Texas Governor accuses State Bar of religious discrimination in legal course accreditation battle
Jan 09, 2016 06:56 AM EST
Texas Governor Greg Abbott has accused the State Bar of religious discrimination after it refused to award Continuing Legal Education (CLE) credit to a class on Christian ethical perspectives in the legal profession sponsored by St. Mary's University School of Law in San Antonio.
The Minimum Continuing Legal Education (MCLE) Committee of the State Bar of Texas notified on Nov 4 that it would allows credit only for topics "dealing with matters pertaining specifically to attorney duties and responsibilities and excludes credit for individual religious or moral responsibilities," Texas Lawyer reported.
The Committee denied CLE credit for the law school's program on "Christian Ethical Perspectives: Faith and Law Today," while the program attendees did receive 3.75 hours of ethics credit.
St. Mary's University School of Law has appealed the MCLE decision to the State Bar of Texas board of directors. The attorneys and educators affiliated with St. Mary's argues that morality and ethics cannot be separated from legal responsibilities and that the State Bar decision violates their First Amendment rights, according to Trail Blazers Blog.
Bill Piatt, a law professor at St. Mary's and one of the main organizers of the CLE program told the Newman Society that the State Bar Committee was "going out of their way to make it impossible for Catholics to put on a continuing legal education program that says anything about faith or morality."
Governor Abbott, who is a devout catholic, supports the law school's position and wants the State Bar to reverse its disapproval of the Catholic faith-based continuing education program.
General counsel for the governor's office, Jimmy Blacklock, wrote in a letter to State Bar of Texas on Dec 22, asking the committe to "reconsider its definition of legal ethics" and reverse its decision. Blacklock wrote that the State Bar's decision is "based on a shallow and impoverished understanding of legal ethics and an unduly narrow view of legal education."
The bar's president Allan Dubois wrote on Dec 29 in response to Blacklock letter that the bar's approach to questions about CLE accreditation is pragmatic and is aimed at helping sponsors meet the standards.
DuBois said the bar officials will meet next week with Piatt and others at St. Mary's University School of Law to discuss the issue and try to achieve an acceptable solution before the appeal goes to the bar's board of directors.
Piatt said he hopes that the State Bar of Texas will repeal their Nov 4 decision in the next week meeting and that they will get an agreement that morality is legitimately a part of attorneys' ethics and CLE programming. But if not, Piatt said that St. Mary's will proceed with the appeal. The appeal hearing is set for Jan 21.