Declaration Reading Recollections and Media Mentions

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Friday, July 22nd, 2016
Declaration Reading Recollections and Media Mentions
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“We came through the long Sanderson Canyon to the county seat of Terrell County. It turns out today is when the good folks of this county celebrate their independence at the Terrell County courthouse. My wife Sue, my younger son Jake, and I were escorted to the microphone, where we read the declaration to several hundred folks. Our reading was followed by the playing and singing of ‘God Bless America’ via the public address system and assembled folks. This was cool. Proof indeed that America and independence still live in the most remote stretches of the Lone Star state. God bless America.”

—Jim Darnell, El Paso

“I love music and I think you can’t have a Declaration reading without the singing of the national anthem and another patriotic song at the end, so this year, my 16-year-old granddaughter Bethany came through for me and asked the Athens High School Show Choir, of which she is a member, if they would like to sing the national anthem and if they had a patriotic medley to sing at the end, and they agreed to provide the music. Our monthly bar meeting coincided with the reading, so the bar decided to forego the meeting and attend the reading instead. My son-in-law’s barbecue joint agreed to take orders for the bar and the choir. Next I called on my son Gordon, who has experience in promoting events, to put together a video to advertise the reading. He spent several hours making a very professional video to post on Facebook. My daughter Danae took all the orders for the barbeque and brought it to the reading. My daughter Tara volunteered to be the videographer, and her three children—Jordon, Kyra, and Isaiah—volunteered to hand out programs to those who came.

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“With about 40 people from the community in attendance, we managed to pull it off with very minimal problems. And the bar members who attended and participated loved the barbecue! My granddaughter Kyra and I then jumped in the car and drove to Palestine to read the Declaration there. It was a great day all in all, and I’m not going to wait to volunteer again next year.”

        —Danna Kirk Mayhall, Athens

“I invited my son Hunter to accompany me on my Declaration reading across the eastern edge of the South Plains. Hunter will soon begin his college career as a pre-law major. I thought this would be a great opportunity to introduce him to the basics of what it means to be a criminal defense attorney and a great opportunity for us to take a ‘road trip’ together before he leaves. And, I could certainly use the company.

“We left our home at 7:00 that morning, and along the way we discussed the Declaration of Independence and what it means to our country 240 years later. We also discussed criminal defense and what it means to be a criminal defense attorney, since he has a passionate interest in becoming a public defender or working for the Innocence Project. We read at Quanah in Hardeman County without an audience, and then drove on to Paducah and the Cottle County Courthouse. I noticed the building had engraved in it the following: ‘To no one will we sell deny or delay justice.’ I have been to this courthouse at least ten times and I had never noticed this before. I guess that is what happens when you are rushing through the day. We read the Declaration to ourselves and headed on to Guthrie in King County.

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“Honestly, at this point, I did not expect anyone to be at any of the remaining courthouses, but I was extremely surprised when we arrived at the King County Courthouse. We had a reception committee! The lady that maintains the local museum for King County was there waiting for us, later joined by several other ladies.

“Not only were they there for the reading; they were excited and honored that King County was included, a very humbling experience for me. These ladies were excited that TCDLA would think of sending someone to Guthrie, and asked about the history of the readings, which I explained the best I could.

“As we headed out of the courthouse, we were asked if we would be interested in touring their museum after our reading. Of course we were interested! I knew very little about King County other than it is home to the 6666 Ranch and thought it would be enlightening to learn more. We read the Declaration to these wonderful ladies, and then we toured their museum.

“I learned several interesting facts about the tiny town of Guthrie. First, Guthrie actually played a very big role in an advertising campaign and had connections to Hollywood. This came about when Marlboro decided to do the Marlboro Man campaign and chose one of the 6666 cowboys to be a Marlboro Man. Although there were other Marlboro Men, this put Guthrie up there with O’Donnell and Hoss Cartwright in my eyes.

“The old-style courtroom was not only used to try cattle rustlers early on; it was also used as a community events center for quilting bees as well as the church and school. When there was a trial, they had to hold school outside or cancel it.

“After leaving Guthrie, we drove to Aspermont in Stonewall County. This courthouse closed at noon for the holidays so we read the Declaration and moved on to Snyder.

“At the Scurry County Courthouse, we met with the county judge’s secretary. She said that they were expecting us but that most of the people in the courthouse had left for the day due to the holidays. We went out front and waited for a few minutes, then read the Declaration alone.

