What Happens If a Defendant Is Unable to Hire a Lawyer to Defend Him ?
At least two other Texas appellate courts have held that the failure to issue a bench warrant constituted abuse of discretion in the circumstances represented there.
In Pruske, an appellant who requested to appear personally had not initiated the suit, but merely sought to defend a claim for a money judgment. Pruske, 821 S.W.2d at 689 (Tex. App.--San Antonio 1991, no writ).
The court noted his "predicament of being unable to hire a lawyer to defend him and the further inability to appear in person and defend himself." Id.
In reversing the trial court's judgment, the San Antonio court held:
While we are not prepared to hold that Mr. Pruske has an absolute right to appear in person, we do hold that the trial court should, in these situations, directly address the issue by weighing the protection of the integrity of the correctional system against the prisoner's right of access to the courts and strike a balance that is fundamentally fair. Id.
In Nichols, the appellate court addressed a situation in which the family court judge refused to appoint counsel for the appellant in a child custody dispute and also denied his request to appear personally and represent himself. Nichols, 776 S.W.2d at 622-23.
The court observed that "whether denial of an appearance would foreclose a litigant's right to be heard at all" was particularly relevant in the trial court's inquiry as to whether a personal appearance is necessary. 776 S.W.2d at 623.
The court granted a conditional writ of mandamus after commenting that, "absent substantial countervailing state justification, refusal to permit a pro se inmate to present his case would deny him due process." Id.