The Texas Coalition on Lawyer Accountability (TCLA) is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to educating the public and advocating the public interest to hold the Texas Legal profession accountable to its statutory, constitutional, and ethical obligations. Coalition members include the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), Public Citizen, the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project (SVREP), the Texas Civil Rights Project (TCRP), Texas Watch Foundation, and the Texas Housing Justice League (THJL). TCLA filed the disciplinary complaint that resulted in disbarment of Ken Anderson for his misconduct in the Michael Morton case.
The Texas Coalition on Lawyer Accountability was established in 2010, initially to provide input from the public perspective on the proposed amendments to the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct. The fact that public advocates were not involved in the lengthy drafting process was apparent from the proposed amendments that were published for comment. A number of the proposals posed significant risk to the interests of clients and the public as a whole.
Executive director Julie Oliver provided oral testimony at public hearings held by the State Bar on the proposed amendments. Formal written comments on behalf of TCLA were submitted to the Texas Supreme Court. The final draft issued by the court for a referendum vote of the State Bar membership addressed some of the minor concerns of TCLA. However, some of the most egregious provisions from the public’s perspective were still included. As a result, TCLA advocated for the membership to vote against all parts of the referendum. The membership overwhelmingly defeated the proposed amendments in the referendum vote in early 2011.
In April 2011, TCLA provided input on behalf of the public into the State Bar budget process. The major concern expressed was the inadequacy of the Commission for Lawyer Discipline budget given the seriously declining number of disciplinary actions completed against Texas attorneys, despite significant increases in the number of attorneys.
The Grievance Oversight Committee (GOC) of the Texas Supreme Court monitors the attorney grievance process and makes recommendations to the court for its improvement. The 2011 GOC Report raised concerns about two important components of the system, the Client Attorney Assistance Program and the onbudsman. Although these two programs are intended to make the system more user friendly and better protect the public, a number of problems were identified.
The Supreme Court solicited feedback from affected parties to the GOC report and TCLA submitted its analysis of the GOC report to the court. TCLA specifically concurred with most of the concerns and recommendations raised by the GOC regarding CAAP and the CDC ombudsman and provided additional recommendations as well. The TCLA analysis went further to address the alarming decline in discipline numbers without any plausible explanation. TCLA’s major recommendation was for the court to approve and commission an independent and long-overdue assessment of the Texas attorney grievance system.