“Our rounds being completed, we drove home after a ten-hour drive that covered more than 500 miles, with stops in five rural counties. We were both exhausted but extremely happy about what we had done. We saw a lot of beautiful country, most of which my son had not seen, and we spent some very good time together discussing the past and the future.

“Although we did not have the big turnout that some of the rest of the counties had, those ladies in King County and the time spent with my son are things I will never forget.”

—Donnie Yandell, Lubbock

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“This year marked the start of a new July 4 family tradition—reading the Declaration of Independence. Due to work conflicts, I held the Jack County reading on July 4. We attended our annual pancake breakfast and flag ceremony at church that morning, but in the afternoon, we had a new activity—a Declaration of Independence reading. In our one-hour ride to the courthouse in Jacksboro, we assigned parts and practiced reading together as a family.

“Our small audience of nine people came for the express purpose of hearing the reading of the Declaration of Independence, as it was a Sunday and the courthouse was closed. It reinforces to me that a few people can make a difference. I talked to them before we started the reading. One of them was an older gentleman who came by himself. He was a veteran and the former mayor of the City of Jacksboro. He told me some stories of his service. In my heart, he was the real hero there.

“I was proud of my family and their participation: wife Jessica, daughters Eliana and Sariah, and sons Elijah, Josiah, and Jonah. It taught me that I have more to do to inspire greater patriotism in myself, my family, and my community. Thank you TCDLA for giving my family and me the opportunity to be a part of something much greater than us.”

 —Robert Massey, Wichita Falls

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“Laurie Key, my husband Levi, and I made our way over to Silverton for the Briscoe County reading. We ate lunch at the Mean Woman Grill across the street from the courthouse, and discussed the likelihood that nobody would show up at 2:30 pm the Friday of a holiday weekend. We were wrong. It was by far our biggest and most enthusiastic crowd of our three-courthouse day. About 20 people showed up. They brought lawn chairs, picnic blankets, and a cooler with bottled water. We met several county officials, including the heads of both the Republican and Democratic parties. They were attentive, friendly, and grateful.

“We decided to take the scenic route home and drove over to Quitaque. We went through Caprock Canyon State Park, where we learned that the bison herd always has the right-of-way, and they’re not inclined to hurry. They got up-close and personal, checking out our vehicle as they meandered across the path. After 10 or 15 minutes, we were finally able to pass, and drove through the rest of the park. We stopped for a quick selfie, and then got on the road. We arrived home around 6 pm. It was a great day!”

—Sarah Beth Johnson, Lubbock

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“Two hundred forty years after the U.S. declared its independence from Great Britain, a group gathered on the courthouse steps in Live Oak and McMullen counties to read the Declaration of Independence.

“Michelle Ochoa—with her son, Matthew—Michelle Rice, and Jessica Canter, all of whom are Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association lawyers out of the Bee County Regional Public Defender’s Office, traveled July 1 with their investigator, Henry Guerra, to five area counties to read the Declaration of Independence in honor of Independence Day.

“Rice said they did it ‘to remind people of our freedoms and how we did establish ourselves away from the king to protect our own freedoms. And from a defense attorney’s aspect, we feel that we are still helping protect people’s freedoms.’”

The Progress, Three Rivers, July 9, 2016

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“I was reading the Declaration of Independence all by myself in Coldspring, San Jacinto County, around 12:30 pm in front of the courthouse. I heard a loud diesel truck engine, then a guy from there yelling ‘God bless America!’”

—­Bob Mabry, Conroe

“A group of local attorneys took a few moments Friday afternoon to recite the words which helped create the United States 240 years earlier. For the third straight year, members of the Hunt County Bar Association conducted a public reading of the Declaration of Independence.

“Each of the readers—which included 196th District Court Judge J. Andrew Bench, Hunt County Court-at-Law Timothy Linden, 354th District Court Judge-elect Keli Aiken, as well as attorneys Katherine Ferguson, Craig Black, Russell Brooks, Shawn Council, Smith Gilley, and Toby C. Wilkinson—each read a portion of the document.

“The crowd which had gathered to observe the ceremony then joined in the Pledge of Allegiance. Ferguson pointed out the event went on as scheduled, even though the courthouse itself was closed Friday due to a fire which was reported in the building Thursday afternoon. ‘Many of these lovely people did not have to come into the office today, but they came out to read anyway,’ Ferguson said.

