Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Just follow the money

What exactly is the impetus for changing the disciplinary rules in Texas? According to the State Bar, not approving the referendum would embarrass the Texas bar. I don't know how it could embarrass the state more than the Chief Judge on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals telling the clerk's office not to accept an after-hours filing on behalf of a man scheduled to die at the hands of the state.

Maybe the assault on the flat fee and the attempts to change the rules so that criminal defense attorneys would have to park the money received on flat fees in a trust account is nothing more than a money grab by the State Bar.

The Texas Access to Justice Foundation receives the vast majority of its funding through the interest earned on IOLTA accounts in Texas. For those of you not familiar with this beast - an IOLTA account is a client trust account in which an attorney must place funds that haven't been earned and property received in settling a case. The interest earned on these accounts goes to the Texas Access to Justice Foundation to fund legal aid projects throughout the state.

According to the 2010 report filed by the TAJF with the Texas Supreme Court,
While the continuing effects of historically low interest rates devastate IOLTA revenue, the Texas Access to Justice Foundation continues to work on diversified sources of funding civil legal services for poor and low-income Texans. The Foundation projects approximately $5.5 million in IOLTA revenue for 2010 - a 73 percent decrease in IOLTA revenue from 2007. Current economic forecasts indicate little change in interest rates in the foreseeable future.
The Foundation and its partners in access to justice will be working diligently during the upcoming legislative session to support the Court's request for an appropriation of $20 million for the biennium for civil services to the poor to help fill the gap in funding created by the loss of IOLTA.
And, with a budget crisis looming in Austin as the legislature tries to figure out how to balance a budget without raising taxes, I wouldn't cross my fingers on legislators voting $20 million to aid the poor.

There's the reason for the proposed changes. Force criminal attorneys to park flat fees in IOLTA accounts so the State Bar can siphon the money to fund programs to offer low cost legal services to the poor for civil matters. So the combination of a sour economy and tort reform is behind the State Bar's all out push to change the way criminal defense attorneys conduct business.

Just follow the money, baby.

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