Van G. Hilley
2002-2003 President
San Antonio Bar Association

 

August 2002 - Making Our Time Count

As the 2002-2003 year for the San Antonio Bar Association was about to begin I was reviewing my ballot for the new slate of officers and directors. It was apparent from reflecting on each candidate that the San Antonio Bar Association is blessed with an exceptional number of outstanding individuals who wanted to serve in some position for the  Bar. With further consideration, it occurred to me that after the election the Bar would be deprived of eight attorneys who were willing to give their time, talent, and hard work to this organization. San Antonio is one of the few associations which continues to hold contested elections for its full slate of officers and directors. I can only hope that the individuals who do not get elected will not consider themselves as losers but will realize that it is the Bar Association which loses by not having them in service. As for myself, I was hard-headed and kept coming back after being defeated first by Judge Fred Biery and then by Dan Pozza. It is my fervent hope that the candidates that do not win will continue to serve the Bar and will run again. As a final comment on the subject, maybe it is time we reconsider the process of how we select our board and officers. Please feel free to let me know your opinion on this matter (vhilley@aol.com).
   
Over the past several years our San Antonio Bar Association Pro Bono Project has been searching for an identity through the leadership and insight of Judge Karen Pozza and Judge Phyllis Speedlin. I believe the project has received new life and a defined purpose. The new county wide pro bono effort will be called the San Antonio Bar Association Community Justice Program. Inspired by a similar project in Dallas, the goal is to bring the courthouse to the community. On alternate Tuesday evenings a team of attorneys, legal assistants, court reporters, intake volunteers, and judges will “hold court” in a local community center, church, or other community gathering place. Uncontested divorces,  adoptions, name changes, and similar uncontested matters will be heard. In addition, a full range of legal services will be offered to indigent members of our community.
   
This program has received the full endorsement of Texas Rural Legal Aid and the San Antonio Bar Association. What is needed now are volunteers. Every area of practice is needed. Every lawyer can participate in this program. A volunteer form can be downloaded from the pro bono section of the SABA web page, www.sanantoniobar.org. Please consider volunteering today. Volunteers will receive free CLE, and there will be experienced attorneys at the evening court sessions to assist any volunteer attorneys.
   
Can you think of a better way to spend a few hours on a Tuesday night? Meet new people in other areas of legal practice, get courtroom experience and truly serve your community. Make your time memorable and make it count!
   
I am looking forward to the year as your President. With programs like the Community Justice Program and your hard work this will be a successful year for the San Antonio Bar Association and its members.

 

September 2002 - SABA Loses a Former President and a Friend

On August 1, 2002, with the passing of John F. Tafolla, the San Antonio Bar Association lost one of its great presidents and I lost a close and valued friend. I first met John in the spring of 1973. I had just been hired by Fred Semaan who explained to me that I would not be receiving a salary for my work but that he would cover the overhead and we would split fees on cases that I handled. In the parlance of the street, I would only be eating what I produced. As a young lawyer just starting a practice, I had no clear vision on how to produce fees from a case. I knew the law but did not know where the money would come from.           
While in this state of confusion, along came John T. to help lead me out of the wilderness. For some unknown reason John T. took me in tow and taught me the basics of the Municipal Court system. He introduced me to the prosecutors and to judges such as Judge Machado and Judge Lozano. He was kind enough to vouch for me and let them know I was a neophyte who was in need of help and that I could be trusted.
   
John T. proceeded to guide me through the labyrinth of the big red Courthouse (we only had one in those days) and schooled me in which District Attorneys to avoid and which ones to confer with if you wanted to make a favorable deal for your client. He provided me sage advice on which District Judges would favor the woman or a man in a contested divorce and what were the likes and dislikes of the various members of the judiciary.
   
In short, John T. educated me in the one thing that the University of Texas School of Law thought mundane, that is, how to make money at practicing law. But, along the way, John T. taught me more than that I could make money from practicing law; he taught me how to treat my fellow lawyers and judges. For example, when you have someone in a compromising situation with the court or client, you might not always want to exercise your advantage and to remember “everything that goes around comes around.” He always reminded me that the most important thing you have in your career is your reputation and credibility. If judges, prosecutors and your fellow attorneys cannot rely on your word, it will make for a long and arduous practice.
   
