Gary W. Hutton
San Antonio Bar Association
I can’t afford an attorney. I can handle this myself. Whatever the reason, the number of pro se litigants continues to grow. When I first started as administrator of the Civil District Courts, the Civil Judges’ staff attorney’s office was in my administrative suite of offices. The role of the staff attorney is to represent the judges so that court dockets are not bogged down. The staff attorney reviews orders prepared by litigants before presentation to the judge. But as time went on, the number of pro se litigants requiring attention increased the traffic in our office requiring us to find a separate office for the staff attorney. Later, we added law interns to assist with phone calls and paperwork. Today, there are two staff attorneys, a full time court support specialist and three to four additional law interns working on any given day. Even with all of that help, the staff attorney’s office is backlogged for weeks in setting cases on the pro se docket, phone calls are continuous, and to catch up with paperwork, the staff attorney’s office has had to eliminate interviews with the public on Fridays. Despite what some think, the Civil District Judges’ staff attorney’s office is not the cause of this increase in pro se litigants; it is only a symptom.
What is the answer? The Supreme Court has made it clear that access to justice will be addressed statewide. That is a concept that we all believe in, but at the same time, what does that mean to the practice of law? How do you balance the economics of lawsuits that drive people to represent themselves with the economics of practicing law? The Community Justice Program assists individuals who have been qualified by the Texas RioGrande Legal Aid office and is well received and supported by the legal community. A “Self Help” center, however, was approved and then disbanded by Commissioners Court because of a backlash from attorneys. We all agree that those who cannot afford legal services should still have access to the courts. But not all pro se litigants are indigent. So how do we balance access to justice for litigants with lawyers practicing law?
In the upcoming months the SABA Board will be addressing this issue and many others. In addition to the pro se issue, priorities this year include our continuing support of veterans, increased involvement with our criminal defense attorneys, courthouse construction (in particular the Presiding Court project) and strengthening membership in the San Antonio Bar Association.
How has all of this affected the practice of law? Your comments are welcomed by the Board. Do you have an opinion or a passion? Join a SABA committee. Sign up sheets and SABA renewal letters go out soon. We need to find ways to reunite litigants and lawyers so that the practice of law remains viable.
The nice thing about being President is they give you this column each month to express your thoughts. By the time this edition of the Subpoena is published it will be one year since my father passed away, and so I wanted to take this opportunity to remember him.
My father was an attorney. After returning from WWII, he graduated from The Ohio State University School of Law and practiced law for 61 years in both Ohio and Florida. He passed away a few weeks shy of his 88th birthday last September, although it did not stop him from working on cases right up to the week that he passed. Like many attorneys he was active in civic groups. He won a string of DWI trials and then his practice evolved into and business and probate law.
His father was an aviation editor who knew the Wright Brothers having grown up in their hometown of Dayton, Ohio. When my father was only three years old, his father was killed in a plane crash while returning from a news story, so it did not please his family when my father decided to learn to fly at the age of 48. For a late learner, he was a good pilot; however, landing on a drag strip in Pennsylvania because he couldn’t find the airport, and the main and reserve gas tanks in front of me in our single engine rented Cessna reading below the empty sign for about five minutes before landing, was not my most serene or fondest memory as an 18 year old recent high school graduate.
Another memorable flight was from San Antonio to Houston. My parents had flown into town for an aviation seminar while I was attending St. Mary’s Law School. Being from Ohio and a Bengals fan, I had asked him if he could get tickets to the Bengals-Oilers game in Houston that October weekend from the Dayton sportscaster he knew; which he did. On the flight over in his newly-acquired twin engine Skymaster I asked to see the tickets. I looked at them and exclaimed, “Dad, these are great tickets!” (he beamed)… “for the Bengals-Oilers game in Cincinnati in December.” My father was a successful attorney and businessman, however he was never really sports savvy. But our standing room only tickets we purchased at the gate got us into the game and my father’s persuasive nature eventually secured us seats on the 40 yard line. Later that year my parents enjoyed those “great tickets” at the Bengals-Oilers game in December — and froze.
But there is one memory missing. I clerked in my father’s law office for a number of years, but I never had the opportunity to actually practice law next to him. After I graduated from St. Mary’s Law School, I could have returned to Dayton to take over my father’s practice before he headed down to Florida for his retirement/second law career. I chose, instead, to stay in San Antonio and venture out on my own. It is not a decision I regret, because San Antonio has been so good to me and my father loved being in Florida, but when I see Roy Jr. and Bobby Barrera in court with Roy Sr. or think of Matt Stolhandske walking into Tom Stolhandske’s office to go over a case together, I do get a twinge and wonder what it would have been like.
