TYLA Officers


Rebekah Steely Brooker, President


Dustin M. Howell, Chair


Sam Houston, Vice President


Baili B. Rhodes, Secretary


John W. Shaw, Treasurer


C. Barrett Thomas, President-elect


Priscilla D. Camacho, Chair-elect


Kristy Blanchard, Immediate Past President

TYLA Directors


Amanda A. Abraham, District 1


Sharesa Y. Alexander, Minority At-Large Director


Raymond J. Baeza, District 14

    Aaron J. Burke, District 5, Place 1

Aaron T. Capps, District 5, Place 2


D. Lance Currie, District 5, Place 3


Laura W. Docker, District 10, Place 1

    Andrew Dornburg, District 21
    John W. Ellis, District 8, Place 2
    Zeke Fortenberry, District 4

Bill Gardner, District 5, Place 4


Morgan L. Gaskin, District 6, Place 5

    Nick Guinn, District 18, Place 1

Adam C. Harden, District 6, Place 6


Amber L. James, District 17


Curtis W. Lucas, District 9

    Rudolph K. Metayer, District 8, Palce 1

Laura Pratt, District 3

    Sally Pretorius, District 8, Place 2

Baili B. Rhodes, District 2


Alex B. Roberts, District 6, Place 3

    Eduardo Romero, District 19
    Michelle P. Scheffler, District 6, Place 2

John W. Shaw, District 10, Place 2

    Nicole Soussan, District 6, Place 4
    L. Brook Stuntebeck, District 11

C. Barrett Thomas, District 15

    Judge Amanda N. Torres, Minority At-Large Director

Shannon Steel White, District 12

    Brandy Wingate Voss, District 13
    Veronica S. Wolfe, District 18, Place 2

Baylor Wortham, District 7

    Alex Yarbrough, District 16


Justice Paul W. Green, Supreme Court Liaison


Jenny Smith, Access To Justice Liaison


Brandon Crisp, ABA YLD District 25 Representative


Travis Patterson, ABA/YLD District 26 Representative


Assistant Dean Jill Nikirk, Law School Liaison


Belashia Wallace, Law Student Liaison


TYLA Office

Tracy Brown, Director of Administration
Bree Trevino, Project Coordinator

Michelle Palacios, Office Manager
General Questions: tyla@texasbar.com

Mailing Address

P.O. Box 12487, Capitol Station
Austin, Texas 78711-2487
(800) 204-2222 ext. 1529
FAX: (512) 427-4117

Street Address

1414 Colorado, 4th Floor
Austin, Texas 78701
(512) 427-1529


Views and opinions expressed in eNews are those of their authors and not necessarily those of the Texas Young Lawyers Association or the State Bar of Texas.





























































Feature TYLA Project

Feature TYLA Project

Remaining Civil: An Officer's Guide to Responding to Non-Criminal Calls for Service
By:  C. Barrett Thomas

          As a rookie cop, I had been taught all the finer points of good policing.  I knew how to put handcuffs on an arrestee without accidently putting a tourniquet on him at the same time.  I knew how to tactfully pepper spray a rowdy violator while sparing my fellow officers eyes – something they evidently didn’t teach my supervisors when they went through the academy.  I even knew how to write a citation and simultaneously look at a traffic violator over the top of my sunglasses in order to cut short excuses without the need for words.  I had sat through endless recitations of the penal code, and worse, the traffic code.  I even knew exactly how many feet back from the train tracks a car had to stop.  Yes, I knew it all.  I was ready to protect and serve. That is, until I responded to my first call for service.

           The first time I responded to a call I arrived to hear yelling and crying.  I observed a man and a woman screaming some of the worst words I had heard outside of a locker room.  In her arms was a screaming three-year-old child who was undoubtedly caught in the middle despite his innocence.  Behind the child’s back, the woman grasped in her hands a stack of papers with the words, “Final Decree of Divorce.”  What I didn’t see was blood or bruises.  I didn’t see any signs of a physical struggle.  I merely saw what I later determined to be two divorced parents arguing over the custody of their child.  It turned out that the father was late picking up the child.  The mother, still upset over the break-up of the family, considered that to be an act of voluntary surrender of any custody rights the father ever had.