We hear much today from the State Bar about professionalism and mentor ship. I submit to you that my friend, John T., was well ahead of the State Bar when he took a young lawyer, 25 years his junior, and explained to him word and example what it was to be a real lawyer.
   
I can only hope that the legacy that John T. will leave in my life and practice, and hopefully yours, will be to reach out and take time to teach young attorneys what it means to be an attorney in these troubled times. Remember, as John T. taught me, “being a lawyer is still a profession, not a business.” Thanks, John Tafolla, for all you taught  me. I will miss you.

 

October 2002 - A Evening to Honor

On September 7, 2002, the San Antonio Bar Association and the San Antonio Bar Foundation held our annual Installation Dinner and Dance. It was my goal to structure the evening to honor one of the San Antonio Bar Association’s living legends, Judge Solomon Casseb Jr., and to pay respects for the loss of a dear friend, Judge H.F. “Hippo” Garcia. The evening was a great success and I am forever grateful for the spectacular decorations provided by Betsy Stolhandske, Sara Kliewer, Maria Prado and Anabel Rodriguez of the San Antonio Bar Auxiliary.
   
I do not have enough space to enumerate all the accomplishments of Judge Casseb but suffice it to say we would not have our Presiding Court system, our 5th floor remodeled, or the San Antonio Bar Foundation without the input and effort from Judge Casseb. In recognition of his accomplishments and his many years of judicial service, the San Antonio Bar Association presented Judge Casseb with its first Lifetime Achievement Award.
   
As we all know, with the loss of Judge Hippo we lost someone of the likes we will never see again. It was the desire of many of his friends, particularly Judge Jim Nowlin, that we keep the spirit of Judge Hippo alive in a living legacy through the H.F. “Hippo” Garcia Memorial Scholarship at St. Mary’s Law School. As a result of the hard work of Renee McElhaney, Karen Lee Zachry and Leslie Hyman, who headed up the Silent Auction Committee, we raised over $25,000.00 from the auction. Other figures are not yet final but it is hoped that through table sponsorships and donations we will raised an additional $30,000.00. I think Judge Nowlin said it best when he stated “I can never repay St. Mary’s University for helping to produce a Judge Hippo. Neither can Judge Hippo satisfy that debt. Through his generous bequest and by the efforts of dozens of us who were the beneficiaries of Hippo’s friendship, generosity, guidance and humor, a meaningful scholarship fund can be established - one worthy of the wonderful man he was. If just a single scholarship recipient becomes just half the person Hippo was, all of our efforts will be worthwhile.”
   
Once again, I am deeply grateful for every one who attended the Installation and particularly for those who gave their time and effort to this memorable event.

Thank you all.

 

November 2002 - Bar Members Show their True Colors

My first year on the Board of Directors, SABA created the Pro Bono Project to provide representation to indigent clients in civil matters. Over the next 4 to 5 years this noble project moved slowly forward seeking to find an identity and a method to link up San Antonio attorneys with indigent civil clients. Over this time frame we always seemed to be one step away from a truly effective program.
   
This year, through the guidance and hands on perseverance of Judge Karen Pozza and Judge Phylis Speedlin, I believe we have a project that will connect SABA to individuals in the community who need civil representation but cannot afford to employ an attorney. Beginning this Bar year, SABA has created the Community Justice Program to replace the Pro Bono Project. One of the major changes in the new Community Justice Program will be that lawyers will go into the community to assist clients rather than waiting for clients to show up for representation at the Courthouse.
   
The true character of our profession was apparent on October 8, 2002, as the first neighborhood clinic of the Community Justice Program kicked off at the Carver Academy. Twenty-two volunteer attorneys as well as judges, interpreters, legal secretaries, legal assistants, notaries, and the District Clerk’s office answered the call for legal assistance on our city’s east side. The Carver Academy clinic will convene each month on the second Tuesday evening. Three additional neighborhood locations are planned to assist low-income families throughout the city. The second neighborhood clinic opens on the west side, at St. Mary’s Center for Social and Legal Justice on April 15, 2002. That clinic will operate on the third Tuesday of each month.
   
As part of the project, San Antonio firm and individual practitioners are being encouraged to commit their time to one of these monthly meetings. Haynes and Boone, L.L.P. and Brock & Person, P.C. joined forces to adopt the first clinic in October. The attorney responses to the first clinic were overwhelming. Rick Reyna, who coordinated the volunteers from Brock & Person, says he loves his work, his firm, and trying cases, but finds that pro bono work gives him more of an inherent satisfaction and sense of accomplishment than anything else. Reyna stated, “Martin Luther King said that life’s most important question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’ I am happy that me and my firm can answer it partly through our commitment to pro bono work.”
   
