Austin Bar Association and Foundation to Recognize Four Legal Industry Leaders at Annual Gala – Including New Award Category, the Larry York Mentor Award

The Austin Bar Foundation will hold its 12th Annual Gala on Saturday, Jan. 31 from 6:30 to 11:30 p.m. at the Four Seasons Hotel in downtown Austin.

During the event, the Austin Bar Association will raise money for its foundation, along with a Fund-A-Need for two projects within the Central Texas legal community – Volunteer Legal Services and a community education campaign for the new Travis County Courthouse.

It’s become tradition to recognize legal industry leaders at the annual gala through the Distinguished Lawyer Award and the David H. Walter Community Excellence Award. But this will be the first year the Austin Bar Foundation presents the Larry York Mentor Award. The new award will honor a lawyer, who like the late Larry York, has demonstrated exceptional skills and generosity by mentoring young members of the Bar.

Former Chief Justice Woodie Jones will be the first recipient of the award.  Jones’ was elected as Chief Justice of the Third Court of Appeals in 2008. While working nearly 40 years in the legal profession, he’s mentored countless numbers of young lawyers.  Jones has been a frequent speaker at CLE programs and is a longtime Inns of Court member. He also assists in moot court competitions for law students, as his schedule allows.

Two attorneys will receive the traditional Distinguished Lawyer Award, with Berry Crowley and Louis Pirkey being honored. The Distinguished Lawyer Award is presented each year to attorneys who have practiced more than 30 years and represent the pinnacle of the legal profession. Honorees are selected by past recipients of the Distinguished Lawyer award.

Pirkey is an adjunct professor of trademark law at the University of Texas School of Law, who has also represented and worked with several high profile brands. Crowley runs her own law practice and was the first woman to be elected president of the Texas Young Lawyers’ Association in 1983.

Barbara Ellis, Of Counsel at Locke Lord will receive the 2015 David H. Walter Community Excellence Award. The award is named for former Austin Bar President, David Walter, who believed that one of the greatest responsibilities of being a lawyer was to speak up for people who can’t speak up for themselves. Ellis is receiving the award for her work on the Heart Walk, the fundraising she did for Emancipet and the work she did as former President of Volunteer Legal Services.

The 12th Annual Austin Bar Foundation Gala will also feature a live and silent auction, casino games and music by the White Ghost Shivers.

Attorney Amanda J. Cochran-McCall joins Bickerstaff as an Associate

Bickerstaff Heath Delgado Acosta LLP has announced that attorney Amanda J. Cochran-McCall has joined the firm as an associate in the Austin office.

Cochran-McCall practices in the areas of general civil litigation, employment law, constitutional law, and administrative law. She represents local governments, public entities, and public officials in state and federal court.CochranMcCall_Amanda-traditional-00806510x7A30F

Before joining the firm, she practiced for five years in the General Litigation Division of the Texas Office of the Attorney General. She has litigated cases involving state and federal employment law, including claims under the Texas Commission on Human Rights Act, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Equal Pay Act, and the Family and Medical Leave Act.CochranMcCall_Amanda-traditional-00806510x7A30FShe has also defended challenges against public entities involving claims under the Texas Tort Claims Act; Texas Whistleblower Act; Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972; The Fair Labor Standards Act; and the First Amendment, Fourth Amendment, and Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

In addition, Cochran-McCall has also tried jury and bench trials in both state and federal court. Notably, she was a core trial team member defending the state’s school finance system in the longest (16 weeks of testimony) school finance trial in state history. The school finance trial involved efficiency, suitability, and adequacy claims under the Education Clause, art. VII § 1, and state ad valorem tax claims under art. VIII § 1-e of the Texas Constitution. She has also litigated challenges to regulatory and statutory schemes involving procedural and substantive due process claims under the Due Course of Law provision of the Texas Constitution; the Texas Medical Practice Act; art. XVI § 31 of the Texas Constitution; and the Administrative Procedures Act.

Austin Attorney Quoted in Huffington Post in Health Law Story

Fletcher Brown, a partner in the Austin office of Waller Lansden Dortch & Davis, LLP, was quoted extensively in an article that appeared last week in the Huffington Post, entitled “Politics Versus Economics and the Enduring Mystery of Medicaid Expansion.”