The last time I saw my father was last year on Father’s Day weekend. It was our best Father’s Day ever. And before he passed away I was able to share with him the news of my election as President-Elect of the San Antonio Bar. He is missed, but not forgotten. This bar year for me is dedicated to his memory.
Abbott: Who’s on first, What’s on second, I Don’t Know’s on Third….
Costello: Well then Who’s on first?... All I’m trying to find out is What’s the guy’s name on first base.
Abbott: No. What’s on second base….
Costello: I Don’t Know. Abbott: He’s on third.
Costello: There I go, back on third again!
Ever get confused at the Courthouse these days. With the completion of the new 10 story Paul Elizondo Tower, there have been numerous changes. Many still in the works. The Civil District Clerk’s office moved to the new Tower next to the Justice Center (Criminal Courts building) while the Criminal County Clerk’s office is moving to the Courthouse basement. Some speculated that this was part of a County exercise program. Civil attorneys, not to worry; our District Clerk has opened up a temporary satellite office for civil filings on the 3rd floor of the Courthouse for those attorneys not into exercise. Criminal attorneys, sorry — it looks like you will be walking.
Elections and new Judges changed the landscape. Judge Valenzuela escaped the basement of the Courthouse. Judge Noll moved from the 4th floor to the 3rd floor Court vacated by retiring Judge Peden, Judge Sakai moved from the 2nd to the 4th floor, Judge McElhaney from the 4th to the 2nd floor — well you get the picture.
The biggest changes are yet to come as the current Presiding Court expands to a two-story Courtroom to include a replication of the 1890s balcony. The Probate Clerk’s office will be moving to the Courthouse basement. A new waiting area and conference rooms for attorneys on the first floor of the Courthouse could start construction as early as the end of this year. This will include up to 14 conference rooms, internet access and other services. The positive addition of this needed space follows the disappointing news to Judges and attorneys that the Presiding Courtroom being built on the first floor will be permanent. Our challange for the SABA will be to make the two-story Courtroom as active and useful as it was when it was used as a Presiding Courtroom.
Within the next two years eight Courtrooms should be completed on the 4th floor of the Justice Center. This will result in some Courtroom shuffling and permit 3 County Court Criminal Judges to finally find a home. Two County Criminal Courts currently in the Courthouse will move to the Justice Center opening up those Courtrooms in the Courthouse. Judge Negrón may then be able to move out of his temporary Court on the 5th floor and Judge Skinner and Judge Carruthers can move out of the Courthouse basement to the Justice Center.
In regard to other Courthouse expansion, new Child Support Courts, Attorney General working areas, Mental Health Courts and administrative offices are also in the works. Less conventional is Commissioners Court’s plan for more public access and exposure to Courthouse history which includes a book store, history center and staging area for tours to be constructed across from the new Presiding Courtroom.
Frustration has been expressed that lawyers and users of the Courthouse are not provided enough opportunity to give input into where Courts and offices should be located, but it still must be acknowledged that great efforts are being made to provide necessary Courthouse facilities. How history visitors and Courthouse activities will mesh we will find out in a few years. Until then, play ball and let the construction begin.
November 2011 - WAR STORIES
Every day we lose more and more of our veterans from World War II and the Korean War, and their stories and history are lost with their passing. In an effort that those veterans who remain with us can share their stories with future generations, the State Bar of Texas and the Texas Court Reporters Association have initiated the Veterans History Project. Volunteers will be interviewing and recording the oral histories of veterans and sending those transcribed stories to the Library of Congress to be preserved for posterity.
Retired Judge Carolyn Spears has spear-headed this effort in association with our Bexar County Court Reporters. The San Antonio Bar Association and the Bexar County Court Reporters have scheduled interviews with veterans on Veterans Day, Friday, November 11 and Saturday, November 12 at the Towers on Park Lane, and many attorneys from the San Antonio Bar Association have volunteered to interview one or more veterans as part of this project.
Sadly, my father passed away last year before this project took off, and so his stories will not be preserved in the Library of Congress. So I would like to take this opportunity to set down two of the stories he shared with me in later life about his experiences serving during World War II.
Shortly after the invasion of Normandy, my father was sent to the European front. I can’t remember his exact rank at the time, so we will call him a Private. As time went on and Germany was close to surrendering, their unit was held back in reserve, and the men had to sit and wait. The days grew long, and the men complained and began to bicker from the boredom. My father was bored as well and anxious to be transferred from the unit. To help pass the time my father decided to put together a newsletter, which he published on a weekly basis. At first it was benign and newsy, but as time passed and frustration with the wait grew, he began to air some of the complaints of his fellow soldiers in the newsletter.
