The State Bar of Texas has created a task force to study issues related to indigent pro se litigants after controversy reached a crescendo last week over a Texas Supreme Court effort to make pro se divorce forms.
State Bar of Texas President Bob Black (pictured) yesterday wrote to Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson to inform him about the new “SOLUTIONS 2012” task force. The move comes after the Bar’s Family Law Section and the Texas Family Law Foundation objected to an effort by the high court’s Uniform Forms Task Force to create standardized forms for divorces. The Family Law Section have also raised questions about the Texas Access to Justice Commission, which helped the forms task force with its work.
“I do not know what SOLUTIONS 2012 will ultimately decide in terms of forms, but I’d like to point out forms already exist, and if forms alone would solve the problem, we would not have the problem,” says Black, managing shareholder of MehaffyWeber in Beaumont.
On Jan. 25, Jefferson wrote Black to say the high court sent the draft divorce forms to its Supreme Court Advisory Committee for review, despite a Jan. 20 resolution by the State Bar’s board of directors that asked the court to delay work on the forms. But Jefferson also wrote that the court appreciated and accepted the Bar’s “offer to assist” with the mission of providing poor citizens with access to justice.
Jefferson says about the Bar’s task force, “We need the legal profession, and particularly the State Bar’s input, on this very important issue. We’re thrilled they’re going to take a serious look at this and provide recommendations to the court and advisory committee.”
He says he hopes some of the recommendations may include things like increasing monetary contributions from lawyers for indigent legal aid, creating new robust pro bono assistance programs, and forming county programs to assist pro se litigants.
“The profession, I think, has an obligation to help those who cannot afford a lawyer gain legal representation, and access to the courts,” says Jefferson, adding, “This sort of focus on the problem is exactly what we need.”
Black says, “I’m looking for solutions: practical, measured solutions that address identified real problems. That’s what I think is the proper role for the Bar to play in this.”
For example, Black says not all courts accept the forms that pro se litigants are using already, so education may be “a good and valuable thing.” If the task force finds pro se litigants create court backlogs, Black says the Bar could “attack those backlogs and do some pro bono work.” He says he wants to start a dialogue on how best to address the long-term needs of indigent self-represented litigants, because it’s a problem “that’s going to be present for years.”
SOLUTIONS 2012 includes two co-chairs and 15 members. Black says he chose members to represent various interests, like district clerks, access to justice proponents, legal aid providers, the Family Law Section, the Uniform Forms Task Force and more. He wants the task force to prepare a preliminary report and present findings at the April 13 State Bar board meeting and at the April 13 to 14 meeting of the Supreme Court Advisory Committee.
-- Angela Morris