Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Property Tax Season is Here

Originally published by Herrman & Herrman, P.L.L.C..

2017 property tax statements have been sent out across most counties by now. Strongly encourage if you have not received your 2017 tax bill to contact your local county tax office as by law it is up to the property owner to notify of any change of address.

2017 property taxes are due by January 31 in order to avoid late fees. Most county tax offices are online and give you options for payment. If you have issues with the value your property is being assessed at contact your local county appraisal district to discuss with them as the tax office taxes on the information received from the appraisal district.

Every year thousands of statements are mailed to undeliverable mailing addresses or to incorrect owners so in order to avoid the headaches of late fees and collectors contacting you regarding delinquent billing, please take the time and contact now. Failure to receive a tax bill is not a defense to waive late fees, unfortunately.

If the property being taxed is your homestead you may have the ability to lower your taxes if you apply for a homestead exemption. Additionally, you may qualify for a payment plan. Your local county tax office and appraisal district will be able to guide you on the procedure and paperwork needed to take advantage of these options.

For business owners, if you have furniture, fixtures, and equipment you use in your business please be advised you may receive a tax statement on what is called “business personal property”. In addition to the regular property taxes, these are also required to be paid annually to avoid foreclosure proceedings.

If the business was open on January 1 you will be taxed for the full year for these taxes. Once again disputes in value should be taken to your local county appraisal district office. If your business was closed before January 1 please notify your appraisal district and they may be able to assist you with removal.

Should you be over 65 and/or disabled and you are having trouble making the tax payments on your home you may qualify for a deferral which will alleviate you from the worry of a potential foreclosure should you be unable to make payments or get behind. Your tax office or appraisal district will be able to assist you with this as well.

With the holiday season approaching and everyone is preparing for big expenses, don’t forget to put this on your list and plan ahead.

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Before and After the Cyberattack

Originally published by Shari L. Klevens and Alanna Clair.

This article, the third in this series on cybersecurity, answers two questions often asked by law firms about cyber risks: What specific steps can


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Wafa Abdin named executive director of Houston Volunteer Lawyers

Originally published by Eric Quitugua.

Wafa Abdin has been named the new executive director of the Houston Volunteer Lawyers. “I am very excited about the opportunity to work with pro bono volunteers and the HVL team to provide to low-income individuals free civil legal aid that helps stabilize families, maintain housing, and even improve children’s health,” said Abdin, who served as vice president for Immigration and Refugee Services at Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston and led the Cabrini Center for Immigrant Legal Assistance.

In her more than 16 years of pro bono legal service, Abdin has represented detained adults and juveniles, asylum seekers, and victims of human trafficking and other crimes before the Department of Homeland Security, the Immigration Court, and the Board of Immigration.

Abdin is a former president of the Arab American Cultural Center and is a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association and the Human Trafficking Rescue Alliance. In 2010, she received a J. Chrys Dougherty Legal Services Award from the State Bar of Texas for her work.

“We are very fortunate to have Wafa joining our Houston Volunteer Lawyers in this leadership role,” Houston Bar Association President Alistair B. Dawson said. “The depth of her experience with nonprofit organizations and her commitment to pro bono legal services will be a great asset as we move forward in providing pro bono legal representation to those in need in Houston and surrounding areas.”

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Creating a Parenting Plan in Texas

Originally published by Family and Criminal Law Blog.

What is the best custody schedule for my child?

A parenting plan is a document created and agreed to by the parents of a minor child, and approved by the court, often during a divorce.  It governs the relationship between two parents regarding custody of the child.  Your parenting plan will be of critical importance to your child’s future and your life post-divorce.  Our Midland, Texas child custody lawyers at Navarrete & Schwartz, P.C. discuss what you need to include in your parenting plan and how you can create the best parenting plan for your child.

Joint vs. Sole Managing Conservatorship

In Texas, the term conservatorship is used instead of custody.  Conservatorship refers to a parent’s rights and duties concerning their children, such as the right to make important decisions regarding the child.  Rather than using the term visitation, Texas refers to physical time with the child as a possession and access schedule.

When it comes to decision making for the child, known as managing conservatorship, the two main options are joint or sole managing conservatorship.  Joint managing conservatorship allows the parents to share decision making responsibilities.  In determining whether joint conservatorship is right for your family, you should weigh whether you and the other parent can effectively share in decision making, whether both of you support a positive relationship with the child and the other parent, and the needs of the child.  

Sole managing conservatorship gives one parent the responsibility to make decisions for the child, while the other may still be provided with possession of and access to the child, commonly known as visitation.  Sole conservatorship may be best when the parents cannot agree on basic decisions or if a history of abuse existed in the relationship.

