Robert Pelton, the former President of the Harris County Criminal Lawyer’s Association (HCCLA), Associate Director for TCDLA, and Feature Articles Editor of the Voice, will be writing a regular column on ethics and the law.
Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association (TCDLA) President Gary Trichter has recognized the need for an ethics committee to help members. One of the top priorities for the committee was to establish an ethics hotline for criminal defense lawyers. Protocol is as follows: Call the hotline at 512-646-2734 and leave a message. It will then be routed to me, or to a co-chair. You will get a call or several calls within 24 hours. If it is an emergency, you can call me at my office at 713-524-8471 or on my cell at 713-829-0678. The hotline has already received numerous calls and all questions have been answered. The job of a lawyer is serious business, and the committee’s goal is to help members if they have ethical questions. We are in the job of enforcing the U.S. Constitution and Texas law. It is important for a lawyer to know the law and how to ethically practice the law. Having a grievance filed or a writ for ineffective assistance can be a disastrous event.
It is very important to set up a file properly with copies of the complaint, information, indictment, statute, punishment range, and all notes or reports. Keep a log of each time you talk with the client. When you first get hired, remember the attorney-client privilege. Do not discuss the case with any of the client’s family or friends without a waiver. Always get the waiver in writing, even if it is something as short as “I waive attorney-client privilege as to _______. I fully understand the consequences” (signed by client). Many times the client’s wife, husband, or best friend can turn out to be the worst enemy.
The TCDLA Ethics Committee is made up of the following members:
Jack Zimmerman—Houston, www.texasdefenselawyers.com, 713-552-0300
David Zavoda—Odessa, 432-580-8266
No one is immune from client complaints. Sooner or later, no matter what you do, a client may claim you have done something wrong. If that happens, be prepared to defend yourself. Many lawyers have been accused of misconduct. F. Lee Bailey, part of the O. J. Simpson Dream Team and one of the most famous lawyers in America, wrote a book, The Defense Never Rests. Bailey was disbarred for misconduct while defending one of his clients. At last account he finally rested and is living in Florida.
Future topics will include the following:
- How to get business ethically
- How to set and collect fees
- Contracts or letter of acknowledgment
- Conflict of interest
- Attorney/client privilege
- Gifts to judiciary
- Ex-parte communications
- Grievance process
- How to set up a file
- Investigators, polygraph operators
- Tape-recording rules
- Motions to withdraw
- Pretrial publicity
- What to say and not say to the media
- Personal habits—alcohol-drug problems
- How to act like a lawyer
- Books that will help
- Board Certification
- College of State Bar
- Closing practice
- Selling your practice
- Social networking, Facebook, Twitter