Without objection today, the State Bar of Texas board of directors voted to request that the Texas Supreme Court suspend the work of the court’s Uniform Forms Task Force and ask the Bar to study the issue of indigent self-represented litigants. The board’s action ratified a resolution its executive committee passed Jan. 5 in the wake of controversy over standardized forms the task force has recommended for the use of pro se litigants in uncomplicated, uncontested divorce cases. The task force submitted its first set of forms to the court on Jan. 11. The State Bar’s Family Law Section and the Family Law Foundation have been voicing concerns about the proposed forms. Tom Ausley, the section’s chairman, told the Bar board today that it is not possible to adopt forms to address all issues that could come up in a divorce. “The last thing a pro se indigent litigant needs is poor forms,” Ausley, a partner in Austin’s Ausley, Algert, Robertson & Flores, said during the public comment period of the board meeting. But Harry Reasoner, a partner in Houston’s Vinson & Elkins and chairman of the Texas Access to Justice Commission, told the board that many states have used uniform forms. “No state has had the problems that the Family Law Section fear,” Reasoner said. Tim Belton of Houston, a public member of the Bar board, made the motion to ratify the executive committee’s resolution. Belton said, “I fear that some well-intentioned folks have equated equal access to the courtroom with access to justice and affordable legal services to the poor. Access to justice begins and ends with access to expert legal counsel.” After the vote, Ausley applauded the board’s action, saying that the Family Law Section is in favor of looking for the best way to continue to help the poor in this state. “To do this we must be sure we’re considering all the ramifications and not just handing them some blank forms,” Ausley says. Reasoner says in an interview that he does not think the court should scrap consideration of the proposal. The Bar could have input while the Supreme Court Advisory Committee reviews the forms, Reasoner says. Justice Phil Johnson, the Supreme Court’s liaison to the Bar, says the court will look at the board’s request and “consider it very seriously.” Johnson says it is his guess that the court will follow a procedure it used when adopting protective-order forms, which involves submitting the divorce forms to its Advisory Committee. “The Advisory Committee also welcomes input,” Johnson says.
-- Mary Alice Robbins