Charles Hardy, whose firm, Higdon, Hardy & Zuflacht, L.L.P. served as family law attorney mentors to the other volunteers, remarked, “This program is a wonderful way to meet the family law needs of our indigent pro bono clients.”
   
SABA officers Lamont Jefferson and Mary Doggett were also on hand and each accepted a pro bono case. Doggett said, “It felt really good to help a person solve a long-standing legal problem and, with all the support systems this program has in place, it was relatively simple.”

 

December 2002 - The Holiday Spirit

As the year of 2002 moves to a conclusion, I am sinking into my usual pre-holiday funk. At this time of year, I generally feel like a hamster in a cage running and running but really not getting anywhere. An event occurred last week which put a halt to my little pity party. Last Thursday I had the privilege to attend the swearing in of a new lawyer who has worked at the firm for over 9 years.  He started out as a runner, and in spite of all my partner and I did to try to convince him to the contrary, he still wanted to attend law school and be a lawyer. That dream finally came true when he was sworn in by Judge Edward Prado. As he took his oath, I saw a sense of excitement and joy that I have not seen in myself or any of my colleagues for many years. You could see that he was truly proud to be called “lawyer” and that he felt he would make a difference in the world. His family sensed the same thing and could barely contain their pride in his hard earned achievement.
   
This event reminds me that being a lawyer is important and that we do make a difference to the people and causes we represent. Citizens may say they do not respect us but when adversity strikes it is often a lawyer they first turn to to assist them in their most desperate times. Seeing the pride this new lawyer exhibited reminded me that maybe I should renew my spirit and rekindle the pride I once had in being a lawyer. As the holidays approach, I will celebrate them knowing that as a lawyer we all have a special calling and can make a difference in this world.
   
As part of the holiday spirit, SABA joined with Pilgrim Cleaners to sponsor “Suits for Santa.” All we have to do is drop off our unwanted suits and business casual clothing to any San Antonio area Pilgrim Cleaners now through December 18. After they are cleaned, the City of San Antonio’s Community Action Division will distribute them to less fortunate people who are transitioning back into the work force following hard times.
   
Please look in your closets and make an effort to help those less fortunate.

 

January 2003 - New Approach for the New Year

As we enter a new year and make resolutions to make Bexar County a better place to live, a very successful program dealing with drug addiction has come to my attention.
   
The first “Drug Treatment Court” was established as a pilot program on September 1, 2001, by the Honorable Judge Al Alonso in Bexar County Court at Law No. 1. It is a continuing effort to address and reverse the challenge of drug and alcohol abuse within our county. The effort was designed to be a catalyst for positive change in our community. The court is certified by the National Drug Court Institute, and practices the theories of “therapeutic jurisprudence.”
   
A task force was started with Elite Counseling, a private agency, and the Bexar County Community Supervision and Corrections Department during this pilot project. The task force has since expanded to include nonprofit, government and public agencies with the same goal of challenging drug and alcohol abuse.
   
During the first year of operation, Judge Alonso’s court referred 237 defendants through the program. Of this total number, 43 females, and 195 males entered the program. The age range of the clients was between 18- to 25- years of age, indicative of the highest risk population segment for long term addiction. Simply stated, the earlier drug usage begins, the higher the likelihood for addiction, and thus a need for long term treatment strategies. A large number of clients have completed the program and have demonstrated a low rate of recidivism and usage of drugs and alcohol. Early indicators reveal a significant improvement.
   
The Drug Treatment Court provides a continued catalyst for change stemming from the concept of therapeutic jurisprudence. The goal is to return to society a recovered client who is both physically, psychologically and vocationally ready to enter our community. In the words of Goethe: “Treat an individual as he is, he will stay as he is, treat an individual as he ought to be, he will become what he ought to be and could be.”

 

March 2003 - Law Day an Annual Tradition

Our celebration of Law Day 2003 has been scheduled for noon on Friday, May 2, 2003, at the Marriott River Center Hotel. This year’s theme is “Independent Courts Protect Our Liberties.” In keeping with this year’s theme, our keynote speaker will be Catherine Crier, a former state district judge in Dallas, is now one of Court TV’s most distinguished anchors.
   
