Bar Associations

Texas bar president's comments about Black Lives Matter bring calls for resignation

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Updated: State Bar of Texas President Larry McDougal is apologizing for his online comments about Black Lives Matter that brought calls for his resignation and condemnation from other bar leaders.

McDougal said in a YouTube video that he understands his comments were hurtful to many members of the bar, but that wasn’t his intent and he is truly sorry. The comments were his and his alone, he said.

In an online blog comment in 2015, McDougal referred to Black Lives Matter as a terrorist group that has called for the death of police officers and white Americans, according to a tweet by Ashton Woods, a founder of Black Lives Matter Houston.

In another post last week, McDougal said he believed a person who wore a Black Lives Matter T-shirt to a polling place committed electioneering, a Class C misdemeanor. McDougal cited a case in which wearing a MAGA hat was held to be electioneering. “I see no difference in that hat and this shirt,” he wrote below a photo of the person wearing the Black Lives Matter shirt.

Woods called for McDougal’s resignation on Twitter, while another critic posted a petition calling for McDougal’s removal.

Other leaders of the State Bar of Texas and the Texas Young Lawyers Association issued a July 11 statement condemning McDougal’s comments.

“Online comments made by Larry McDougal regarding #BlackLivesMatter do not reflect the values of the State Bar of Texas and we denounce them in the strongest terms,” the statement said. “The State Bar of Texas and our legal profession are larger than any one person, but we believe each person can be a vehicle of change and we hope for positive change throughout the remainder of this bar year.”

The Board of Directors of the State Bar of Texas will hold a special meeting to discuss the situation, says Sylvia Borunda Firth, president-elect of the state bar. She is scheduled to become Texas bar president in June 2021. The meeting is scheduled for July 27.

“It’s too soon to tell what will actually happen, but we are in the process now of arranging to bring the board in for a meeting,” Borunda Firth told the ABA Journal. “We have to get calendared and in this day of Zoom get everyone organized so the full board can be briefed and take whatever action they feel is appropriate.”

Borunda Firth said she felt it was important for bar leaders to issue their statement to clarify that McDougal wasn’t speaking for the bar. Her hope was to express that the state bar is committed to diversity and inclusion.

McDougal said in his YouTube video that he has changed his beliefs since his 2015 post about Black Lives Matter being a terrorist group. “I want to assure you that those comments do not reflect my beliefs today; they have changed, and not just as a result of this,” he said.

McDougal said in a separate statement that his comments about wearing a Black Lives Matter T-shirt to a polling place were made in his personal capacity, and he didn’t intend to take a political stance on the Black Lives Matter movement. “I was merely trying to answer someone’s question with my interpretation of the law,” he wrote. “I meant no offense.”

In his video, McDougal said he denounces racism in any and all forms, and he plans to create a task force to address ongoing challenges in ensuring diversity and inclusion in the legal profession. He said he will sit on the task force and listen to the concerns.

“I wholeheartedly support the State Bar of Texas’ commitment to equal justice under the law, and diversity in our administration of justice and the practice of law, and will work toward these ends as I finish my year as your president of the state bar,” he said.

McDougal has been the president of the Texas bar for only three weeks, according to a story on the controversy. Above the Law also had coverage.

Borunda Firth says she is the first Hispanic woman to be president-elect of the State Bar of Texas. She ran for the post on a platform of diversity and inclusion, and she was planning to appoint a task force that would represent minorities and underrepresented groups. She had discussed the idea with McDougal and he supported it “from the get-go,” she said.

Although McDougal mentioned a task force in his video statement, the idea was already in the works, Borunda Firth said.

Borunda said she originally became of member of the state bar’s board because spots were open for minorities. She has seen substantial improvement and commitment to diversity by the bar, although “we certainly have a ways to go,” she told the ABA Journal.

Story updated at 5:15 p.m. to include comments from Borunda Firth. Story updated with meeting date on July 17. Story updated to correct second reference to Woods on July 17.

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