As a dues paying Texas Attorney, I expect the State Bar of Texas to be 100% neutral in State Bar Elections. It is especially distressing to find they are not.
As a bit of background, I am a former prosecutor and Assistant Attorney General in Child Support. My current practice centers around pro bono, in particular, helping Veterans — a need the Bar has been adept and admirable at serving well.
I enjoyed reading Bar Presidential-elect Candidate Steve Fischer’s responses in the April Texas Bar Journal, but was shocked that afterwards the Bar Journal added its own editorial comments about the Attorney General Opinion that was rendered in Mr. Fischer’s favor against the State Bar’s position.
Even worse, the comments were factually wrong.
A bit of checking led me to email Mr. Fischer and it’s clear that some Directors of the Bar tried to intimidate him into resigning. This is a direct quote from a March 9, 2013, email sent to Mr. Fischer by Bob Black, Chairman of the Nominations Committee:
Bob Black: "Dear Steve, This email is to give you formal notice that you are ineligible for the president-elect race. You have been told this privately many, many times and you know it. We are not playing games."
After reading that, I was shocked that Bob Black made himself the Moderator for the "We the Candidates" Webcast by the State Bar. The moderator should have been a neutral participant.
Not only did Mr. Black write that email to Mr. Fischer, and also moderated the debate — Mr. Black also selected and nominated Mr. Fischer’s opponents in this Bar election, and editorialized several times regarding Steve Fischer’s responses.
I believe that, as lawyers, we all have to be aware of the appearance of impropriety. Whether we have handled issues appropriately or not, the appearance of impropriety demeans our profession and lessens the public’s faith in the system (and, in this case, lessens the faith the members have in the quality of some Bar Director(s) decision-making and neutrality).
Our dues appear to have been spent on the recruiting of two nominees, chosen by a handful of Bar leaders, amongst them, Bob Black.
No dues were spent on Steve Fischer’s nomination — just a grass-roots effort by Mr. Fischer to be allowed to be placed on the State Bar Ballot — six thousand Texas attorneys signed a Petition to allow Mr. Fischer to run for President.
In the Webcast debate by the Bar, Steve Fischer asked Bob Black whether Mr. Black might prefer sitting with the candidates and joining the debate himself, as Mr. Black was editorializing. Beverly Godbey, the Vice Chair, and co-moderator, appeared neutral and professional (as have others within the Bar leadership). I appreciate the Bar providing the Webcast; I only wish it had been moderated by other than an open opponent of one of the candidates.
I realize the State Bar and its two handpicked candidates have not had a challenge by a ‘Petition’ candidate, and that Steve Fischer as an independent-minded director may be a threat to their power structure, however the bar establishment needs to remember that they represent all of the Bar membership, and should handle Bar matters without any semblance of impropriety or lack of neutrality.
Sheila O’Connor Allen
Law Office of Sheila O’Connor Allen