Your parenting plan must provide a detailed description of what decisions which parent can make for the child.  It should set out which home will be the child’s primary residence.  It must also include a possession and access schedule that shows when each parent will have visitation with the child.  

There are many options when it comes to a visitation schedule.  Older children could benefit from a week on/week off schedule.  For some families, a rotating weekend schedule is best.  Parents will generally elect to rotate holidays or split major occasions like birthdays and Christmas.  Your custody attorney will help you to develop a strong parenting plan that will serve your child and family well.  


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Day 16 of One Month to 360 Degrees of Communication in Compliance- Crowdsourcing as Communications

Originally published by tfoxlaw.

One of the greatest things about the compliance profession is that it is only limited by its collective imagination. If you can think it up, you can probably do it. This has led not only continuing evolution of compliance programs but continuing innovation in the compliance function. As compliance programs evolve and innovate, regulators take […]

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Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Which Is More Important In The Word Guilty: The “I” Or “T”?

Originally published by John Floyd.

Jamie Hallmark entered into a plea agreement in Houston County. The written agreement stated that when she showed up for sentencing, she would receive a three-year sentence unless she failed to show, at which time she would be sentenced within the “full range of punishment”—any sentence up to the maximum penalty.  The maximum penalty for the charge for which she was convicted, hindering apprehension, is ten years. At the initial guilty plea proceeding, the trial judge specifically told Hallmark the risk for failure to show at sentencing:


“If you did not come, and chose not to show, then you would be looking at the full range of punishment on the third degree felony, and I would assess your range of punishment, and the plea would be off. So if you do your part, you get your deal. If you don’t, then I decide what you get.”  Defense counsel did not object to the trial courts improper participation in plea negotiations.


Defendant’s Failure to Appear at Sentencing Gets Maximum Sentence


Hallmark did not show up for her January 21, 2016 sentencing hearing.


An eventual sentencing hearing was conducted in March.


In response to the judge’s question about whether she had an excuse for not showing up at sentencing in January, Hallmark said she had none. The judge then announced that she was not going to accept the plea bargain and imposed the maximum 10-year term.  In effect, the trial court rejected the plea agreement when Hallmark failed to show.


The Twelfth Court of Appeals found that the trial court had the trial judge had added an additional condition at the plea proceedings concerning the consequences for failure to show at the January sentencing hearing. The appeals court then reversed Hallmark’s conviction, finding that the trial court had abused its discretion when it imposed the full range of punishment, the maximum term.


Court of Criminal Appeals Reinstates Sentence


On November 8, 2017, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals reversed the appeals court and reinstated Hallmark’s conviction, finding that: “Because the ‘no show/full-range-of-punishment’ condition was part of Appellant’s plea agreement and she forfeited any complaint about the trial judge’s participation in the plea negotiations, her complaint about the trial court’s judgment are without merit. The court of appeals was mistaken to hold otherwise.”


Frontier Justice


Texas has a history of “frontier justice”—a judicial system that created its own norms without consistency or adherence to precedent.  Stanford legal historian Lawrence M. Friedman illustrated this frontier justice by pointing to an 1879 Texas case in which the conviction was upheld because the “t” was left out of the word “guilty” (read as “guily”) but seven years later, in 1886, a conviction was reversed where the “i” was left out of “guilty.”


According to Friedman, the 1886 appellate court actually tried to distinguish its ruling from the 1879 court by saying the letter “I” is more important than the letter “t” in any word—presumably because “I” comes before “T” in the alphabet.


There are roughly 3200 elected or appointed judges in the State of Texas who dispose of more than 10 million cases each year, according to a 2014 judicial report. This includes the 80 justices on the fourteen courts of appeals that have jurisdiction over the state’s 254 counties and the nine justices on the TCCA who issue approximately 460 opinions each year involving cases previously decided by the courts of appeal.


Court of Criminal Appeals Rules Contrary to Common Sense


In 2004, the Texas Monthly reported that some of TCCA opinions go “against law, science, and … [even] common sense.”


Since October 18, the TCCA has reversed the lower appellate courts at least six times, sometimes with reasoning that heralds back to the when Texas courts were trying to figure out which letter was more important in the world guilty—the “I” or the “t”.


We understand it is healthy for justice to have differences of opinions among appellate courts, but it seems that in the recent spate of cases the appellate courts in Texas are still trying to ascertain the importance between “I” and “T”.






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Texas’ newest lawyers are sworn in at induction ceremony

Originally published by Eric Quitugua.

The newest group of Texas attorneys took the Lawyer’s Oath Monday morning at the Frank Erwin Center in Austin. Members of the Texas Supreme Court and Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, deans from Texas law schools, and representatives from the State Bar of Texas and the Texas Board of Law Examiners welcomed hundreds of law school graduates to the Texas Bar.

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