Not much has changed with the Montgomery County Law Library, except a risk has developed…

Scales on table in front of books.

Conroe, June 24 – Not much has really changed with the Montgomery County Law Library, except that the risk of a lawsuit arising from the practice of law has developed. While Montgomery County Judge Craig Doyal has tried to take credit for the Law Library’s Budget as his one fiscal success, in actuality, the spending of the Law Library Department has remained stable and almost the same for many years.

Why we have a law library?

Counties may, but are not required to, have a law library. Montgomery County’s Law Library is a little-used facility on Thompson Street in the James Keeshan Administration Building across the street from the Main County Courthouse building on the ground floor. The book collection is quite limited. There are computers available that have access to some legal database collections.

Since the Texas Local Government Code establishes a limit of $35 taxed as a court costs for each civil lawsuit filed in county or district courts, Montgomery County’s Commissioners Court has, of course, set the tax at the maximum $35 per case. The County Clerk (Mark Turnbull) and the District Clerk (Barbara Adamick) must collect those fees and remit them to the County. The Law Library fund may only be used for establishing a law library, purchasing library materials and furniture, and purchasing equipment for electronic research. Librarians are allowable

Many counties have a bar association committee which manages the law library. Since Montgomery County’s Commissioners Court is power-crazed, they manage the Montgomery County Law Library themselves.

The money

The Law Library fees, which the two Clerks charge, have consistently brought in around $285,000 per year. For many years from around 1998 to 2010, the Law Library spent far less than the charged fees, so that a substantial fund balance had accumulated for the Law Library. When that fund balance got to a substantial level over which the Commissioners Court sought to exert control, the Commissioners Court took control of the Law Library from the Montgomery County Bar Association Law Library Committee, which had previously been one of the most active functions of the Bar Association.

Doyal has attempted to take credit for reducing the Law Library’s budget to the $285,000 range. In actuality, the Law Library’s expenditures have grown under Doyal as County Judge. When he became the County Judge during Fiscal Year 2015, the Law Library only expended $264,655. Doyal raised the Budget to $273,360 for Fiscal Year 2016 and $274,580 for Fiscal Year 2017.

Doyal’s proposed budget for the Law Library for Fiscal Year 2018 is $274,523. That means that our County Judge has found $57 of savings in a $274,523 budget of one of the slowest-paced of all County Departments.

The brewing problem in the Law Library

Law libraries and librarians are not to practice law. Even if they’re a reference librarian who is a licensed attorney, it’s a bad idea for law librarians to dispense legal advice, because it creates an enormous risk of legal malpractice claims against Montgomery County.

Unfortunately, the Law Librarians dispense legal advice, particularly concerning divorces and family law matters on a regular basis.

The Mission Statement of the Law Library is interesting:

“The Law Library staff members are unable to give legal advice, legal opinions, or any interpretation of the law. Staff may assist visitors in using available materials. The Law Library staff includes a Reference Attorney who may be able to assist with the filing of court documents in Montgomery County in simple family law cases, if the parties are in agreement on all issues, and if none of the parties is represented by an attorney.”

The foregoing statement seems to contradict itself. While the Law Library staff can’t give legal advice, the Reference Attorney may “assist with the filing of court documents…” That’s a bright line of the practice of law which former 9th District Judge Fred Edwards never permitted litigants or librarians to cross. Numerous times, Judge Edwards would order Law Library employees to come before him to explain why they had given legal advice to a library patron. He didn’t permit the practice under any circumstance, not even the simplest of family law matters.

Judge Edwards’ contention was that even uncontested divorces can go wrong and might leave the Montgomery County government facing a liability claim for bad legal advice or legal advice which a litigant visiting the Law Library misunderstood.

Let’s recognize the good and eliminate the bad

The Law Library is one County Department which does not spend as much money as the revenue it brings into the Law Library Fund. Let’s face it, however: the $35 law library fee is a form of tax. It’s good, however, that the Law Library spends less money than the Law Library Fund brings. The County Commissioners Court, however, to bring an abrupt halt to the dispensing of legal advice that occurs quite frequently inside the walls of the Montgomery County Law Library.

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