Reform for Election Rules?

State Bar of Texas board member Steve Fischer, a petition candidate who lost this year’s election for State Bar president-elect, wants to reform the State Bar’s election rules by requiring fewer signatures from future petition candidates. He presented his ideas to the State Bar’s Nominations and Elections Subcommittee on Sept. 19. Meanwhile, the subcommittee is looking for lawyers to nominate to be next year’s board-approved president-elect candidates. The subcommittee wants lawyers to apply if they are interested. Fischer collected more than 5,000 lawyer signatures to become a petition candidate, as required under the State Bar Act. His proposal doesn’t change the act. Instead, it would create a new “mechanism” in the State Bar election rules for someone to become a petition candidate. He proposes adding a new rule that would allow an attorney to become a candidate by collecting 1,000 signatures. The candidate also would need to have a clean record with the State Bar and two years’ experience on a committee, board or section. If more than one attorney tried to become a petition candidate, only the first to submit his petition would be a candidate that year. Others could keep their signatures for a future election. Dan Horowitz, a member of the subcommittee, says perhaps there should be a discussion about lowering the signature requirement. But he adds that he has some problems with Fischer’s proposal. Horowitz says he’s unsure whether 1,000 signatures is the right number; he has a problem with the limitation to just one petition candidate per year; and he disagrees with allowing other petition candidates to keep their signatures for future elections. “I just want to get more information from him before I make up my mind on anything,” says Horowitz, a partner in Abraham, Watkins, Nichols, Sorrels, Agosto & Friend in Houston. Subcommittee members Larry McDougal and Susan Nelson also say they haven’t made up their minds about Fischer’s proposal. They both decline further comment. Buck Files and Frank Stevenson, both co-chairmen of the subcommittee, each didn’t return a telephone call seeking comment.

Changes for CCA

Judges on the Court of Criminal Appeals rarely leave their jobs voluntarily. In fact, a majority of the judges on the bench were first elected to the court in the 1990s. Its last member to leave, Charles Holcomb, did so because he’d reached the age limit for serving on the court. So it came as a bit of a surprise that three of the court’s judges, Cathy Cochran, Paul Womack and Tom Price, made it known they are not seeking re-election when their terms end in 2014. And there’s also a common reason the three judges are not seeking re-election, Cochran says. “I think all three of us do not want to run another election. We’re tired of that,” Cochran says. Contrast the CCA with the Texas Supreme Court, where Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson announced his retirement recently, noting that he’d served with 21 different justices since he was first appointed to the state’s highest civil court in 2001. Many of Jefferson’s colleagues left for private practice, were appointed or sought higher office, or were defeated. “We’re known as the stealth court for a reason,” Cochran says of the CCA. “Our court is not a stepping stone to something else. It’s an end of itself; there’s no grand ambition to leave. And nobody loses because no one pays attention to the court,” she says. However, it’s the right place for judges and aspiring jurists who love criminal law, she says — another reason Cochran says and she and her fellow soon-to-be-departed judges want to alert their potential replacements. “We want our court to have good and competent people when we leave, and we wanted people to have time to think about it,” she says. As for Womack, he says it’s just time to go. “I’m 66, and I’ll be 67 before my term ends,” Womack says. “It just seems like retirement time for me.” Price notes he’s served on three different levels of courts — continuously — since 1974, “and 40 years is long enough for any job.” “My biggest hesitation is, what am I going to do now?” says Price who has no intentions as sitting as a visiting judge. “I only practiced law for four years — four years of practicing law and 40 years of being a judge. It’s going to be shocker,” Price says. “I’m pretending like it’s not going to bother me, but it probably is.”

Mexican Energy Reforms

Energy lawyers in Texas will benefit if proposed energy reforms in Mexico, which may allow foreign energy companies to invest in energy projects in Mexico, become reality over the next few years. Reform is a real possibility, lawyers at a Mayer Brown Mexico Energy Reforms roundtable in Houston predicted on Sept. 13. Fernando Alonso-de-Florida, a partner in Elias-Calles y Alonso de Florida in Mexico City, said during the discussion at the roundtable that reforms will be a “game changer.” Alonso said the framework of a new system, including changes to tax laws to go along with the energy reforms, could be in place by 2015. The reforms, proposed on Aug. 12 by President Enrique Pena Nieto, may, among many things, pave the way for energy companies to enter into profit-sharing contracts with the Mexican government or joint ventures with Pemex, Mexico’s state oil company. “Today it is illegal to own a barrel of oil in Mexico if you aren’t Pemex,” said Jose Valera, a global energy partner in Mayer Brown in Houston who participated in the discussion. Reform would translate into a lot of business for Texas lawyers who do energy deals, particularly because Mexican lawyers haven’t had need concentrate in that area, Valera says. “All this is going to open up the need for commercial agreements,” Valera said. Valera said the Mexican energy reforms also could prompt more firms to open offices in Mexico as the volume of business increases.