While at Court TV, in addition to hosting Crier Today, she has also hosted Court TV’s signature prime time series Crime Stories and numerous other specials such as Safe Passage: Voices from the Middle School. Prior to joining Court TV, Crier anchored The Crier Report for the Fox News Channel, a live, one-hour interview program airing nightly, during which she interviewed the leading newsmakers of the day. Because of her background as a state trial judge and now a member of the media. I think she will bring a fresh and provocative perspective to this year’s theme.
   
For the first time, all proceeds from the luncheon will benefit the Hidalgo Foundation of Bexar County.
   
The Hidalgo Foundation is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization established in the Fall of 2001 and charged with the mission of helping raise funds needed to renovate and restore the Bexar County Courthouse – the largest and oldest Texas courthouse in continuous operation since its completion in 1897.
   
The primary goal of the Hidalgo Foundation is to raise $6 million dollars for the restoration of 11 historic courtrooms, over 2,000 pieces of historic furniture, public corridors, and the construction of two children’s courtrooms. The children’s courtrooms will include an assessement center, reception area, private meeting rooms for counseling, a facility that will accommodate videotaping, and an educational area. It is within this area of the Courthouse that children will feel safe and secure while waiting for their hearings.         The 33-member volunteer board of directors provides independent governance and leadership to the Hidalgo Foundation and is comprised of individuals representing a cross-section of our community through their diverse professions, ethnic backgrounds, and ages. The President of the Hidalgo Foundation is Mrs. Tracy Wolff, wife of Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff.
   
The luncheon is open to the public. Individual tickets are $35. Table sponsorships are $750, $1,500 and $5,000.
   
Please make every effort to support and attend this year’s Law Day.

 

May 2003 - ID Badges for Attorneys

All of us are well aware of the security measures implemented several years ago at the Bexar County Courthouse and the Cadena-Reeves Justice Center.  Many attorneys have expressed an interest in obtaining an identification badge that would allow them to bypass security lines, much like the assistant D.A.’s and other courthouse employees do each time they enter the courthouse.
   
Jimmy Allison, Judge Sid Harle and I have been working to obtain ID badges for SABA members.  Jimmy has polled courthouses around the state to determine the policies of other counties.  Judge Harle and I have spoken with the judges, the sheriff’s department, and the Bexar County Commissioners to garner support for the idea.  Sherrif Ralph Lopez already has endorsed the project, as have the majority of sitting judges.
   
I recently attended a session of the Bexar County Commissioners Court where the item was set for the Court’s consideration for the second time.  Some of the Commissioners, recognizing the efficiences behind the idea, are supportive of our efforts.  However, several valid concerns were raised which need to be addressed before they could approve the badges.  For example, the Court requested a list showing which judges favor the concept and which do not.  In order to compile this information, I have forwarded letters to the judges requesting that they respond if they favor or disagree with the badges.  These responses will be forwarded to the Commissioners Court.  The results will be printed in next month’s Subpoena.
   
Another unsettled issue is the fee that the Court would charge for the badges.  In my presentation, I noted that the SABA board had proposed what would be essentially a $50-per-year fee.  Some of the Commissoners proposed a substantially higher fee for badge priviledges.  However, the District Attorney’s office noted that without legal authority, the Commissioners Court might not be permitted to charge more than the actual cost of the badges.  Commissioner Robert Tejeda proposed that if the matter were viewed as a contract between the Court and the attorneys, then the price for the badges could be set higher, regardless of their actual production costs.  Everyone agreed that the issue needs further research.
   
Commissioner Elizondo asked for the bar’s assistance in addressing these unresolved matters.  This is where your assistance is requested!  If you would like to see ID badges for attorneys at the courthouse, please let your commissioners and judges know.  Once a consensus is reached and the legal uncertainties resolved, we again will ask the Court to consider our request.
   
Feel free to contact your commissioner and let him know your position.

Law Day: On another subject, I would like to thank Abigail Kampmann and her Law Day committee for the great job they did spearheading this year’s Law Day Luncheon.  As you know, the profits from the celebration are earmarked for the the Hidalgo Foundation, which is working in conjunction with the Bexar County Commissioners Court to renovate the courthouse.  When the final tallies are done, we will update you on the success of the event.  Thanks for all your hard work!