          There I stood trying to solve a civil situation with the only law I knew – criminal law.  I instantly turned to my training.  Perhaps I should take them to jail for disorderly conduct, but there really wasn’t anyone around to be offended by their language.  It certainly hadn’t caused what I would characterize as a breach of the peace.  There was no indication of assault by either party.  My corporal arrived while I was still in my process of elimination.  He instantly recognized the dumfounded look on my face having seen it a hundred times before by other rookie cops.  He walked right past me, never even stopping for an update. 

          “Ma’am,” the corporal said as he pointed at the door, “go in the house please.”  He turned to the man.  “Sir, she has custody of the child right now.  This is a civil matter.  The police can’t get involved.  You’ll need to talk to your attorney on Monday.” 

          “But sir,” he replied, “the decree says I get my son tonight.  It’s my weekend.  She has a copy of the order right there in her hand.” 

          “Sir,” the corporal said with a little more authority in his voice, “If you would like to complain about the custody arrangement, you will have to see a judge.  There is nothing we can do.  However, if this outburst continues, I will be forced to do something, and you may not like it.” 

          And that was it.  The problem was resolved; for everyone besides the father who had just lost his court ordered custody rights for the weekend.

           Many years later, I now find myself on the other side of the bar.  Instead of enforcing orders, I am typically asked to draft them.  It seems no matter how many times I write the statutory language into a final order that allows and even directs officers to enforce them, the orders continue to be ignored in the same way I did so many years before.  Moreover, I know from experience that this is not the only area in which officers find themselves trapped with little training and/or resources to address a call for service.  Officers are rarely trained on how to respond to civil calls.  Even when they are, they are typically undertrained.  Without even a foundational understanding of civil law, they are asked to respond to evictions, custody disputes, domestic disputes, property disputes, animal calls, and the like.  Necessity drives officers to develop informal and largely non-uniform strategies to deal with various civil calls that they are not trained for.  Those strategies often times leave citizens discouraged, courts frustrated, and police departments inundated with needless complaints. 

          It is for those reasons that I am happy to announce that under the direction of Natalie Cobb Koehler, the Law Focused Education Committee of the Texas Young Lawyer’s Association began work this past fall on an initiative called “Remaining Civil: An Officer's Guide to Responding to Non-Criminal Calls for Service.”  It has blossomed into a multi-sided service project intended to positively impact civilians (especially those with limited access to legal services), police officers, lawyers, and the courts.   The project began with a statewide research project including questionnaires being sent to law enforcement agencies of every size.  That data returned from the agencies combined with research gathered by many members of the TYLA Board of Directors was compiled into a new training block for police officers, which has already gained tentative approval for TCLEOSE credit.  The testing phase for the new course started in April in Abilene and Waco.  In addition, members of the TYLA Board of Directors created a website that will go online in the next few months, which will provide citizens a resource on how to appropriately resolve their civil legal problem.  Further, the website will attempt to put those in need of an attorney in touch with resources to find an attorney even when they may be unable to afford one.  Finally, business cards advertising the website will be provided to police departments statewide so that officers can hand them out when responding to calls that are civil in nature.   

          It is TYLA’s greatest hope that this project will alleviate some of the problems that are common when officers respond to non-criminal calls.  We anticipate a reduction in officer complaints due to a better understanding by both citizens and officers of the limits of officers’ authority in civil situations and a better understanding of the proper course for legal remedy.  We also hope to give those citizens who feel calling the police is their last and only option a renewed faith in the legal system’s ability to help them.  We are confident that this project will guide those citizens to appropriate avenues for support and remedy.  I must thank those who sacrificed so much time to make this project a reality.  It has been a monstrous effort and one that could not have been completed without the ongoing support of the following people in no particular order: Natalie Cobb Koehler, Jennifer Evans Morris, Tracy Brown, Katy Boatman, Shivali Sharma, Lance Currie, Brandy Wingate, Dustin Howell, Becky Mata, and Amanda Navarrette.