Bar must prove attorney disabled
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