the March 1 event. “The word went out to stop it [the fax] in its tracks,” says Orsinger, a San Antonio solo who’s also of counsel at McCurley, Kinser, McCurley & Nelson in Dallas. All Internet advertising for the course — titled “The Enron Debacle: Navigating the Perfect Storm” — also was pulled, he says. But the CLE course is back on track. Orsinger says Bar executive director Tony Alvarado “gave the green light to go ahead with the course” Feb. 13, after Texas Lawyer began investigating why it had been derailed. “No doubt the light shined on the process made a difference,” Orsinger says. Orsinger says he volunteered to make changes so that the course can go on. The course title was changed to “Enron: The Legal Issues,” and a presentation on bankruptcy is being added, he says. However, Orsinger says he fought suggestions that the name “Enron” be taken out of the title; the name, he says, will attract lawyers to the course, which will be held at the Radisson Astrodome Hotel in Houston. Orsinger says Steve Suttle, chairman of the Bar’s Professional Development Program Committee, mentioned that using the name of the corporation would be offensive to some people. “I don’t see that ‘Enron’ is any more offensive than ‘World Trade Center’ or the ‘Houston flood,’ ” Orsinger says. Everyone would probably wonder why the Bar was holding a seminar on the collapse of a large corporation in Houston and the name of that corporation wasn’t mentioned, he says. Suttle says he does not recall saying that using the Enron name might be offensive. “I said perhaps we should be sensitive to the use of that name and not capitalize on it,” he says. Orsinger developed the course with attorney Craig Ball of Montgomery, Texas, and five attorneys on the Bar’s staff. Although Ball has been hired as an expert on an Enron-related case, Amalgamated Bank, et al. v. Arthur Andersen, he says he suggested the CLE course before anyone contacted him about the job. His first contact about Amalgamated Bank came on Jan. 22, Ball says. Ball says he first suggested the course to staff members in the Bar’s CLE Department during a Jan. 18 visit to Austin and worked out the topics with Orsinger on Jan. 22. “I thought there not only was a market for it, but an overwhelming hue and cry,” he says. The course title, “The Enron Debacle: Navigating the Perfect Storm,” was chosen to have something catchy that would attract lawyers, says Ball, who is Orsinger’s co-director for the course. Ball says he and Orsinger searched through the Bar’s online library for papers on topics relevant to the course. In many instances, the papers drove the selection of the speakers, he says. Alvarado says he put the course on hold Feb. 7 to allow time for a dialogue with the interested parties to ensure that it would be a quality CLE program. In a Feb. 7 e-mail to Orsinger and others involved in the discussions, Alvarado called for the CLE Committee and the board’s PDP Committee to collaborate in the development of policy guidelines on the content and marketing approach for the course. But the abrupt halt in preparations for the course left one speaker who had agreed to participate in the seminar angry. “It smacks to me of censorship and cronyism,” says Katrina Grider, a well-known CLE speaker. “I was insulted that the [Bar] board would ever think that the speakers would participate in a program that was not well thought out,” adds Grider, of Houston’s Grider & Associates. Howard Nations, another speaker and a former chairman of the CLE Committee, says the Texas Bar’s CLE programming is among the most successful in the country. “One of the reasons for our success is that politics has never been allowed to interfere with substantive content programming,” says Nations, of the Law Office of Howard L. Nations in Houston. “The substantive content of continuing legal education programs must remain above organizational politics,” he says. NO PRESSURE While Nations and others believe politics were involved in the effort to hold up the course, Alvarado says he wasn’t pressured by anyone on the issue. Alvarado says he talked with Vidal Martinez, chairman of the Bar board of directors, and Suttle, chairman of the PDP Committee, about the matter. “I talk to Tony three times a day about 50 different things,” says Martinez, a shareholder in Winstead Sechrest & Minick in Houston. But Martinez says he was not involved in the decision to put a hold on the course. Martinez says concerns were raised that the course “didn’t come through normal channels.” It did not go through the Bar’s CLE Committee and the Bar board’s Professional Development Program Committee, he says. Orsinger, who has been involved with the CLE Committee since 1982, says it’s a misconception to think that a planning committee works on every new course. “Sometimes courses are planned by a series of phone calls,” he says. The CLE Committee usually meets about three times a year and “brainstorms” on possible topics but does not meet to approve courses, Orsinger says. Orsinger also says that the PDP Committee’s job is to provide oversight for the financial side of putting on the courses and for publications. “They’ve just never been involved in content,” he says. Nations, whose involvement with the CLE Committee dates back more than 30 years, agrees with Orsinger that the PDP Committee does not oversee course content. However, the chairman of the PDP Committee did get involved in the Enron course. Suttle, a shareholder in Abilene, Texas’ McMahon, Surovik, Suttle, Buhrmann, Hicks & Gill, says he expressed concern about the course after receiving calls from several lawyers, whom he declines to name, about the scope of the law that was to be covered. “It is not just because it’s Enron,” he says. According to Suttle, his concerns focused on the quality of the program, the haste in which it was “thrown together” and the marketing of it. He objected to the “sensationalism” of the promotion for the course in a Feb. 8 e-mail sent to Fort Worth, Texas, attorney David Keltner, a former CLE Committee chairman; Julene Franki, director of the Bar’s PDP Division; Alvarado; and Martinez. “It smacks of opportunism and bottom feeding,” Suttle said in the e-mail. Suttle says he was also concerned that the course did not include a number of topics relevant to the Enron case, including bankruptcy, 401(k) problems, shareholder derivative actions and securities laws. “We just want to be assured that the quality of the programs that bear the Bar’s imprimatur are the same quality of programs we’ve had in the past and are on the subject matter that this program ought to address,” Suttle says. Ball and Orsinger say they plan to hold a series of CLE courses on Enron-related topics. Suttle says the plan for other programs may have come out of the discussions of concerns about the first course, but Ball says it was always their intent to hold courses approximately every 60 days until lawyers have had enough on Enron. As of press time, Pat Nester, the Bar staff attorney designated to help with planning the course, said the speakers were being notified by phone and e-mail that the program was going forward. “We haven’t had anybody say no,” Nester said. While the Enron course is back on schedule, Orsinger says he still has concerns about the brouhaha that almost cancelled it. He has scheduled a Feb. 28 meeting of the CLE Committee in Houston to give committee members an opportunity to set parameters for future courses on Enron-related topics. Notes Orsinger: “We’ll try to put some rules in place to avoid this kind of thing.”

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