Upon reading this next, not so benign, edition, his Sergeant ordered him quite emphatically not to distribute that particular newsletter. My father, however, being of “Constitutional mind,” felt this was a restraint of his freedom of expression. But he was no dummy; he knew that he needed to follow orders and not “distribute” the newsletter. So instead, he marched straight to the middle of the camp and in a loud booming voice proclaimed for all to hear that the Sergeant had ordered him not to distribute the newsletter. He slapped down the pile of the publications on the table and walked away. Unsurprisingly, everyone immediately rushed to the stack of papers to get their copy.
My father’s next story puts him on a ship headed for Japan. Whether this was a result of the previous story — I have no idea — but my father wound up as a part of the Pacific invasion force. However, after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki took place, that invasion never happened. And so my father found himself stuck in the Philippines for a time before he could return home.
Now, my parents were one of those war-time couples who eloped during one of my father’s brief army leaves. After their marriage, my mother went back to live with her parents and worked patiently at a bank while she waited for her husband to return from the war.
It was about this time that my father decided that he would surprise her. While he was in the Philippines, he wrote a series of letters, changing the date on each one. He then asked a friend who was returning by ship to the States to send a letter each day.
In the meantime, my father was flying back to the States and making his way across the country to see my mom. She, on the other hand, was receiving letters on a daily basis describing his life out at sea and telling her that it would be weeks and maybe months before he could return. Finally, he made it back to New Haven, Connecticut and was ready to walk into the bank to surprise her. There would be a great ending to this story if I could describe the surprise, emotion and jubilation she had as he walked through the door, but he made the mistake of telling his in-laws of his plans. They panicked, thinking that this poor 18-year-old girl would have a heart attack if he walked through unannounced. And so his complete surprise was foreshadowed by a phone call, but it was still a great reunion and had a happy ending.
As we approach Veterans Day remember all of those soldiers who have fought for us. Get in touch with the San Antonio Bar Association and our local Court Reporters as we set up future times to interview and preserve the histories of those who have served our country so many years ago.
December 2011 - ‘TWAS THE NIGHT BEFORE A COURTHOUSE CHRISTMAS
‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the Courthouse,
not a creature was stirring, not even a divorced spouse.
The Judges’ stockings were hung from their Benches with care,
in hopes that campaign contributions would soon be there.
The Court Clerks were nestled all snug in their beds,
while visions of scanned orders danced in their heads.
And at the Courthouse I put on my Presiding Court thinking cap,
until tiring of the futility, I laid down for a nap.
When out in the street I heard such a clatter,
I sprang from my couch to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
tore open the shutters and pressed my face against the bird netting sash.
The Courthouse Christmas lighting gave off such a glow,
that I was able to discern the objects below.
When what to my wondering eyes should appear,
two French Moroccans carrying beer.
And then, in a twinkling, they were on the roof,
prancing and dancing as part of their spoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
down the fire escape they came in a bound.
Next I sighted them waving Judge Negrón’s gavel with glee,
but the red flashing lights outside caused them to flee.
So dressed in style with San Antonio Bar sombreros on their heads,
through the Courthouse hallways they fled.
They raced down the stairs and out the door,
and just as quickly at police officers’ requests, they were down on the floor.
And I heard them exclaim as they were dragged out of sight,
Merry Christmas Susan Reed — if I plead guilty, will you send me home on a flight?
With condolences to Clement Clarke Morre for the liberties I took with his age honored Christmas poem, I wish you and your families a happy and safe Christmas and New Year’s Day holiday season. -Gary Hutton
January 2012 - 2012, Jump On The January Rollercoaster Ride!
Life brings us changes all the time. That we know. So you will not be surprised to learn that 2012 should be one big Rollercoaster ride. January gets it all started.
ELECTIONS this year have had an auspicious start. As of press time the Primary elections will be April 3rd. On JANUARY 9, the U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments in regard to state and congressional lines. For those at the Courthouse, this will be an extraordinarily active election year. There are 19 local judicial races — all contested. The Supreme Court may decide legislative lines, but you get to vote for who you want deciding your court cases next year.
ACCESS TO JUSTICE. We are all for it. As lawyers we fight for the right to air our clients’ grievances in court. But in Austin, a good ol’ fashioned brouhaha between the Family Lawyers (and others) and our own State Bar and Supreme Court is ready to boil over. On JANUARY 20, there will be an open hearing of the State Bar of Texas Board of Directors to hear from the Uniform Forms Task Force set up by the Texas Supreme Court. A recommendation from the State Bar to the Texas Supreme Court on the proposed forms for use in family law by pro se litigants is being considered.
