The rules for State Bar of Texas president-elect elections violate Texas law, claims Bar director Steve Fischer in a brief to the Texas Office of the Attorney General. Fischer (pictured), a Rockport solo and president-elect candidate hopeful, filed the Oct. 15 brief after the Bar’s Oct. 2 request for an AG opinion on whether the Bar’s election rules apply to president-elect candidates nominated by petition.
Each year, the Bar's Nominations and Elections Subcommittee recommends two president-elect candidates, and the Bar's board of directors votes to nominate them. But Texas Government Code §81.019 — the State Bar Act — says any member of the Bar may become a candidate if he collects petitions signed by 5 percent of the Bar's active membership.
“Allowing the State Bar to impose additional qualifications and requirements to the clearly stated law would be letting the fox guard the henhouse,” writes Fischer, who could become the second petition candidate in State Bar history. He says he has 4,379 signatures out of his goal of 5,000. The Bar should be limited to tasks like “printing and disseminating ballots and counting votes,” Fischer continues.
Among other things, he argues in his brief that State Bar Policy Manual § 2.01.04 “adds extra qualifications to the statute” by prohibiting candidates from being a Bar board member. But Fischer alleges if those in the Texas Legislature had wanted that requirement, “they could have done so simply by inserting seven words.”
Fischer says in an interview that he doesn’t want to resign as a board member to run for president-elect because he wants to continue working on things like getting more health insurance options for lawyers. He thinks it’s wrong for the Bar to require his resignation.
“If they don’t put me on the ballot because of that, I guess I would have to resign. I guess I would have to file suit. . . . That’s a last resort, and I will try to work things out,” he says.
But Bob Black, co-chairman of the Bar’s Nominations and Elections Subcommittee, says, “The State Bar has a responsibility of running the election under the State Bar Act. It’s been delegated to us. It’s important that rules be created, and that whatever rules are created be applied to everyone fairly.”
One of those rules states “flat out” that a candidate cannot be a board member, notes Black, managing shareholder of MehaffyWeber in Beaumont.
State Bar executive director Michelle Hunter, who requested the AG opinion, says she thinks the Bar should be able to regulate petition candidates “so we can have an orderly and fair election.”
AG spokesman Tom Kelley declines comment on the brief, but he writes in an email the AG’s opinion committee, comprised of seven lawyers, receives legal briefs on about half of the opinion requests it receives. He writes, “We read them and decide how or whether their arguments should affect our opinion.”
-- Angela Morris