50 Year Member Pieces

Expressing Gratitude

Abner Burnett

The TRLA public defender division has grown from two offices in two counties when I first started with the organization in 2008 to 5 offices serving 14 counties.  It has a sturdy foundation and supremely committed team members, as you may know from having worked with some of them. Nevertheless, I consider it still a fledgling operation. There is plenty of room, need, and opportunity for an incoming director to aspirationally lead the division’s development. 

A public defender program operating as part of a large nonprofit legal aid organization is a model that has served rural communities in South Texas well. As a wraparound provider of legal representation, TRLA’s public defender division has both often succeeded and occasionally struggled. We hope to find a pragmatic visionary that will:

  1. further the development of the division and
  2. strengthen ties to local, regional, and national colleagues in the work of criminal defense practice. 

We will be considering applications from both inside and outside of the organization.

TCDLA has always been a strong supporter of our group. You have always been helpfully responsive when I have checked in. If you know or think of someone that you believe might be a good fit for this position, please feel free to mention it to them and give them my contact information.

Good Will

Jeremy Rosenthal

It was a lonely feeling…even in a jammed courtroom…being at counsel table next to a guy in ankle shackles. His Salvation Army coat and pants I bought him the night before were the nicest things he owned. He was sweating and hadn’t slept or showered in 2 nights. He smelled like the jail – a foul combination of a low-end hospital and high school cafeteria.

The jailer, with his hands on his hips, insisted on hulking feet away from his prisoner for the entire trial “because it’s Judge’s policy.” The judge, the prosecutor, and even the bailiff were so very nice to me — that is, until I began telling them all “no.” Maybe that’s why I wasn’t invited back for coffee any longer in the docket room?

I was scared. Scared I wasn’t up to the challenge, scared I could get in trouble with these people, too, for making them angry, scared maybe I actually live in a country like Myanmar or North Korea where the good guys in uniforms make up the rules as they go along – but above all – I was scared that maybe I was the one who had it all wrong.

Then I went to Laredo, Tyler, Victoria, Waco and all the other places around Texas where I saw an army of lawyers facing identical challenges and conquering these fears every single day. I know I’m not alone. Happy 50th Birthday, TCDLA. You are more critical to everyday liberty, freedom, and the American way of life than you could ever know!

A Labor of Love

Robb Fickman

I have been a criminal defense lawyer for 38 years. For most of that time I have been a member of TCDLA. In 2010, HCCLA started reading the Declaration of Independence in front of the Harris County Criminal Courthouse. We were protesting the abusive judges inside our courthouse.  We all liked the Reading, so it became a local tradition. Not long after that I was having lunch with my friend Gary Trichter. Gary said he liked the Reading and he wondered if it was something that I might want to take state-wide. I liked Gary’s suggestion, so I started encouraging lawyers around the state to create their own local Readings. Pretty soon after that TCDLA agreed to pitch in and help me organize the Readings. In 2016, I arbitrarily decided that we should have a Reading in all 254 counties in Texas. I  put together a group of volunteers from all around the state, and we all pitched in to get an organized Reading in every county in the State. We referred to the group of volunteers as F-Troop. The members of F-troop were: Robert Fickman of Houston, Chuck Lanehart of Lubbock, Kerri Anderson-Donica of Corsicana, Tip Hargrove of San Angelo, David Schulman of Austin, Mary Conn of Houston, Michelle Ochoa of Beeville, Mary Beth Harrell of Killeen, Jim Darnell of El Paso, Jeff Blackburn of Amarillo, Sheldon Weisfeld of Brownsville, Dustin Nimz of Wichita Falls, and Tammy Schmidt Keener of Fredericksburg. During that year we managed to get a Reading in every county in the State. Starting that year, Chuck Lanehart has been my state-wide co-chair. The Readings are a labor of love, and I am proud that TCDLA has adopted this tradition.



Mark Thiessen

TCDLA is the best thing that ever happened to me because it introduced me to my wife. I was speaking at Prairie Dog in Lubbock. I’d seen her walking around the seminar and knew that I was in big trouble. I couldn’t stop harassing her at the member’s party that Friday night. I remember being quite charming/borderline irresistible. She only remembers that I kept talking about a limo suburban that I had just bought. We drank and laughed a lot. She left and I was smitten. I asked Frank Sellers to give me her phone number because I had some legal questions that I needed to ask her. He reluctantly obliged. Over the next few months, we kept running into each other at TCDLA seminars. Our friendship blossomed into love and the rest is history. TCDLA introduced me to the love of my life, my trial partner, my law firm partner, my best friend, my safety blanket… my everything. We are a TCDLA Strong family.

Thank you, George

Buck Files

On a Saturday night in 2003, Jane Doe stoned two of her children to death and seriously injured a third because she believed that it was God’s will for her to do this. On Monday, after being appointed to represent Jane, I had a meeting with her at the jail. She told me that she knew I was to be her lawyer because she had seen a male deer – a buck – in the pasture as she was waiting for the ambulance to come to her home.

That evening, Dr. Wade French, a licensed professional counselor, interviewed Jane and then called to tell me that we had an insanity defense. On Tuesday morning, I called George Parnham who was urging an insanity defense on behalf of Andrea Yates, a mother who had drowned her children in a bathtub. Although he did not know me from Bim Gump, Mr. Parnham patiently took me through an orientation on the practical aspects of the insanity defense and told me to call Dr. Phillip Resnick, a forensic psychiatrist who is recognized nationally as an authority on infanticide.

After that, it was all downhill. Dr. Resnick agreed to work with me. The Court approved my Ake motion requesting that he be appointed and that his fees be paid. Dr. Resnick came to Tyler and did a recorded interview with Jane and agreed with Dr. French’s conclusion. When the State’s psychiatrists and the court’s psychiatrist interviewed Jane, they would have found her to be sane but for Dr. Resnick’s recorded interview. All testified that Jane met the Texas standard for insanity and a jury returned verdicts of not guilty by reason of insanity in each of her cases.

If Mr. Parnham had not taken the time to answer my call, Jane would be just another inmate in a Texas prison. But that’s what TCDLA is all about — being there to help each other and sharing our knowledge and wisdom with our brothers and sisters. Like the Musketeers of old, we should be all for one and one for all.

Persistence Pays Off

Terri Zimmermann

I represented a female active duty service member charged with using drugs. The unit’s urinalysis program manager made a number of mistakes, including sending a male into the bathroom as the “observer,” telling people not to disclose medications they were taking because “they could address it later if their test was positive,” and leaving urine samples in a desk drawer in an unlocked office for a week before sending them to the lab. When I went to his office to interview him, the door was wide open, but he was not there; I used my phone to take pictures of the office, including the open drawer containing other samples. At the hearing on my Motion to Suppress, I asked that witness about the security of the samples. As expected, he testified he always kept samples in a locked drawer and never left his office unlocked when he wasn’t there. You should have seen his face when I handed him the photos, one by one, and asked him whether they accurately depicted his office — and urine samples. But wait, there’s more…During a recess I called my other witnesses (who were going to testify telephonically) to tell them we were almost ready for them. Several expressed reluctance to testify, despite their enthusiasm the previous week. When I asked what caused their change of heart, they said the prosecutor had just interviewed them and asked whether they really were willing to “stick their necks out” for my client. I took a legal pad and quickly hand-wrote a Motion to Dismiss for Prosecutorial Misconduct (interfering with my access to witnesses). The judge called the lawyers into his chambers. The inexperienced prosecutor, lip quivering but obviously a Seinfeld fan, asked, “Should I not have done that?” We continued with the hearing but the next week the case was dismissed.

How I Almost Went to Jail: The Story Behind the Case of In Re McCann

Patrick F. McCann

Like most good criminal defense stories, this one starts in a bar. Specifically, the Char Bar at 305 Travis in Houston, in the upstairs portion. I was having a drink with the mitigation specialist from the Albert Turner case, who was taking over the direct appeal on that capital murder. Mr. Turner had been sentenced to death. There was still a pending issue of his competency, even after trial. It had been raised in the motion for new trial and as an abatement issue by this very talented lawyer, who eventually went on to become a district court judge.

At the most recent hearing, the trial court, Judge Brady Elliott presiding, had ordered me to turn over Mr. Turner’s file to the newly appointed writ lawyer, James Rytting. The trial court had always believed Mr. Turner to be competent. If this was so, Mr. Turner’s last instructions to me, which were specifically NOT to turn over the files to anyone appointed by the state of Texas, should have been followed. As our mitigation specialist said “You know, this guy has only a few things left in his life he gets to decide now. One of them is what his lawyer should do.”

At that moment, in walked our mutual friend and colleague, Casie Gotro, a gifted lawyer with a keen mind. She heard us tell our tale of woe [Should we give the writ lawyer our file, or not? Who decides?] and drew a long drag on her cigarette. She blew out the smoke and then decisively said, “Amy is right, they are wrong. You need a lawyer. I will be your lawyer, but I will need drinks.” She nodded pointedly at her near empty glass, and I put in an order promptly. She said, “We will file one of those mandamoo things to stop this.” “You mean mandamus?” I asked.  She patted my large head and said “No more thinking for you. That is my job now.”

So, Casie filed a mandamoo petition and a writ of prohibition request with the Court of Criminal Appeals. The day came for my compliance with the judge’s order, and I told him I would respectfully refuse. He told me to report to his bailiff on Friday by close of business. I did, and as I was taking off my belt and putting my wallet in the bailiff’s hands, Casie rushed in with a stay order from the CCA and a briefing schedule for her petition. She was so confident she actually just stood on the petition, and she won, or rather Mr. Turner did.  The CCA decided that the file belongs to the client and absent a finding of incompetence, those instructions were to be followed by the lawyer, even if they might cause the client difficulty. I luckily did not have to go to jail, and I owe that to my friends who encouraged me to stand my ground and helped me defend it.

It is good to have friends who are smarter than you.

We are the Voice of the Powerless

Shane Phelps

After 20 years as a prosecutor, I went into private practice as a criminal defense attorney.  I had some apprehension about making the jump to the other side. In my first felony jury trial as a defense attorney, I was appointed to represent an undocumented immigrant from Venezuela who did not speak English. I met him for the first time, through an interpreter, in the hallway outside the courtroom. He was shackled with his hands cuffed in front of him. As soon as the interpreter explained who I was, my new client grabbed my hands and, through tears, cried, “Please help me; I didn’t do this.” It was clear to me that he felt powerless, helpless, and alone.  He was charged with indecency with a child by contact and when I went through the discovery, I began to believe that he was, in fact, not guilty. No pressure. We picked a jury and tried the case. At the end of deliberations in the guilt/innocence phase of the trial, the judge asked the presiding juror to deliver the verdict of the jury. My client, throughout the trial, wore headphones so that the interpreter could interpret for him what was going on. The presiding juror, facing my client, announced the verdict: “not guilty.” I looked at my client and he appeared confused.  The interpreter told me, “He doesn’t understand.”  I looked at my client and told him, simply, “You’re free.” When it registered with him, he broke down in tears; and so did I. I knew at that time that I had found my life’s work. We are the voice of the powerless. I have been a proud member of TCDLA ever since.

Stearnes vs. Clinton

Chuck Lanehart

If not for TCDLA, four innocent young men may have perished by lethal injection.

In 1987, I was appointed to represent Wayne Stearnes, a young man accused of capital murder. Three other young men faced the death penalty in the same high-profile, drug-related triple-murder case.

My co-counsel, Carlton McLarty, drew the wrath of the DA for interviewing the government’s star eyewitness at her invitation at her home. An hour into the interview, an assistant DA appeared at the residence with police and ended the meeting.

We immediately filed a motion to depose the witness. At the hearing, the DA alleged Carlton violated his rule that defense counsel must “request permission to speak to State’s witnesses.” The judge agreed, ruling Carlton and I lacked experience to represent Stearnes.

The judge fired us!

Stearnes stood defiantly and addressed the court, “I ain’t gonna stand for no shit like this!” The judge responded, “You keep a civil tongue or I will have you up for something besides capital murder!”

That night, 30-plus members of the Lubbock Criminal Defense Lawyers Association gathered to discuss ways to right this intolerable wrong. They passed the hat to fly LCDLA envoys to Austin the next day.

In Austin, LCDLA President Mark Hall and I met with TCDLA Strike Force volunteers. A plan was hatched to file a writ of mandamus. Austin lawyer David Botsford and Lubbock lawyer Ralph H. Brock valiantly litigated the writ with amicus support from NACDL and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

In a landmark 1989 opinion, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals unanimously granted mandamus relief. Carlton and I were reinstated, the judge was disqualified, and Stearnes was soon acquitted at trial. Counsel for the three co-defendants built on our work, and their clients were eventually cleared.

Stearnes vs. Clinton has since been cited more than 100 times in support of a defendant’s right to counsel.

TCDLA Experience

Warren Wolf

I was preparing for my appearance at the U.S. Supreme Court. On a conference call with the likes of Prof. Tony Amsterdam (who argued Furman v. Georgia), Seth Waxman (former U.S. Solicitor General), Dick Burr (national Habeas Assistance Training resource attorney and Bud Ritenour (TCDLA member and co-counsel), I thought we needed to attract Amici to support our case.

I contacted Lisa Wayne (the president of NACDL, who Gerry Goldstein invited to speak at a previous Rusty and I met her then). Lisa put me in touch with Barbara Bergman about an Amicus from NACDL. The State was going to make this a national issue and argue our success would open up a Pandora’s Box across the country.

The consensus of that conference was to keep it local. We decided to try and get an Amicus from the State Bar of Texas. The then current President of the state bar was Buck Files. Our Buck Files, member of TCDLA, the author of the Federal Corner whose picture I saw every month in our Voice magazine. I volunteered to contact Buck.

I had met Buck the previous year when he was running for State Bar President. He came to a TCDLA board meeting; I was on the board that year. He went around the room. He shook my hand and asked me for my vote.

Well, Buck took my call, and I told him our situation. He was able to get the State Bar to pass a resolution approving the writing an Amicus brief. That brief supported our position.

During oral argument Justice Kennedy (who became the 5th and deciding vote) referenced the State Bar brief several times. Justice Breyer cited to the State Bar brief in the majority opinion.

I believe the Amicus brief by the State Bar was crucial in winning the case. But for TCDLA, I would not have met Buck Files. Knowing Buck gave us access to the State Bar of Texas and obtaining that Amicus.

Thank you Buck, and thank you TCDLA.


The Legacy of Kelly vs. State

Bob Gill

I was a prosecutor back in the late ‘80’s when DNA identification testing first made its way into courtrooms. I was one of the trial prosecutors on the State v. Barry Dean Kelly who we prosecuted for murder. