SE Texas Record

Saturday, October 19, 2019

New state bar president ‘withdraws’ question

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By The Record | Jul 9, 2019


Lawyers are taught not to ask questions in court that they don’t know the answer to, lest they get an unexpected answer: one that blows the case they were making, pro or con, to smithereens.

If an attorney makes such a stupid mistake and realizes it quickly enough, he can withdraw the question before the witness answers, but astute opposing counsel will note the error and wait their turn to pose the same question.

The new president of the Texas State Bar knows exactly how it feels to be in such a predicament – only he’s not the one who asked the question that he’s afraid to hear the answer to. It was his predecessor.

Before his tenure ended earlier this year, Texas State Bar President Joe Longley asked State Attorney General Ken Paxton to issue an opinion on a contentious subject.

Longley posed his question in light of two recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions, Janus v. AFSCME and Fleck v. Wetch. The Janus decision restored First Amendment rights to government employees by ruling that they cannot be compelled to pay dues to public-sector unions. Fleck, which challenged the mandatory fees paid by attorneys to state bars, was remanded to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals for reconsideration because of the Janus ruling.

What Longley wanted to know was whether or not state bar members can be compelled to pay dues that finance political advocacy they disagree with and support subgroups in which they have no voting rights.

Incoming State Bar President Randy Sorrels apparently has no interest in this question –  and probably wishes that his predecessor had never asked for an opinion on it.

The AG’s office sent a letter to Sorrels in mid-June, asking if he wished to proceed with Longley’s opinion request. Two weeks later, they tried again:

“Because we have not received confirmation from you regarding your desire to continue with the opinion request,” the letter confided, “we will consider the request withdrawn.”

Sorrels may have withdrawn the question, but someone else will ask it.

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