The article focused on “the political standoff over provisions of the Affordable Care Act to expand Medicaid. Rural hospitals and “the problems” that creates for “health care delivery; especially in states like Texas, where the last governor has refused the billions of dollars offered under the federal expansion of Medicaid, and the new governor has promised to continue that policy of resistance.”

Brown, who is one of the state’s foremost authorities on legal issues for rural hospitals, opined:

“We have large indigent and uninsured population in our state. In the rural areas, that’s a more acute problem. About a fourth of our state’s population is uninsured but at the county rural hospitals in small towns maybe up to 50 percent of patients are either uninsured or underinsured and they wind up on self pay.”

Journalist James Moore added that that “means many of those hospitals in rural areas of Texas, or the other twenty-three states that have not expanded Medicaid, never recover their costs for delivering health care and are in consistent financial jeopardy. Brown … suggests that the importance of Medicaid expansion’s economics are being lost in a political argument.

“‘The raw economics of it seem simple,’ Brown said. ‘Texas would draw down billions of federal dollars every year in matching money. What possible economic rationale can there be for not accepting that money by expanding Medicaid? I think you have to say it’s obviously politically driven and it seems largely commonly known that it’s a red state issue.'”

To see the full article, visit:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jim-moore/politics-versus-economics-and-the-enduring-mystery-of-medicaid-expansion_b_6512348.html

Central Texas Law Firm Announces New Senior Attorney

The law firm of Stahl, Bernal, Davies, Sewell & Chavarria has announced that Alan Cohen has joined the firm as a Senior Attorney.

Cohen practices in the firm’s Commercial Real Estate, Renewable Energy and Texas Tax practice groups. His Commercial Real Estate practice includes representation of clients in all aspects of commercial real estate transactions including financing, purchasing, selling, title insurance, leasing, construction, and formation of partnerships, limited liability companies, and corporations. In his Renewable Energy Practice, Cohen focuses on advising clients developing and operating wind and solar projects throughout the United States. alan-cohen-headshotHis representation of energy clients includes drafting and negotiating land control documents, guiding projects through title and survey review, drafting and negotiating EPC (engineering, procurement and construction) and other design and construction agreements, and assisting in other transactional matters related to project development.

Cohen’s experience includes serving as in-house counsel for a Fortune 250 provider of EPC services, commercial leasing (office, retail and industrial) including tenant representation throughout North America, representation of one of the nation’s largest title insurers, and litigation in state and federal district and appellate courts in Texas and Louisiana.

Cohen is a frequent contributor to the Commercial Lease Law Insider and the Commercial Tenant’s Lease Insider and he serves on the Board of Advisors for both publications. He is licensed to practice law in Texas and Louisiana. He obtained his Juris Doctor from the Louisiana State University Law Center and his undergraduate degree from the University of Texas at Austin.

Study Finds Employees Are More Engaged When Employer Cares About Well-Being

Employee engagement is higher when workforces are satisfied with the health and well-being benefits their employer provides, according to new research from Quantum Workplace, a leading workplace survey and employee feedback technology company. The study, which was released this morning, also highlights a wide-ranging discrepancy between the benefits that employees want and the benefits they actually receive.

The report, “Workplace Well-Being: Provide Meaningful Benefits to Energize Employee Health, Engagement, and Performance” analyzes nearly 2,000 survey responses from participants in Quantum Workplace’s nationally-recognized Best Places to Work program. Past research has shown that the category of benefits presents an opportunity for employers.

“Twelve years of conducting workplace research has shown that employee perceptions of benefits is the single lowest scoring survey category across virtually all companies,” said Greg Harris, President and CEO of Quantum Workplace. “But the needle can be moved. When employers use employee feedback to help drive the decisions they make, including the health and well-being benefits they provide, they can improve employee health, engagement, and performance.”

