Jacqueline Craig’s lawyer Lee Merritt defends his right to work in Texas
A Philadelphia-based civil rights attorney with Fort Worth ties has been accused of practicing law without a Texas license, and a state panel wants him to stop.
S. Lee Merritt has generated buzz for representing people in high-profile cases who believe that their civil rights have been violated, including Jacqueline Craig of Fort Worth and the family of the teen killed last year by a Balch Springs police officer.
But Merritt's ability to represent clients in Texas courts is being challenged by the Unauthorized Practice of Law Committee, a panel established by the Texas Supreme Court.
The committee filed a complaint on Monday in Tarrant County asking that a judge grant a temporary restraining order prohibiting Merritt from practicing law in Texas, but then filed a motion on Tuesday asking the court to withdraw that complaint.
Committee officials said they will refile it in Collin County, where Merritt has an office.
Merritt said he only practices in Texas federal courts, making the complaint frivolous.
"They are trying to stop me from doing something that I would never do," Merritt said. "This is a pattern they have exercised since the '50s and '60s, and it's nothing new. They would make these same complaints against Yankee lawyers like Thurgood Marshall showing up in the South to represent people with civil rights claims."
Merritt said in a statement that he is in good standing before U.S. district courts in northern Texas and eastern Pennsylvania and the state courts in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Merritt also said these same charges have been dismissed by the ethics arm of the State Bar of Texas.
Merritt is representing the Craig family in a federal civil rights case against the city of Fort Worth and attended a misdemeanor proceeding Tuesday concerning Craig family neighbor Itamar Vardi, who is facing an assault charge.
The family says Vardi assaulted Craig's then-8-year-old son, prompting Craig to call the police on Dec. 21, 2016. Craig and two of her daughters wound up being the ones arrested, and video of the incident went viral.
There are constitutional issues at play in the Vardi case that could be important in the federal case against Fort Worth and its Police Department, Merritt said.
Calls requesting comment from the attorney who filed the complaint against Merritt and from the State Bar of Texas were not immediately returned.