HB 1711 slightly would expand a 2011 law that allowed people to sue lawyers who unlawfully solicit potential legal clients. Among other things, the current law provides that if a lawyer engaged in barratry, a person who did not sign a contract for representation could sue the lawyer to collect a $10,000 civil penalty. HB 1711 also allows the same penalty for someone who did enter a legal contract.
Discovery in criminal cases
Two important criminal discovery bills are SB 91 and House companion HB 1426. They would require prosecutors to allow criminal-defendants’ lawyers to inspect and copy materials, such as statements by the defendant or witnesses, police-interrogation records and state’s evidence against the defendant. A defendant also would have to disclose materials to a prosecutor, including witness statements and names, trial evidence and a notice of the intent to raise an alibi defense. But some materials would be exempt, and a court could deny or restrict disclosure.
SB 592 would require judges in each county to set a “maximum allowable caseload” for lawyers who take appointments to represent indigent criminal defendants. Before appointing a lawyer to represent an indigent defendant, a judge would have to ensure the appointment wouldn’t violate a lawyer’s maximum caseload. Each year, lawyers would have to submit information about their caseloads to the county.
House Bill 1869 would impact personal-injury cases where a plaintiff’s health insurer, which paid for medical costs, has a right to some of the plaintiff’s recovery from the suit. If the injured plaintiff, “is not able to realize a complete and adequate recovery,” the insurer’s share would be limited to one-third of the total recovery. In some circumstances, the plaintiff could sue the insurer to further limit its share.
HB 1408 creates dispute resolution procedures for property damage claims from insurance policies by the Fair Access to Insurance Requirements Plan Association. The state-run plan provides property insurance to people who can’t get it in the voluntary market. If an insured person made a claim under his policy and later disputed the association’s decision about the amount of payment, he’d have to use an appraisal process to resolve the dispute. That appraisal decision would be binding. However, in the case of fraud or misconduct, the claimant could sue “to vacate the appraisal decision and begin a new appraisal.” If the association fully denied coverage of a claim, the claimant could sue, but only after submitting the dispute to alternative dispute resolution.
HB 1407 would create arbitration procedures for certain automobile-insurance claims for property damage. The person making the claim could require the auto insurer to submit a dispute about payment to binding arbitration. Such a claimant would waive the right to sue.
HB 1774 would prohibit uninsured drivers from obtaining noneconomic or exemplary damages in suits for bodily injury, death or property damage arising from a car wreck. This limit would also apply to someone bringing a wrongful death or loss of consortium claim connected to the uninsured driver. But the limits on recovery for the uninsured driver wouldn’t apply if the at-fault driver was intoxicated or had caused the injury through a willful act, among other things.
HB 1126 would create public financing for the campaigns of jurists from the two high courts and the 14 intermediate appellate courts. A certified candidate who wanted public financing would have to collect signatures on a petition and a $5 contribution from each registered voter who signed the petition. Write-in candidates could also get public financing. The amount in public financing for each candidate would depend on estimates of the total amount in the judicial campaign fairness fund, the number of candidates running, and the expense of a campaign. Public financing would be considered a campaign contribution, and laws “regulating the use of political contributions” would apply. If a candidate used the money in violation, a civil penalty would apply. Candidates would have to refund any left over money after their elections or losses. Among other provisions, the bill stipulates that accepting public financing would bar candidates from accepting other political contributions.
Senate Bill 577 and Senate Joint Resolution 34 would change how Texans elect jurists for district, high-court and intermediate appellate benches. When first seeking election, the jurists would run in partisan elections. When seeking reelection, they would run in “nonpartisan retention elections,” which would prohibit write-in voting The governor would appoint people to fill vacancies, as he does now, and then appointed jurists would run in partisan elections for their first full terms. They’d run in nonpartisan retention elections for subsequent terms.
HB 1710 would increase compensation for some district judges and intermediate appellate justices and jurists, whose salaries are paid by the state and the judge’s county, if applicable. For district judges, HB 1710 says if the state didn’t increase a judge’s pay in the preceding three-year period, then a county commissioner’s court could provide a cost-of-living salary increase. The bill also lowers the years-of-service requirement from 16 to 10 years for a jurist to get longevity pay.
The first, HB 1254, creates requirements for contracts between consumers and lenders, and requires lenders to register with the state. It doesn’t treat lawsuit lending like a loan under the law.
The second, HB 1595, would apply to lawsuit loans given to plaintiffs in civil actions, alternative dispute resolution proceedings and state administrative proceedings. It would require the same regulations as a personal, family or household loan. Also, HB 1595 requires a plaintiff to disclose information about the lawsuit-lending transaction to the defendant and the court.
The third lawsuit-lending bill, HB 1855, requires the Texas Supreme Court to create rules regarding “mandatory disclosure” to parties in suits connected to third-party litigation financing agreements.
HB 1808 would tweak the loser-pays law from the 2011 legislative session. The motion to dismiss, which allows winning parties to collect attorney fees, would also apply to “a tort claim joined to an action under the Family Code.”
HB 328 would create an offense of official oppression, which would be a third degree felony, if a prosecutor or law enforcement officer’s conduct “consists of the intentional or knowing suppression of evidence favorable to a defendant and material to the defendant’s guilt or punishment in a criminal trial.”
SB 825 and HB 1921, which are identical, would change attorney disciplinary standards for grievances alleging “prosecutorial misconduct.” The bills prohibit a grievance panel from issuing a private reprimand for a violation of the disciplinary rule requiring prosecutors to disclose exculpatory evidence to criminal-defense lawyers. It requires the Supreme Court to ensure the statute of limitations for such violations to begin to run when “a wrongfully imprisoned person is released from a penal institution.”
-- Angela Morris