The BEXAR COUNTY COURTHOUSE is currently a Mecca for architects and contractors. Who better to provide us with the history and future of construction changes than JUDGE NELSON WOLFF? When will the eight courtrooms in the Justice Center and the new Presiding Court on the first floor of the Courthouse be finished? Will the new two-story courtroom plans finally be revealed? How will it be utilized? What can we expect from the new historical center and gift shop? Will the ugly four-story box stuck to the back of the courthouse for the past 39 years be torn down, and where will they relocate the five courts in that building? Find out the answers on JANUARY 26 at the SABA luncheon at the Plaza Club.
We won’t have to wait long to find out if the four-story addition will be coming down. On JANUARY 27th, the TEXAS HISTORICAL COMMISSION grants their next round of awards. If Bexar County’s 3.1 million dollar grant is accepted, then those five courts (224th, 285th, County Courts 3 and 10 and the basement Child Support Court) will need to start looking for a new home. You may not be aware that there is another addition on the 2nd floor of the west side of the Courthouse. That is also part of the grant proposal to be removed. If the second floor addition goes, then the Sheriff loses his entrance for prisoners and the 57th District Court and County Court 5 both lose their courtrooms. That’s a total of seven evicted courtrooms.
With all of this controversy, let’s give peace a chance. Our San Antonio Bar Foundation PEACEMAKER AWARD celebration has abandoned the tux and has gone COUNTRY. Get ready to shed all of the bickering and kick up your heals on Saturday JANUARY 28 at the Leon Springs Dance Hall. This fun event will not diminish the importance of the awards to three deserving recipients. Retired Brigadier General M. Scott Magers is honored as our Attorney Community Service award recipient; Rackspace will be receiving the Corporate Community Service Award and Bill Sinkin is this year’s Peacemaker Award honoree.
February 2012 - Look Back, But Move Forward
We are six months into the SABA budget year, and it’s a time to look back for perspective and then move forward as to issues impacting the Bar and attorneys in San Antonio. One issue in particular is still front and center — ACCESS TO JUSTICE.
My first Subpoena article as SABA President was about pro se litigants at the Courthouse. Most recently — after intense discussions and lobbying, mostly from family law attorneys, and support from Bar Associations across the state including the SABA Board — the State Bar of Texas Board of Directors voted to request that the Supreme Court suspend the work of its Forms Task Force and refer the issue to the State Bar for further review and study. Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson has responded to this request in a letter to State Bar President Bob Black. The Justice’s response is thank you for your interest; we are moving forward on the project and we welcome your input and participation in the process.
Self Help centers in various forms have been established in other cities. In Bexar County, a Self Help clinic open to the public was first approved and then dissolved by Commissioners Court. Currently, some basic forms can be purchased at the Law Library and the Staff Attorney’s office for the Civil District Judges reviews final orders for the judges before the pro se docket. Legal Aid and volunteer attorneys for the Community Justice Program offer services, but only to a limited number of eligible recipients.
During all of my discussions with parties on this issue there is agreement that anyone who meets Legal Aid economic guidelines should be afforded some services. The disagreement comes from what monies and/or services should be provided to those who decide to represent themselves. People ask, “why are taxpayer dollars being used to support people who may be able to afford legal services, but don’t want to hire a lawyer?” Some in the legal community want to know why our Supreme Court, the Office of Court Administration and even our own State Bar organizations are supporting efforts that encourage pro se AKA self-represented litigants. As President of SABA and a former sole practitioner, I understand how both the economics of practicing law and the proper handling of legal matters by pro se litigants is a cause for concern.
The flip side of the argument is the hat I wear as General Administrative Counsel to the Bexar County Civil District Courts. Like it or not, self represented litigants are coming to Court. If there were no Staff Attorney’s Office to assist in the process as we have now, they would still show up at the Courthouse. Without some oversight of orders being presented to the Judges and docket control, delay will result in the Civil Presiding Court. Administration of our dockets and justice require us to take some action.
The Access to Justice Commission is asking local bar associations to pass a resolution supporting the voluntary $150 contribution to Access to Justice which is in our annual State Bar dues statement. I have heard several attorneys state that family law lawyers will not only organize to boycott paying those voluntary dues, but they will also pull back their support of the San Antonio Community Justice Program, which provides legal services to persons qualified to receive Legal Aid. The thought of crippling a highly successful attorney volunteer program helping the poor in San Antonio is short-sighted and counter-productive.
