Editor’s note: As the Texas Legislature prepares to convene on Jan. 8, there are already some proposals among the pre-filed bills that would impact lawyers and judges. Texas Lawyer will also monitor a flurry of bills that lawmakers typically file in late January and early February. We will continue reporting on legislation of interest to lawyers.
Lawyers’ email addresses
House Bill (HB) 293, by Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, would require the State Bar of Texas to provide lawyers’ names, bar card numbers and email addresses to an accredited continuing legal education provider affiliated with a state agency, including a public law school. The provider could only use a lawyer’s email address to notify him about CLE activities.
Recusals from political contributions
Rep. Richard Pena Raymond, D-Laredo, filed several pieces of legislation that would impact the judiciary. HB 129, which would require the jurists of the two high courts to recuse themselves from a case if any party, people or groups connected to the party, the party’s lawyer or his firm, had made political contributions of more than $2,500 to the jurist in the previous four years. When filing anything in the high courts, the political contributor would have to disclose his political contributions.
Merging the high courts
Judicial terms and elections
HJR 37 by Raymond proposes a constitutional amendment that would change the terms of office for district judges from four to six years. Senate Bill (SB) 103 by Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, would eliminate straight-party voting for jurists in the high courts, district courts and county courts.
Judges prohibited from interest in jails
Filed by Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City, HB 62 would prohibit a jurist from having a substantial interest in a private correctional or rehabilitation facility. The bill says jurists in violation “shall be removed from office.”
Two lawmakers filed bills that would create a commission to review exonerations. Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon, D-San Antonio, filed HB 166 and Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, filed SB 89. McClendon and Ellis would name their commissions differently, but the bills propose similar duties. Among other things, the commission would investigate cases in which innocent people were convicted and exonerated; identify the cause of the wrongful conviction; and identify and propose solutions to errors or defects in laws, rules or procedures that caused the wrongful conviction. McClendon’s bill would also require the commission to identify ethical violations by lawyers or judges and refer the violations to the State Commission on Judicial Conduct or the State Bar.
Ellis also filed SB 91, which would change the procedure for discovery in criminal cases. It would require prosecutors to allow criminal-defendants’ lawyers to inspect and copy materials like statements by the defendant or witnesses, police-interrogation records, state’s evidence against the defendant, and more. A defendant would also have to disclose materials to a prosecutor, including among other things, witness statements and names, trial evidence, and a notice of the intent to raise an alibi defense and the names of alibi witnesses. But some materials would be exempt, and for “good cause,” a court could deny or restrict disclosure to materials.
-- Angela Morris