 

June 2003 - Bits & Pieces

ID Badges: After my President’s article last month, I sent a letter to all judges of the Court of Appeals, district courts, juvenile courts, county courts at law, county probate judges, masters and magistrates requesting they notify the Bar Association of their position on ID badges for attorneys.  A follow-up letter was mailed on April 22 to those judges who had not responded.
   
51 letters were mailed to the judges and as of May 12, we have received 38 responses.  The following is a breakdown of the responses to our inquiry:  33 judges are in favor of ID badges for attorneys; one believes that everyone should be searched, including judges; two were neutral on the issue and two were against the badges.  The results of this poll have been sent to the Commissioners Court.  Please make your position known to the members of the Court on this matter so it can be resolved once and for all.

Judicial Independence: On Law Day Catherine Crier spoke on the need for an independent judiciary.  As an example of pending threats to the judiciary she related the story of Judge James M. Rosenbaum.  After hearing her summarized version, I decided to find out more about the matter.  It seems that prior to his appointment to the federal bench, Judge Rosenbaum had been a United States attorney in Minnesota and is now serving as the Chief Judge for the district of Minnesota.  Judge Rosenbaum had voluntarily appeared before the House Judiciary committee to testify in support of the United States Sentencing Commission position opposing increases in sentencing guidelines for less culpable drug offenders.  In short, he was supporting the United States Sentencing Commission regarding lower sentences.  After he testified, as a reward for his effort, the committee issued a report accusing Judge Rosenbaum of deceit in his description of guideline practices in his district.  Once again, in short, the congressmen did not like that Judge Rosenbaum had apparently reduced some sentences.  As an outgrowth of his testimony, the House Judiciary committee is considering the adoption of a resolution allowing it to subpoena a sitting federal judge and force him to produce information regarding his sentencing decisions.  It would appear that the use of the legislative subpoena power against a sitting federal judge could be construed as a breach of the separation of powers, bearing in mind that the normal procedure is an appeal by the United States Attorney if a judge has violated the United States sentencing guidlines.  This type of action by the House committee would seem to have a chilling effect on judges (even with lifetime tenure) if their records can be subpoenaed at the whim of Congress.
   
One of our own congressmen, Lamar S. Smith, serves on this committee.  I would urge each of you to let Congressman Smith know your position on this matter.

 

July 2003 - Adios, Thank you & Good-bye

This will be the last time that I have to subject the membership to another one of my articles.  The most significant benefit to next year will be that my picture will disappear and the very attractive Judge Karen Pozza will adorn the Subpoena.
   
In the words of a famous Corpus Christi lawyer, “If you see a turtle sitting on a fence post you know he had some help getting there.”  With the help of a significant number of people, the Bar year of 2002-2003 has been a great success.  The installation Dinner dance brought in over $70,000.00 for the Judge “Hippo” Garcia Memorial scholarship.  This would not have occurred without the help of people such as Renee McElhaney, Leslie Hyman, Karen Lee Zachry, Maria Prado, Betsy Stolhandske, Anabel Rodriguez and Sara Kliewer.  John Convery and Bob Price outdid themselves as co-chairmen of the Criminal Law committee in putting the 40th Annual Criminal Law Institute seminar (in honor of the Honorable A.A. Semann).  They surpassed all attendance records, which translated into additional revenue for the San Antonio Bar Association.  Judge Andy Mireles, with the support of a number of other judges and attorneys, reinstituted the “Anatomy of a Civil Trial,” which also set new records for attendance.  Last but not least, Abigail Kampmann headed up the Law Day committee, and through her hard work the Bar is making a contribution to the Hidalgo Foundation in the amount of $63,0000.00.
   
Without a doubt, the Bar year should be remembered for the creation of the Community Justice Program.  Through the guidance and leadership of Judge Karen Pozza and Justice Phylis Speedlin the San Antonio Bar Association has now harnessed the legal talent and created a program that is providing indigent civil representation to the citizens of Bexar County.
   
As I have stated before, we, as members of the San Antonio Bar Association, take Jimmy Allison and his staff for granted.  Things run so smoothly that we never see the effort they put behind the scenes.  Their support and assistance has made my presidency an easy task.  The Bar is in great shape and I leave it in very capable hands.  Thank you for letting me serve as president of the San Antonio Bar Association for 2002-2003.

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