Specifically, the study categorized “health and well-being benefits” as the total reward package provided by an employer – from health insurance and paid time off, to stress-relief breaks and financial planning services. Here are its key findings:

Overall engagement drivers (and detractors)

  • Satisfaction: Engagement is lower when employees are less satisfied with their benefits. More than three-fourths of engaged employees said they were satisfied with the health and well-being benefits their organization provides, compared to fewer than half of “hostile” (lowest possible engagement score) employees.
  • Communication and clarity: Employees who are unsure if they have benefits are twice as likely to be disengaged compared to those who understand the benefits offered to them.

What employees want vs. what employees get

  • Stress Management: Only 28 percent of employers provide stress-relief breaks, such as meditation, massages, or required breaks, yet more than 71 percent of employees desire it.
  • Nutrition: More than 73 percent of employees want healthy cafeteria or vending options at work, but fewer than half of employers provide it.
  • Physical fitness: Regular exercise -three times a week or more – has little to no direct impact on employee engagement. Yet half of employees want an onsite fitness center and time for healthy activities at work.
  • Financial wellness: Employees 25 years old and younger are nearly twice as likely to prefer financial planning services, compared to employees 56 years old and older.
  • Work-life balance: Nearly three-fourths of employees want flexible work hours, and those who do are nearly 20 percent more engaged. However, fewer than half of employers provide flexible work hours.

The full report, including resources for building a successful employee engagement program, can be downloaded here. Short Link: http://www.quantumworkplace.com/workplace-well-being/

About the survey
The Quantum Workplace research panel of nearly 21,000 employees, who were also surveyed through the Best Places to Work program, were invited to participate in a survey about health and well-being benefit preferences. Nearly 2,000 employees completed the survey, representing men and women from a wide range of ages, education levels, and company sizes. Employees responded to an engagement survey using a 6-point Likert scale. Based on the average of their answers, without factoring in skipped questions, they placed in one of four groups: Engaged, Contributing, Disengaged, and Hostile. Results in this report overlay new survey questions with respondents’ previously completed Best Places to Work engagement profiles.

Weisbart Springer Hayes Promotes Two to Partner in Austin

The Austin litigation firm Weisbart Springer Hayes LLP has promoted trial attorneys Kevin Terrazas and Tim Cleveland to partners in the firm.

Cleveland has helped clients obtain favorable courtroom verdicts on both sides of the docket, most recently winning a multimillion-dollar victory for a plaintiff in an antitrust jury trial in 2014.

He graduated with honors from University of Texas School of Law in 2006, and practiced with Beck Redden LLP in Houston and Austin prior to joining Weisbart Springer Hayes in 2013. Cleveland represents individuals, start-up companies, and large institutional clients in a variety of complex commercial and contractual disputes in courtrooms across the nation.

A trial and appellate lawyer, Terrazas joined the firm in 2013 after previously working as a partner in the Austin office of Yetter Coleman LLP. He has successfully represented clients in a variety of disputes involving intellectual property, antitrust, employment, contracts, torts, and constitutional law.

Terrazas graduated cum laude from Harvard Law School in 2007. He was named a Distinguished Cadet as an undergraduate at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and served as a Captain in the United States Army’s Field Artillery branch prior to attending law school. During his military service Terrazas was the recipient of multiple honors, including a bronze star for actions during combat.

Cleveland and Terrazas were named to the list of Texas Rising Stars in 2014, placing them among the state’s most promising and successful young lawyers under the age of 40.

“We couldn’t be more proud to recognize the abilities and contributions of our two new partners,” said name partner Julie Springer.

Weisbart Springer Hayes focuses on commercial litigation matters in Texas and across the nation. The firm represents both plaintiffs and defendants in a wide range of complex legal disputes.

Texas Apartment Association Files Amicus Curiae Brief in Texas Department of Housing & Community Affairs Case

George B. Allen, Executive Vice President of the Austin-based Texas Apartment Association (TAA), issued the following statement about the filing of an amicus curiae brief, in which it urges “the nation’s highest court to follow the wording and the clearly stated intent of Congress when it passed the U.S. Fair Housing Act.

“Every day housing providers work to eliminate housing discrimination and make their residences available to all, without regard to race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status or disability. Exposing housing providers to expensive and unnecessary litigation due to disparate impact claims hinders our industry’s ability to provide quality, safe housing.

