State Bar of Texas Welcomes ABA
by Buck Files
I am looking forward to being in Dallas at the American Bar Association’s 2013 Midyear Meeting, February 6-12. Dallas will be a wonderful host city for this important event, which will bring more than 3,000 ABA members and their families to Dallas to conduct the association’s business. The meeting would not be possible without the Dallas Bar Association members’ support of, and commitment to, the ABA and I congratulate you on that excellent partnership. Thank you for providing Texas hospitality to our colleagues from across the nation.
During the ABA meeting, I will be privileged to speak on February 9 at the Indigent Defense Symposium. We will be discussing the importance of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1963 decision in Gideon v. Wainwright. Even though the opinion was handed down 49 years ago, I remember it well because I had just graduated from law school when it was handed down.
In March, many of us in Texas and throughout the nation will celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Gideon ruling, and for good reason. As we all know, the Supreme Court held that the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution providing that in all criminal prosecutions the accused shall enjoy right to assistance of counsel for his defense is made obligatory on the states by the Fourteenth Amendment, and that an indigent defendant in a criminal prosecution in a state court has the right to have counsel appointed for him.
Justice Hugo Black’s opinion included this sentence: “That government hires lawyers to prosecute and defendants who have the money hire lawyers to defend are the strongest indications of the widespread belief that lawyers in criminal courts are necessities, not luxuries.” Before Gideon, people unable to afford an attorney had a constitutional right to an appointed lawyer only if they were charged with a crime that could result in a death sentence.
At the State Bar of Texas, assuring all citizens equal access to justice is part of our mission, and that includes continuing to focus on ways to advance efforts for indigent defense. In 2009, the State Bar supported the creation of the Office of Capital Writs, a state agency that represents people who have been sentenced to death in state post-conviction habeas corpus and related proceedings. The State Bar’s Legal Services to the Poor in Criminal Matters Standing Committee has been working to improve the system that provides legal representation to indigent people accused of crimes. The committee has produced resources for both lawyers and the public, such as Performance Guidelines for Non-Capital Criminal Defense Representation and Defending Yourself in a Criminal Case and Dangers of Being Your Own Lawyer, Even for a Misdemeanor. Access these on www.texasbar.com.
The State Bar also continues to work with other organizations, such as the Texas Indigent Defense Commission, Texas Access to Justice Commission and local bar associations to address the need for an improved indigent defense system. Many Texas attorneys are helping bridge the indigent defense gap through their commitment to pro bono work, assisting those who otherwise could not afford a lawyer. Working together, we can ensure that everyone has equal access to justice.
I look forward to seeing you in at the ABA Midyear Meeting. Welcome to Texas.