Battle for the Bench

If you’ve recently been arrested for assault, it’s probably best not to mention that fact on the campaign trail. And that was Carlos Cortez‘s move on Jan. 12, as he addressed a polite audience of North Dallas Democrats at an afternoon candidate forum. His opponent Bonnie Lee Goldstein also didn’t raise the issue. “It’s so gratifying to see that you actually want to know who the candidates are before you vote,” said Cortez, who mentioned awards won by his staff and himself. “This is a very important bench. It’s the highest civil trial bench in all of Texas, and we need people there who are experienced in complex cases, who know the type of law that comes before us; and I’m the only person in this race who does that. Thank you for your attention. I appreciate your support, and I’m asking you for your vote. Thank you,” Cortez said before leaving the podium. Dallas police arrested Cortez on Dec. 28, 2013, after his girlfriend alleged that he choked her, leaned her over the balcony of his residence and threatened to kill her. In a court pleading, Cortez has alleged that she was intoxicated due to mixing alcohol and prescription drugs, and he was trying to save her life, by removing her from a balcony from which she was trying to jump. Senior Judge Richard Mays has issued a gag order in Cortez’s assault case. While the gag order does not apply to Goldstein, she also stayed away from the subject at the candidate forum. “I bring experience, qualifications and temperament to be a judge 24/7. I have been a lawyer for over 23 years, I have been a judge for 10,” said Goldstein, a Dallas solo who also works as a municipal court judge. “I would love your support and your endorsement on March 4,” Goldstein said.

Social Media Smarts

Is it cool for counsel to “friend” judges? Which tweets could a lawyer post without bar approval? What disciplinary rules apply to status updates? The Texas Young Lawyers Association has published the TYLA Pocket Guide: Social Media 101. TYLA President Kristy Blanchard explained, “With so many advancements in technology and the way we advertise ourselves as lawyers and get business, I wanted a guide that was kind of a quick reference on the do’s and don’ts on advertising and social media—to make sure I wasn’t getting myself in trouble.” According to the guide, lawyers should “tread lightly” on social media when it comes to promoting themselves and their services. But in general, it’s OK for counsel to publish educational or informational content on social media. The guide details how the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct would apply to websites, blogs, sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter, and more. “In any medium, attorneys must maintain the confidentiality of his or her client, be truthful in statements to others, and avoid dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation.” Should lawyers “friend” judges on social media? That’s up in the air, with the guide noting that ethics committees in different states reach different conclusions. But if lawyers and judges do get buddy-buddy, definitely don’t “engage in ex parte communications or engage in other unethical conduct,” the guide warns. Blanchard notes that TYLA has distributed 550 social media guides and 250 copies of an earlier guide, Grievance and Malpractice 101. TYLA would like to produce one pocket guide each year, she said.

Paying Up in the Pokey

As the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit taught Texas Department of Criminal Justice inmate Robert Charles Morris on Jan. 10, you can’t get out of a health-care co-pay even if you’re in the joint. Morris sued TDJC in Robert Charles Morris v. Brad Livingston, after the Texas Legislature changed a portion of Texas Government Code §501.063 and raised the fee prisoners must pay for health-care services from $3 to $100. That law forbids TDCJ from denying an inmate access to health care as a result of the inmate’s failure to pay. But it does permit application of 50 percent of inmate trust account deposits to his balance until he pays off the $100. Morris challenged the law, alleging a host of constitutional violations, which a U.S. magistrate judge for the Western District of Texas and a U.S. district judge rejected. Morris appealed those rulings to the Fifth Circuit. Even though the health-care fee cost is relatively high (inmates don’t earn much money), the Fifth Circuit rejected Morris arguments, as well. “The fact that the prison regulations and statutes analyzed by other courts in similar cases impose smaller fees than that in §501.063 is not dispositive. All inmates are guaranteed medical care regardless of ability to pay, and half of all deposits into inmates’ trust accounts is reserved for their use, even if there is a negative balance due to payment of a health care service fee,” wrote Senior Judge Carolyn Dineen King in a decision dismissing Morris’ appeal.

Face-Off With Dennis Rodman

Former NBA star and current bizarre newsmaker Dennis Rodman continues to grab attention over his latest trip to North Korea—and his apology for a strange rant concerning an American held captive in the secretive country. All of the Rodmania prompted Martha Hardwick Hofmeister, a partner in Dallas’ Shackelford, Melton & McKinley, to recall her own confrontation with the multiply pierced, heavily tattooed, retired basketball player known as “The Worm.” Years ago, Hofmeister said she represented a client who had a business dispute with Rodman. She traveled to California for a hearing before an administrative law judge, and Rodman, as she recalls, was “super late to the hearing.” “He comes wandering in, and he’s wearing pajamas and a wool skull cap and sunglasses. And he sat in the corner and slept, and the judge didn’t make him take his glasses off,” Hofmeister said. “It was so freaky. That was the most astonishing part about it. I can’t imagine a judge in Dallas County not making someone take off their sunglasses so we can see them.” The dispute eventually ended in a settlement, she said. “I will say this: He was an interesting opponent because he kept calling me ‘ma’am’ when he was on the record, and then, when we were on a break, he would call me ‘honey,’” Hofmeister said. “He had been well prepared for his deposition.”

There’s an App for Frack

Bracewell & Giuliani has launched ShalePlay app, the Houston-based firm’s first app. It’s meant for Bracewell’s clients and others in the shale industry. ShalePlay provides information on shale gas and hydraulic fracturing, including some prepared by energy and environmental lawyers at the firm. It includes news, legislation, regulation, shale studies, an interactive map of shale plays, a glossary of common terms in the industry, a timeline of hydraulic fracturing and analysis from Bracewell & Giuliani lawyers. The free app, available for iOS devices, became available on Jan. 15. An Android version will be available by mid-year. Paul Grabowski, Bracewell’s chief marketing officer, said the firm developed the app out of a need. “We weren’t able to really find a one-stop shop for all things regarding the shale industry,” he said. Grabowski said the app took 14 months to develop. “It was a new venture for us. We wanted to come up with something that was unique,” he said.

No Shotgun Wedding for Same-Sex Marriage Litigation

On Jan. 10, U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks for the Western District of Texas in Austin denied a motion by the Office of Attorney General to consolidate three pending cases in which same-sex couples seek to get married in Texas. Same-sex couples had filed two cases in the Austin federal court and one in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas in San Antonio. The OAG, which represents the state defendants in all three cases, moved to consolidate the three cases in Austin as McNosky v. Perry. Lauren Bean, a spokeswoman for the OAG, wrote in an email that her office will not comment on Sparks’ ruling. Daniel “Neel” McNeel Lane Jr., a partner in Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld in San Antonio, represents two of the couples, who filed their complaint in De Leon v. Perry in federal court in San Antonio. His clients had intervened in McNosky for the sole purpose of objecting to the AG’s consolidation motion. Sparks’ ruling means his clients will have a hearing in a San Antonio federal court on Feb. 12, Lane said.