Imagine waking up to a phone call from incoming State Bar of Texas President Joe Longley saying “the bar just passed the ‘Stop Steve Fischer Amendment.’” I laughed and countered, “I thought it was called the ‘Attorney Vote Suppression Act.’”
While the bar has improved in attempting to be more transparent and supportive, a new rule pertaining to petition signatures huge step backward. The rule limits the time period allowed for an independent SBOT presidential candidate to obtain signatures to 180 days. The State Bar Act 81.019 already has a limitation “due 30 days before the election” and the bar had no valid reason to add the time restriction. Proponents claimed they didn’t like year-round campaigning. What they really wanted was to limit presidential candidates to it’s closed-door, backroom selection process, or allow only wealthy candidates who could pay consultants to gather signatures. Members of the committee, including Director Andrew Tolchin, were in constant contact and I even secured a secretary of state election opinion, backing my assertion the Texas Election Code was not applicable to State Bar Elections. The bar backed off that, but added the restriction anyway.
In 2013, I was the first petition candidate under the State Bar Act, having secured 6,122 attorney signatures, mostly by standing in front of courthouses from Plainview to Beaumont and everywhere in between. Attorneys from all sections of the state should have access to the candidates, to both present their platform and listen to lawyer concerns. It took me an entire year. Since then Randy Sorrels, Lisa Blue and Joe Longley have followed suit.
If I decide to run in 2019, I will obtain signatures the same by talking to attorneys, and I dare the bar to keep me off the ballot. The board passed this knowing I might run, and did so while denying requests for a roll-call vote. If forced to sue to obtain ballot access, I would show a pattern of discrimination dating back from 2013, which included using our bar funds to extol my opponents, having me physically removed by armed guards from a CLE for which I had registered (they were concerned I might get signatures during a break), and allowing a nasty email campaign which used out-of-context statements to claim I didn’t like Hispanics or Catholics, which is half of my family. Ironically, Randy Sorrels, who perpetrated the emails, is now a friend who calls once a week. He publicly apologized and has adopted my two-pronged test for bar reform (Does it help lawyers? Does it help the bar?).
The State Bar of Texas has nothing to fear with me as a candidate except that I think for myself. Unlike 2013, however, when I won an attorney general opinion after they tried to exclude me, they will be subject to even worse consequences if they try it again.