What does this mean for the future of handling pro se litigants in Bexar County? One thing is clear — the Supreme Court is moving forward, so the time to complain about their policy is in the past, and the time to find solutions is here and now. Despite their opposition to the Forms Project, I will be looking to tap into the leadership demonstrated by the Family Law Section to help carve out a local solution in Bexar County prior to any mandates from the state level. This will take open discussion and compromise, but I am confident in the talent and resolve of our local Bar to work out an acceptable solution to the important issues of access to the Courts and proper and necessary representation of peoples’ legal rights.
March 2012 - Local Rules — History & Highlights of Some Upcoming Changes
There is one Bexar County Local Rule you won’t find in any order — practice law and live life with the same integrity and passion of Jimmy Parks, our colleague and friend who passed away recently. We will miss you Jimmy.
As to Bexar County’s written local rules, first some history. Local rules preceded 1972, but the oldest copy of local rules I could find were approved on May 1, 1972; more on those later. All “Local Rules” must be approved by the Texas Supreme Court. In Bexar County, the District and County Court local rules are separated into six parts. Part 1, General Rules (District Court only), Part 2, County Court Rules (Civil & Criminal), Part 3, Civil District Court Rules, Part 4, Electronic Court Documents, Part 5, Criminal District Court Rules and Part 6, Administrative Rules (District Court only). This is the format created in April 1991 by the Bexar County District and County Courts. So let’s look at the progression of the rules through the various Courts.
JP & Probate Courts
The JP Courts do not have any general local rules, but the Texas Supreme Court did approve electronic (fax) filing local rules for JP Courts on March 5, 1991 and statewide e-filing rules for all JP Courts on December 10, 2007. The two Probate Courts in Bexar County do not currently have local rules approved by the Texas Supreme Court.
County Courts at Law
On April 1, 1984, amended Rule 3a of the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure took effect controlling the approval of local rules by the Texas Supreme Court. Soon thereafter on May 1, 1984, the Texas Supreme Court approved Bexar County Courts’ local rules — nine (9) pages. Men were required to take off their hats and wear ties and coats. Women, we don’t know; they were not mentioned in the rules. The rules were submitted by all six (6) County Courts and Probate Court 2 (which had County Court jurisdiction at the time).
On September 4, 1990 the Texas Supreme Court approved new County Court local rules (now twenty-five (25) pages) for the nine (9) County Court Judges. Judge Sarah Garrahan of CC#4 is the only remaining active County Court Judge from that group of Judges. Maybe she helped to change the attire rules to gender neutral “business attire.” This major rewrite had a one paragraph amendment as to Part II, J regarding the filing of cases submitted by Local Administrative Judge Paul Canales in 1993. I bring it up only because the Texas Supreme Court Justices were apparently impressed with the proposed amendment since they approved Section J twice — Misc Order #93-9023 on May 27, 1993 and Misc Order #93-0116 on November 3, 1993. The most recent and the current County Court local rules (more concise or with smaller print at fifteen (15) pages), were approved on February 8, 2011. Although the Texas Lawyers Creed is optional to lawyers generally, the current County Court local rules require its compliance.
As previously mentioned, the District Courts rules effective May 1, 1972 are the oldest I have found on record. They started small, taking up only one (1) page. TRO requests “concerning the occupancy of the residence of the parties in divorce cases” required the actual petitioner to appear under oath. See new requirements later in this article.
Anticipating the need for new District Court local rules based on the April 1, 1984 amendment to Rule 3a , on March 9, 1984, Fred Soele, Civil Jury Assignment Clerk for the Bexar District Courts, wrote the Office of Court Administration that a committee District Court Judges “is presently working on the revision….” However, new local rules for the District Courts were not approved until September, 1988. Why the four year delay? Still researching and will report back later.
On September 26, 1988, the Texas Supreme Court approved the first major revision in 16 years (at least of what is on record) of the Bexar County District Courts’ local rules (twenty-four (24) pages) submitted by Local Administrative Judge James Barlow. Those rules were tweaked six times over the next fourteen years, including Judge Charlie Gonzalez’s pilot project approved by the Texas Supreme Court on January 23, 1989, recording testimony on cassette tapes. The next major changes in District Court local rules were approved by the Texas Supreme Court on May 21, 2002, when Part III, Civil District Court Rules expanded from six (6) to eleven (11) pages. These are the current Civil District Court local rules.
The Civil District Court Judges have met with several bar groups and organizations over the past several months to gather their input, and have made some significant changes to the 2002 rules. An informal posting of the rules in the month of March will provide local civil attorneys with one more opportunity to provide input. Listed below are some highlights to the Civil District Courts’ proposed local rules which number thirty-four (34) pages (17 pages of Rules & 17 pages of Standing Order/Exhibits):
Rule 3C - Multiple Announcements by attorneys. You can run but you can’t hide.
Rule 3E - Computation of Time - The infamous 3 day notice rule!
