Appeal from the 270th District Court Harris County, Texas
Trial Court Cause No. 2014-71507
consists of Chief Justice Frost and Justices Bourliot and
Frances Bourliot Justice.
pro se appeal, appellant Alex Erazo complains of the trial
court's failure to appoint counsel in a civil lawsuit. In
the lawsuit, Erazo requested the trial court to order the
performance of a new autopsy related to a criminal case. The
trial court granted summary judgment favoring appellees Luis
A. Sanchez of the Harris County Institute of Forensic
Sciences and Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg. Erazo
asserts two issues: (1) the trial court erred in failing to
consider his requests for appointment of counsel, and (2) the
trial court erred by refusing or failing to appoint counsel.
Concluding that the trial court did in fact consider
Erazo's requests and did not err in denying the requests,
admitted he shot his girlfriend in the head and caused her
death and the death of their unborn child on October 23,
2000. An autopsy was performed, and the manner of death was
determined to be "homicide." Erazo was
subsequently convicted of murder, and the jury in that trial
assessed his punishment at life in prison and a $10, 000
fine. After an appeal in which harmful error was determined
to have occurred in the punishment phase, a new jury assessed
Erazo's punishment at life in prison and a $10, 000 fine.
Erazo v. State, 260 S.W.3d 510, 511 (Tex.
App.-Houston [14th Dist.] 2008, pet. ref'd). The second
judgment was affirmed on appeal. Id.
filed the present action in October 2014, seeking to have the
deceased's body exhumed in Honduras and brought back to
the United States for a new autopsy. Erazo insists that the
fatal shooting was the result of an accident, argues that the
original autopsy report was devoid of any factual basis for
concluding that the manner of death was homicide, and
suggests that a new autopsy would reveal previously
undiscovered evidence indicating that the shooting was an
original petition, Erazo included a request for the court to
appoint counsel to represent him in the lawsuit pursuant to
Texas Government Code section 24.016. On July 3, 2017, Erazo
filed a "Motion for Appointment of Counsel Prusuant
[sic] to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(1)." This motion
appears to be, and appellant acknowledges on appeal was, in
fact, a misfiling intended for a federal court case against a
different defendant. On October 3, 2017, Erazo filed a
Request for Court Appointed Counsel. This document internally
referenced itself as a Motion for Court Appointed Counsel but
failed to state the law under which the request was being
filed a combined traditional and no-evidence motion for
summary judgment on September 20, 2017, arguing that Erazo
could not meet the requirements for reopening a coroner's
inquest and providing supporting exhibits. The trial court
granted the motion on October 30, 2017.
trial court issued an order on October 31, 2017,
"Denying Plaintiff's Motion For The Appointment of
Counsel." In the order, the trial court explained that
it had no authority to appoint counsel under the federal
statute and that Erazo was not entitled to appointed counsel
under Texas Government Code section 24.016. The court further
explained that Erazo had not filed an affidavit stating that
he was too poor to hire counsel as required by section
24.016; the case was not an exceptional one in which the
public and private interests at stake were such that the
administration of justice would be served by appointing
counsel; there was no basis for appointing an attorney ad
litem, such as incapacity or legal disability; and Erazo had
sufficiently represented himself in the
is no general right to counsel in Texas in civil cases.
See Travelers Indem. Co. of Conn. v. Mayfield, 923
S.W.2d 590, 594 (Tex. 1996); Harris v. Civil Serv.
Comm'n for Mun. Emps. of the City of Houston, 803
S.W.2d 729, 731 (Tex. App.-Houston [14th Dist.] 1990, no
pet.) ("Neither the Texas nor United States Constitution
guarantees a right to counsel in a civil
suit"). However, under Government Code section
24.016, a district judge has the discretion to appoint
counsel for an indigent party in a civil case. Tex. Gov't
Code § 24.016 ("A district judge may appoint
counsel to attend to the cause of a party who makes an
affidavit that he is too poor to employ counsel to attend to
the cause."); see also Dunsmore v. Ortiz, No.
14-15-00437-CV, 2016 WL 7401893, at *2 (Tex. App.-Houston
[14th Dist.] Dec. 20, 2016, no pet.) (mem. op.). In
exercising this discretion, courts must be attuned to the
fact that "in some exceptional cases, the public and
private interests at stake are such that the administration
of justice may best be served by appointing a lawyer to
represent an indigent civil litigant."
Mayfield, 923 S.W.2d at 594 (discussing court's
inherent power of appointment); accord Gibson v.
Tolbert, 102 S.W.3d 710, 712 (Tex. 2003) (discussing
authority pursuant to section 24.016); see also Albert v.
Adelstein, No. 02-13-00073-CV, 2013 WL 4017511, at *4
(Tex. App.-Fort Worth Aug. 8, 2013, no pet.) (mem. op.)
("The general rule is that a court does not abuse its
discretion by refusing to appoint such counsel unless the
case is 'exceptional.'") (citing Hines v.
Massey, 79 S.W.3d 269, 272 (Tex. App.-Beaumont 2002, no
Texas Supreme Court has explained, circumstances that could
be deemed "exceptional" are "by definition
rare and unusual," such that they defy identification by
a generalized rule. Gibson, 102 S.W.3d at 713. It
may be easier to identify particular circumstances as common
than to pronounce a general rule on what constitutes
exceptional circumstances. Id. Accordingly, we
examine the denial of appointed counsel in civil cases on a
case-by-case basis. See id.; Taylor v.
Taylor, No. 2-09-035-CV, 2009 WL 4913867, at *2 (Tex.
App.-Fort Worth Dec. 17, 2009, pet. denied) (mem.
the Trial Court Consider ...