AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A Texas attorney who is a patient at a psychiatric hospital and was found incompetent to stand trial in an assault case is still trying to practice law and get a theft charge against a client dismissed.
But an appeals court has questioned whether Carolyn Barnes can continue representing her client while she remains institutionalized.
The Austin American-Statesman reported Sunday (http://bit.ly/TBTc9U ) that Barnes has been committed to Kerrville State Hospital since mid-2011. She is facing charges of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon after being accused of firing a handgun in 2010 at a census worker outside her home in Leander, northwest of Austin.
Despite being hospitalized, Barnes' law license remains in good standing. Barnes, who has been fighting her commitment, told the newspaper that if she can practice law, she is competent to be tried. Barnes has been licensed to practice law in Texas since 1984.
Three weeks ago, Barnes filed a motion with the 3rd Court of Appeals in Austin, asking that charges against her client, Randy Gourley, be dismissed. He is accused of trying to sell a small amount of prescription animal medication on Craigslist.
In two-page opinion issued last week, the appeals court wrote it questioned "whether Barnes, having been found incompetent to stand trial in her own matter, may represent Gourley in this separate matter."
The appeals court sent the case back to a lower court to determine if Barnes can continue representing Gourley.
Kim Bueno, a spokeswoman for the State Bar of Texas' Chief Disciplinary Counsel, said strict confidentiality rules prevent her from commenting on Barnes' case, other than to say Barnes had no public disciplinary history.
Bueno said the state bar is aware of Barnes' case.
The Williamson County district attorney's office, which is prosecuting Barnes in the assault case, has asked the state bar to suspend her license.
Instances in which regulators prohibit an attorney from practicing because of a disability are rare. State bar records show such cases arise only about once a year, though it's not publicly revealed if a case involves a mental or physical ailment.
Such complaints, which are kept confidential, are reviewed by a disciplinary board, which can suspend a lawyer's license if it determines the attorney can't practice law because of a disability. Attorneys who want to resume practicing law must convince the board they are better.
Information from: Austin American-Statesman, http://www.statesman.com