Rule 3F (2) and (3) - Approval blocks on all orders, and if an attorney is presenting an order for an out of town or other attorney, the local attorney’s name must be on the order.
Rule 3F (4) - All default orders, including divorces, must comply with Servicemembers’ Civil Relief Act; Sometimes overlooked by attorneys.
Rule 3F (5) - An order must be presented within 2 weeks of a hearing and if a Motion to Enter is filed, a copy of the Judge’s Notes or the Court Reporter’s transcript/notes must be attached to the motion
Rule 3G (3) - Process for requesting interpreters in Civil District Court cases.
Rule 3H (1) - Standing Orders – Family Law Temporary Orders.
Rule 3H (6) - Inventory & Appraisement
Rule 3H (7) - Income and Expenses
Rule 6C-D – TROs/ex parte orders must be presented by an attorney – no runners.
Look for the link to the proposed revision to the Civil District Court Local Rules which will be posted during the month of March on the SABA Website. Current County Court Local Rules can be accessed on the Bexar County website through the County Court link and District Court Local Rules via the District Clerk link.
April 2012 - Crime & Passion
I started out as a criminal defense attorney, so it is always interesting to me that the San Antonio Bar Association is sometimes wrongly perceived as a civil or big firm bar. But from my experience recently at the popular Judge A.A. Semaan Criminal Law Institute (49th annual seminar), attorneys practicing criminal law are alive and well in the SABA organization.
Former SABA President and Joe Frazier Brown, Sr. Award recipient, Charles Butts, highlighted the seminar by not only making a fiery defense of reasonable doubt, but giving back to the San Antonio Bar four bound volumes of the Criminal Law institute from 1961 gifted to him by Judge Semaan before his death and now being donated back to the Bar by Mr. Butts who has demonstrated over the years his love of the history of criminal law.
For those civil lawyers who have not seen Gerald Goldstein’s update on the U.S. Supreme Court you are missing a monologue presentation that rivals Leno and Letterman for its humor and Bill Maher for its insightful and cutting commentary. I have always respected Mark Stevens as an attorney, but I don’t think I have ever seen this criminal defense artisan with more fire and brimstone. Lunch was highlighted by insights of past criminal cases from Rick Casey of Express-News fame and currently host of a local TV show. And this was just the morning session.
These story tellers made me think back to my beginnings in law and crime. After college I worked at a PR bond and pre-trial diversion project for misdemeanor offenders in El Paso, Texas. I decided I could do better than the attorneys representing defendants I worked with — hence my trek to St. Mary’s Law and my legal career was born.
I anticipated beginning as a prosecutor. After good interviews with DA Bill White and two of his key administrators, I then interviewed with former tough prosecutor Charlie Conway. “PR bond”, he questioned, “no one who even considers working for a place that gets people out of jail should work in the DA’s office.” My job as a defense attorney was secure. I told a friend interviewing with Conway the next day of my experience. He showed up for his interview with an American Flag on his lapel and got the job.
My own cases ranged from traffic tickets to a defendant climbing from the back seat of a police car in handcuffs and driving away, to a serious but fascinating double murder case. It is hard for any attorney practicing criminal law not to have a whole list of interesting cases and stories. What I don’t understand is — why are more criminal defense lawyers not members of the San Antonio Bar Association?
As a legal community we now have many organizations that cater to specific needs and groups. The San Antonio Criminal Defense Lawyers is one of those groups. They do good work for their constituents and there are economic factors to being members of multiple groups. But when the community or the press makes accusations or remarks about attorneys in general, they often reference the San Antonio Bar Association. And to properly represent the legal community as a whole in these global discussions, it helps to have the strength of numbers so that its members feel they can pick up the phone and can contact elected SABA Directors and Officers to voice their concerns and seek their support.
In the upcoming weeks or months the County will be discussing a request for proposal for a new system of court appointed counsel. Criminal defense lawyers are not always considered a popular group in the public. This is an unfair opinion for those men and women who fight ideals that protect us all and who are appointed to represent some questionable figures. Wouldn’t it be better to be able to respond to these proposals as a large and diverse group of attorneys rather than a small group whose purpose in challenging a plan will be considered self serving?
I encourage those attorneys who practice criminal law and who are not members of the San Antonio Bar Association, both prosecutors and defense attorneys, to consider joining SABA. Since they won’t receive the Subpoena newsletter, I will have to rely on others in SABA to get the word out. There are plenty of civil lawyers to network with who have clients in need of criminal attorneys. Prosecutors may branch into the private working world in the future and now is the time to make those contacts. And if not contacts, it is just a way to find out how you can give back to the legal and San Antonio community.
