The Texas Supreme Court has asked the State Bar of Texas to describe how it trains staff members of the Client Attorney Assistance Program, which resolves minor disputes between clients and their lawyers.
The high court’s request comes after the Grievance Oversight Committee issued a report this summer that recommended changes to CAAP and the State Bar’s ombudsman position, among other things. The GOC studies the state’s attorney grievance system and issues an annual report to recommend improvements.
The court reviewed the GOC’s report and responses from the State Bar, members of the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct Committee, the Texas Coalition on Lawyer Accountability, and others.
Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson (pictured) sent a letter Dec. 7 to GOC Chairwoman Judy Sebesta, responding to the recommendations about CAAP. He copied the letter to State Bar President Bob Black and Michelle Hunter, the State Bar’s executive director.
Jefferson wrote, “We are not persuaded that major reforms are necessary at this time.” But he asked the State Bar to describe the training CAAP staffers receive “to distinguish between a complaint that, if true, would subject an attorney to discipline from a minor complaint that would not.”
The court plans to discuss some GOC recommendations about the ombudsman with the Bar. Jefferson wrote, “We take seriously your recommendation that complaints should be directed to CAAP, rather than the Ombudsman. . . . We also question, as you do, the Ombudsman’s current duty to serve as a media contact.”
Black says the Bar looks forward to a discussion about the ombudsman. He says he can’t recall the Supreme Court issuing a letter in response to GOC reports in the past and he welcomes the high court’s guidance.
“I appreciate the court’s view that no major reforms to the Client Attorney Assistance Program are necessary at this time,” says Black, managing shareholder of MehaffyWeber in Beaumont. He says he appreciates that the court shares the Bar’s “feeling that training is an ongoing thing and we should always review it and improve it where possible.”
Sebesta says she plans to review Jefferson’s letter with her fellow GOC members at a meeting this week and declines further comment. Through court spokesperson Osler McCarthy, Jefferson says his letter speaks for itself and he declines further comment. Neither Hunter nor Maureen Ray, ombudsman and spokeswoman for the Bar’s Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel, immediately returned a telephone call seeking comment.
-- Angela Morris