Bar must prove at­tor­ney dis­abled


Austin American-Statesman - - THE SECOND FRONT - A

a cen­sus worker out­side her ru­ral Le­an­der home; she con­tends the in­ci­dent never oc­curred.

De­spite her hospi­tal com­mit­ment, Barnes’ li­cense to prac­tice law re­mains in good stand­ing. On Wed­nes­day, the ap­peals court di­verted her fil­ing back to a Wil­liamson County court-at-law.

“We ques­tion whether Barnes, hav­ing been found in­com­pe­tent to stand trial in her own mat­ter, may rep­re­sent Gourley in this sep­a­rate mat­ter,” the jus­tices wrote.

Barnes’ sta­tus as a prac­tic­ing lawyer raises real and com­pli­cated le­gal ques­tions. It also il­lu­mi­nates an un­com­mon and se­cre­tive pro­ce­dure through which at­tor­neys can lose their li­censes be­cause of a dis­abil­ity — “any phys­i­cal, men­tal or emo­tional con­di­tion” that pre­vents them from prac­tic­ing law, ac­cord­ing to state dis­ci­plinary rules.

From Barnes’ per­spec­tive, the fact that she has been per­mit­ted to con­tinue prac­tic­ing law is clear ev­i­dence she should be re­leased from her forced con­fine­ment in the state hospi­tal and be al­lowed to pro­ceed to her own trial. Her logic: If she is legally able to rep­re­sent Gourley, as she has been do­ing, then she is more than ca­pa­ble of un­der­stand­ing the charges against her and par­tic­i­pat­ing in her own de­fense — the le­gal stan­dard used to de­ter­mine if a de­fen­dant is men­tally com­pe­tent to stand trial.

In short, Barnes said, “If I’m fully li­censed to rep­re­sent clients in the state of Texas, then I’m fully com­pe­tent to stand trial.”

The Wil­liamson County District At­tor­ney’s of­fice takes the op­po­site view — that if Barnes has been found in­com­pe­tent to stand trial, then she has no busi­ness rep­re­sent­ing le­gal clients. It has pushed the State Bar of Texas, which reg­u­lates the pro­fes­sion, to sus­pend her li­cense.

But Barnes said the only time the or­ga­ni­za­tion re­stricted her abil­ity to prac­tice was for a short

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