“The Hunt County Bar Association joined defense lawyers from across Texas in reading the Declaration of Independence.”

Greenville Herald Banner, July 2, 2016

“My friend and I arrived in Mason at 1:15 and found that there was only one county commissioner waiting for us to read. I was kind of disheartened when he said, ‘I bet this is just like church. Wait until 1:28 to see how many people show up.’ And just like that, 1:27 came and so did 3 more people, and then by 1:29 we had people coming out of the courthouse, coming around the courthouse, and coming from the parking lot that just seemed to be created behind me. That was awesome! I did my welcome and my brag about all 254 counties having a reading and then started the reading. Afterwards I had one lady ‘fight’ for her flag and copy of the Declaration of Independence. (I told her they were hers to keep forever, and she could have more. She was happy and proud.) A gentleman asked if it was okay to get another copy of the Declaration to send to his son who is at basic training for the Air Force. He wanted to make sure his son never lost sight of why he is joining the armed services. The crowd, the reading, and the feelings: now that was amazing!”

—Tammy Schmidt Keener, Fredericksburg

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“Three generations of the Lanehart family headed south on our 320-mile, three-county reading trek: daughter Lindsey, four-year-old grandson Rocky, and me. Not a soul showed up for us in the tiny towns of Gail and Garden City. We arrived in Big Spring early, so we grabbed a bite at the restaurant in the historic restored Settles Hotel: magnificent! At the Howard County Courthouse, it was just us again. As Lindsey read the Declaration, I snapped a photo of Rocky as he solemnly marched up and down the lawn with his little U.S. flag: poignant and beautiful. Despite the lack of turnout, I will always remember this day: family and country.”

—Chuck Lanehart, Lubbock

“Rusty Gunter, one of the organizers of this year’s reading in Lubbock, said criminal defense attorneys do their part to protect citizens’ rights enshrined in the Bill of Rights. ‘Daily we fight for the Bill of Rights and for the principles embodied by the Declaration of Independence,’ he said. ‘And it’s just that time of year where we’re able to bring it into focus.’”

Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, July 1, 2016

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“I read the Declaration on the steps of the Palazzo Publico in Siena, Tuscany, Italy. The Palazzo is home to one of the first forms of republican government outside of Rome. Painted on the walls inside are two famous frescos. In ‘The Allegory of Good Government,’ the central character is guided by Faith, Hope, and Charity, while conferring with the proper virtues necessary for a proper and just ruler: Peace, Fortitude, Prudence, Magnanimity, Temperance, and Justice. Appropriately, Justice is depicted balancing the scales held by Wisdom. On the other hand, in ‘The Allegory of Bad Government,’ the central figure is a demonic-looking character with horns and fangs depicting Tyranny. Surrounding him are characters representing Cruelty, Deceit, Fraud, Fury, Division, and War.

“It meant a lot to be standing in front of foreigners reading a document sacred to us Americans. I look forward to more readings in places like this all over the world.”

—Brent Mayr, Houston

“I would like to thank Dick Baker, Allison Clayton, and LCDLA for what you did today. We had a good crowd at the Terry County courthouse and Dick and Allison did an outstanding job. I am ashamed to say that I have probably not ever read the Declaration of Independence from start to finish. I’m glad that I have now heard it. The lessons are as valuable today as they were back then.”

—Kelly Moore, Presiding Judge, 9th Administrative Judicial Region

“The Fourth of July is more than fireworks, food and friends for Mary Beth Harrell, a local lawyer who organized this year’s reading of the Declaration of Independence that celebrates the 240th anniversary of the historical document. ‘The Declaration of Independence is our most cherished symbol of liberty embodying our stand against tyranny,’ Harrell said. ‘Our founders resisted the illegal and immoral practices of the crown.’”

Killeen Daily Herald, July 2, 2016

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“Well, traveled another 40 miles across desert flats and foothills to reach Mentone. The highway was a two-lane loaded with extra-large oilfield eighteen-wheelers heading to recently expanded oil fields and facilities. Courthouse had a huge gas flame from a gas flare burning 400 feet nearby. District clerk had her office and storage books in what looks like the lobby of the small old courthouse. District clerk was very nice, remembered me from last year. Land men and the five other people stopped and listened. They really listened, and one young man in a baseball cap commented, ‘Sounds like we might need another Declaration of Independence soon.’ Great time. Loving County: least-populated county in the state. Okay heading back to base. Total mileage today should be 162. Catching Monahans, Pecos, and Ft. Stockton tomorrow.”

