February 6, 2023

Texas Governor accuses state bar of religious discrimination in continuing legal education accreditation battle

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Texas Attorney General and Governor elect Greg Abbott

Texas Attorney General and Governor elect Greg Abbott

By Brenda Sapino Jeffreys, From Texas Lawyer

With support coming from Gov. Greg Abbott, Bill Piatt, a professor at St. Mary’s University School of Law in San Antonio, is hopeful the State Bar of Texas will reconsider accreditation for a CLE program on “Christian Ethical Perspectives: Faith and Law Today.”

While attendees at an October 2015 presentation of the program did receive 3.75 hours of ethics credit, the bar’s Minimum Continuing Legal Education Committee notified Piatt on Nov. 4, 2015 it would not approve the “activity” in the future on the ground the definition of legal ethics/professional responsibility allows credit only for topics “dealing with matters pertaining specifically to attorney duties and responsibilities and excludes credit for individual religious or moral responsibilities.”

The law school and others who put on that continuing legal education program have appealed the MCLE decision to the State Bar of Texas board of directors. The appeal hearing is set for Jan. 21.

Since then, Abbott has been vocal in his support of St. Mary’s position.

In a Dec. 22, 2015 letter to bar president Allan DuBois, Jimmy Blacklock, general counsel for the governor’s office, asked the committee to “reconsider its definition of legal ethics” and reverse its decision. Blacklock wrote that the MCLE’s decision and accreditation standards are “based on a shallow and impoverished understanding of legal ethics and an unduly narrow view of legal education.”

He wrote that at worst, the committee’s actions “amount to religious discrimination against the CLE sponsors.”

A week after Blacklock sent the letter, Abbott posted this on his Facebook page:

“I’m accusing Texas State Bar of religious discrimination for denying continuing education credit for Christian legal ethics programs. The Texas State Bar leaders should be compelled to read my winning arguments upholding the Ten Commandments and “One Nation Under God.”

In response to Blacklock’s letter, DuBois wrote on Dec. 29 that the bar’s approach to questions about CLE accreditation is pragmatic and is aimed at helping sponsors meet the standards. “I am sure we will take the same approach with regard to the issues raised by the course sponsors, and I am confident we will find a mutually acceptable resolution,” DuBois wrote in a letter to Blacklock.

Piatt said he’s very encouraged that Abbott supports the appeal.

“The governor is obviously interested in protecting the religious freedom not only of the attorneys in Texas, but also the rest of the population and potential clients, and I think he understands that having an attorney who applies a sense of morality in their law practice is a good thing, not a bad thing,” Piatt said.

DuBois, a solo in San Antonio, said he and some bar officials will meet next week with Piatt and others at St. Mary’s University School of Law to discuss the accreditation issue and try to “achieve a resolution” before the appeal goes to the bar’s board of directors. DuBois said the meeting in San Antonio had already been scheduled, but the CLE program will be discussed.

Piatt said he hopes they can work it out, but if not, St. Mary’s will proceed with the appeal.

“They will have to rescind their unlawful future ban that is contained in that letter of Nov. 4 and we are going to have to get an agreement that morality is legitimately a part of attorneys’ ethics and CLE programming,” he said.

Piatt said the law school plans another CLE for later this year, and they hope to invite Abbott to give the keynote address on issues regarding the role of faith and morality in attorney ethics.

“We will, of course, submit the request for accreditation to the MCLE committee,” he said.

IMAGE: Texas Governor Greg Abbott

For more on this story go to: http://www.texaslawyer.com/id=1202746519702/Governor-Accuses-State-Bar-of-Religious-Discrimination-in-Continuing-Legal-Education-Accreditation-Battle#ixzz3wgcClksO


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