Finally, thank you and congratulations to John Convery and “Bullitt” Bob Price for hosting another outstanding Criminal Law Institute. Over the years they have pushed this seminar to great heights. We are looking forward to a big celebration of the 50th Judge A. A. Semaan Criminal Law Institute in 2013.
May 2012 - Legally Mom
As we approach Mother’s Day I realized that I have written about my father in Subpoena articles, but not about my mother. I think she deserves Subpoena recognition considering all of the lawyers in her life.
Not only was my mom married to a lawyer, but she had a son (me) who became a lawyer. But before I even came along, she had to endure many a law-related conversation between my dad and his first cousin who lived in our neighborhood and who, of course, was also a lawyer. Not to be outdone, my great uncle, a lawyer, lived in the house next to us and was my dad’s law partner. And then my sister, who later worked in a law firm, married a lawyer.
It was not enough that my father brought home and tested out all of those legal arguments on my mom, but then he went into politics. You know, I just don’t remember her talking positively of those cold Ohio November days and nights passing out campaign literature. So having endured politics, cross examinations and final arguments from all sides, it will come as no surprise that my mother insists that my wife comes home with me on visits to Ohio so she can have normal conversations.
Law is not for everyone, and my wife Dee Dee has always said that she could not be an attorney. Yet she worked at the Leighton-Biery law building coordinating the lives of a dozen attorneys. And by marrying me, she has patiently listened to her own share of venting about legal cases and Courthouse talk, in addition to assisting on my past political campaigns. There is one law conversation, however, that she actually enjoyed and reminds me of from time to time. My dad gave me this piece of “legal” advice on winning arguments prior to our wedding which he also shared with Dee Dee — “Gary,” he said, “If you want a successful marriage, lose every argument to your wife.” I have tried to practice his advice. Like most male spouses, I have regretted those times when I have not listened to my father.
My mom and Dee Dee do not have the law in their blood. But I know many legal moms who do practice law or judge in our courts. Law is very much a part of their lives, and they have had to learn how to balance that tendency many of us in the law have to be consumed by legal issues with the real world challenges of being a mom.
So to my legal mom, my legal wife and all of those other legal moms who are either married to an attorney or who are attorneys, this is a thank you for what you do and your ability, much more then most men I know, to balance the legal mom with the loving mom. And to honor Mother’s Day and what moms do, I have decided to donate in the honor of my mother, Jacquelyn C. Hutton and my wife, Dee Dee M. Hutton, $100 in each of their names to the San Antonio Bar Foundation. Maybe we could all make this a Mother’s Day tradition for our San Antonio Bar Foundation. Think of all the good that could be accomplished by the Foundation if each of our 3,000 SABA members made a Mother’s Day donation each year, honoring their own legal moms.
June 2012 - San Antonio Legal Sports Hall of Fame
I have had an idea for awhile about a San Antonio Sports Hall of Fame of attorneys and Judges who have distinguished themselves in various sports throughout their career. Listening to UTSA Athletic Director Lynn Hickey at our last SABA luncheon has spurred (pun intended) me on to explore the idea.
In San Antonio, we have both the local legend attorneys and those who went to school in other cities and then moved to San Antonio to distinguish themselves in the law. So we will have to decide what categories of athletes we would honor. Will it be lawyers who have excelled in sports while in San Antonio or attorneys who established themselves in sports before coming to San Antonio? Will it be high school, college or pro sports? What about attorneys who accomplished something significant in sports — after becoming a lawyer?
I will need everyone’s input on this because I know there are many stories out there. This first one is sort of a no brainer. Former Justice of the Peace Phil Harris was a standout football player at Jefferson High School and went on to play for the Texas Longhorns and a year with the New York Giants before suffering a neck injury. In one account I read, Harris caught two touchdown passes and totaled 157 receiving yards against Roger Staubach’s #2 Navy team, helping Texas to a 28-6 Cotton Bowl victory in 1964; and later a spot in the Cotton Bowl Hall of Fame.
Another example is Cyndi Krier, our former State Senator and County Judge. She was a basketball player back when the high school girls could only play half court. Her George West high school went to the state finals — twice. I don’t believe they won or I would have heard more about that story. Still, however, it was a significant achievement. She then went on to play for the Texas Longhorns. While at Texas, they finally started letting a couple of the girls play full court while the other girls had to remain at half court. Cyndi was one of those who got to go up and down the court. It is my understanding that they had to share their jerseys with the volleyball players. I sure hope that basketball and volleyball were not played back to back on the same day.
Then there was former County Commissioner Tom Stolhandske, an All-American and All-SWC end in 1952 and the team’s top pass receiver that year who was a first round (10th overall) draft pick of the San Francisco 49ers in 1953. Did you know that Judge Laura Parker, 386th District Juvenile Judge went to the NCAA tournament as a tennis player at Vassar? I am not sure how good our former State Bar President and local lawyer legend Charlie Smith was in baseball, but I do know that he was good enough to play with former Los Angeles Dodger Wally Moon who I had the pleasure to work with years ago during a short stint with the SA Dodger minor league baseball team that Wally owned. Most recently 67 year old attorney Larry Macon set a marathon record completing 113 races in 2011. And for those special sports moments, how about Federal Judge Fred Biery’s celebrated pick-up basketball game with actor Woody Harrelson?
The list can go on for some time. So now it will be up to some sports oriented attorney out there to figure out how we can set up a Sports Attorney Hall of Fame. The structure of such an organization and honor is up for debate; which is perfect since that is what we do as lawyers. We all do serious work as lawyers, so I thought it was time to have a little more fun in terms of recognition of what many have accomplished. I can’t wait to see it evolve and the witness the list of sports accomplishments of our San Antonio lawyers and judges.
July 2012 - Happy Trails
I am not really much of a cowboy type, having grown up in Ohio. My cousins from Connecticut thought I lived on a farm because that was their East Coast impression of people from Ohio. My Midwest impression of Texas was cowboys, which must have been my mom’s vision also, when she dressed me up as Roy Rodgers for some youthful event. So as I get ready to end my term as President, I reminisce on the Happy Trails traveled.
I am proud this year of the accomp-lishments of the SABA Community Justice Program. The American Bar Association Harrison Tweed Award for the outstanding Pro Bono program in the country and our immediate Past President Justice Phylis Speedlin’s award as the top Texas Pro Bono Jurist were simply icing on the cake. Like any award, credit extends to the SABA and Legal Aid staff support, the volunteer hours of judges, court reporters and court clerks and the backbone of the program and what makes San Antonio such a special place to live — the willingness of lawyers in this community to give hours and hours of pro bono service.
The San Antonio Bar Association is not short of leaders this year. Texas lawyers have elected local attorney Lisa Tatum to serve as President-Elect of the State Bar of Texas. Chief Justice Catherine Stone of the Fourth Court of Appeals has been selected as the Chief of the Chiefs of the Courts of Appeals of Texas. Our Supreme Court Chief Justice, Wallace Jefferson, had a similar title recently when he served as Chief of all of the Supreme Court Chief Justices in the United States. And Sara Dysart, local attorney and new State Bar Director, received the Ralph A. Mock Memorial Award as the top state attorney for her dedicated service to Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers; just another great example of how San Antonio lawyers not only care about those attorneys in need, but do something about it.
Of course, no year is without its ups and downs. The SABA board has struggled with deficit budgets this year as we deal with what the rest of the country faces economically. But I believe we have put in place some events for this next year that will get us back on track. Those include a Military Retirement Seminar, a Juvenile Law seminar and the 50th annual A.A. Semaan Criminal Law Institute.
One powder keg issue related to pro bono services that did not explode this year, but which still lays there buried with its fuse sticking out of the ground like a prairie dog popping its head out to check out what is going on, is the Supreme Court’s forms task force project. I said before I thought approval of the forms by the Supreme Court was inevitable. I am encouraged by some very reasoned thoughts and language I am hearing from State Bar/Family Law representatives that I hope will help resolve the issue. When properly supervised, using forms serves a good purpose for those who truly are in economic need of legal services and would otherwise not have access to justice.
The San Antonio Bar has so much to offer — Pro Bono services, mentoring, low cost CLE. SABA will be overseeing the operation of the new waiting area and 14 conference rooms on the first floor of the Bexar County Courthouse, which will support the new Presiding Court to open up this fall. Final arrangements have not been confirmed at the time of this article, but we are working with the San Antonio Municipal Court to provide Skype-like services directly with a Municipal Court Judge, so attorneys can handle traffic violations from the confines of the Courthouse. Finally, all work and no play are not good for us according to Judge Wayne Christian. At his suggestion, we will see about hosting more social events (or as Wayne likes to say — let’s party).
My year as President is over, and it is just a matter of getting on to the next year. Getting going reminds me of something my four-year-old granddaughter said during a recent visit. We were all scurrying around trying to get ready for the evening. For once the four-year-old was ready and getting impatient to get on the road. All of a sudden she blurts out: “Let’s get this rodeo started.” You gotta love four-year-olds. So as I ride into the sunset and look back on this year, I encourage you to support my friend Andy Kerr and help him to get a good start as he takes over as President of the San Antonio Bar — the best Bar you can belly up to after a great rodeo ride.