—Kevin Acker, Monahans

“The unique fact of this year’s reading was all 254 counties across the state also had their own reading for the first time. ‘Having the freedoms that these 56 people who signed the declaration of independence, 240 years ago . . . just because they signed that document 240 years ago doesn’t mean that we can continue in those freedoms if we do not protect them and exercise them. If we don’t appreciate what we have,’ Shane Phelps said, who organized the event.”

—KAGS-TV, Bryan, July 1, 2016

“The Hunt County Bar Association joined defense lawyers from across Texas in reading the Declaration of Independence.”

Greenville Herald Banner, July 2, 2016

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“Travis County’s reading of the Declaration of Independence was accompanied by three American Sign Language in­ter­preters: Shawn Whitley, Billy Collins, and me. Austin is home to the Texas School for the Deaf and one of the largest deaf populations in the nation. We are hoping to make this a tradition in Austin and organize volunteer interpreters in additional counties.”

—Amber Farrelly, Austin

“Congratulations to Robert Fickman! You accomplished the near impossible. It’s a feat to get two lawyers to agree on anything! You have been able to get thousands of lawyers from across this great State, each of the 254 Texas counties, to agree to read the Declaration of Independence. The lawyers have been from big counties with 50 readers and small counties with one or two readers. It was not easy for you. It took ingenuity, perseverance, and even some cajoling on your part. The readers reflect the widest diversity of backgrounds, life experiences, and belief systems imaginable. But you got us all to come together for a common purpose. One thing is certain Robert—every single person that participated in a reading enjoyed it. We were all brothers and sisters in that moment. We were all Americans and nothing else. We all walked away feeling better for some reason. That reason is you. Thank you!”

—Roberto Balli, Facebook blog July 2, 2016

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“I woke up thrilled to read the Declaration of Independence with my fellow criminal defense attorneys and friends. I arrived at the courthouse for some docket calls and saw some defense attorneys decked out in red, white, and blue. We were scheduled for 11 am at the courthouse, and we had a larger crowd then we ever had in Nueces County. No one had to read more than one part: We had plenty of defense attorneys. Many of the judges showed up and watched, people cheered us on, and we read with feeling behind our words. It was exciting and it was beautiful. I am grateful to those who started this wonderful tradition. It was a very proud and beautiful moment in Nueces County.”

—Lisa Greenberg, Corpus Christi

“The sixth annual reading of the Declaration of Independence was presented on the Henderson County Courthouse steps at noon Friday. The audience sat under the shade of the large trees on the courthouse lawn as local attorneys delivered the different sections of the document that proclaimed America’s Independence from Great Britain.

“Attorneys taking part in the reading included Dan Hunt, Amber Slaton, Marianne Warren, Steve Green, Linda Altier, Jeffery Irion, and Justin Weiner.

“The reading was sponsored by the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association and the Henderson County Bar Association. Attorney Danna Mayhall served as master of ceremonies for the reading. She said the Continental Congress voted to declare independence on July 2, and the declaration was adopted on July 4.

“The audience at the courthouse was invited to join the presenters in reading the final segment of the Declaration, ending with the words: ‘And for support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.’

“The Athens High School Show Choir opened the program with the singing of ‘The Star Spangled Banner,’ and closed with a patriotic medley called ‘United We Stand.’”

Athens Daily Review, July 1, 2016

“Hot dogs and fireworks are not to be dismissed in the annual observance of Independence Day, but attorneys across the state joined in an effort to remember the real reason we celebrate the Fourth of July. Madisonville attorney Wes Hammitt said he was asked by representatives of the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association to read a copy of the Declaration of Independence in front of the courthouse. He did just that for a small group of residents on Friday morning.

“‘It's 240 years old, and it’s still relevant today,’ Hammitt said, ‘It’s an important thing.’”

The Madisonville Meteor, July 6, 2016

“In an effort to remind people that there is more to the July Fourth holiday than family get-togethers and backyard barbecues, a group of local attorneys took turns reading the Declaration of Independence at the Angelina County Courthouse Friday. Organizers of the event said that others would be reading the Declaration of Independence at the other 253 county courthouses in the state of Texas Friday.”

—News Channel 25, Waco/Killeen/Temple, July 1, 2016