“In our … brief we are urging the nation’s highest court to follow the wording and the clearly stated intent of Congress when it passed the U.S. Fair Housing Act. The brief argues that the text and history of the law does not allow disparate impact claims, but instead authorizes only claims based on intentionally discriminatory conduct. Failure to bar disparate impact claims would impose severe consequences—unintended by Congress—on routine decision-making by housing providers to the detriment of property owners and residents.

“For example, a race-neutral decision to ban felons from renting property could be challenged under disparate impact based on the claim that a protected class is more likely to be affected. If the property owner could not afford to defend a lawsuit they might simply drop the requirement, making it more difficult for property managers to create a safe and secure community for residents.

“It should be noted that while it is very difficult for defendants to recover attorney’s fees, even if they prevail in court litigation, including this case, lawsuits often come from special interest groups that are in some cases funded with our tax dollars. Defending allegations of disparate impact, even if those allegations are proved to be without merit, is costly and stigmatizing.”

Attorneys Look at Hydraulic Fracturing in Texas

On Wednesday, Wayne J. D’Angelo and Andrew M. McNamee, of Kelley Drye & Warren LLP, provided a Regulatory Roundup on Texas with regard to the controversial fracking issue.

“The Texas Oil and Gas Association has filed a lawsuit against the city of Denton to overturn a ban on hydraulic fracturing passed by city voters in November (Fracking Insider has previously reported on the Denton ballot initiative here). The Association argues that the Denton ordinance goes beyond the authority granted to municipalities by ‘home rule’ provisions of the law, and encroaches on the exclusive powers granted by the state legislature to the Texas Railroad Commission and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. The lawsuit contends that a ‘field’ preemption, in which state regulations are acknowledged to be so comprehensive that local rules are not required, should apply to the Denton ban. Even if the Association’s argument fails and the ban is upheld, the city can expect mineral rights holders to sue the city, arguing that the ban is a type of regulatory taking. If a takings challenge is successful, the city may be required to compensate the mineral rights holders. The Texas General Land Office has filed a separate lawsuit against the city, arguing that the ban usurps its authority as the statewide manager of mineral interests. The city has filed a motion asking that that lawsuit be moved from the Austin district court to Denton.”

 

Baker Botts Appoints Special Counsel to Austin Office

Baker Botts has announced the appointment of three new special counsels, one of which, Brendan Day, will reside in its Austin office.

Day’s practice consists primarily of civil litigation and appeals, with an emphasis on Securities Litigation. He represents clients in state and federal courts in Texas and throughout the United States. Day is also experienced in the identification, preservation, review and production of electronic documents in litigation, including the management of large discovery efforts.day.brendanth

Prior to becoming a lawyer, Day worked for the Central Intelligence Agency in the Crime and Narcotics Center. He was entrusted with analyzing intelligence and assisting with operational logistics.

Munsch Hardt Names New Head of Austin Law Office

Munsch Hardt Kopf & Harr PC has appointed David Mattka to lead the law firm’s Austin office. Mattka succeeds M’Lou Patton Bell, who will remain with the firm to concentrate on her real estate practice.

The Dallas-based commercial law firm said it is eyeing major growth in the Austin market in 2015 after having seen significant growth in its Houston office last year, according to CEO Phil Appenzeller, Jr.

“Our plan targets transactional, corporate and real estate [practice] growth. We already have a strong litigation team in Austin,” Appenzeller said.

Appenzeller said the Austin office, which has 12 attorneys and seven other staff members, should see growth in the range of 50 percent this year.

Munsch Hardt (www.munsch.com) is moving into the newly constructed Colorado Tower downtown at 303 Colorado St. late this summer. The firm has leased 14,768 square feet with an option to take the rest of the 26th floor.

Mattka’s appointment was effective Jan. 1. He joined the firm 28 years ago and has served in a number of leadership roles, including business litigation section head in Austin and member of the management committee.

“Austin is rich with commercial activity in the construction, real estate, technology and manufacturing sectors right now, and we look forward to helping these thriving businesses,” Mattka said in a statement.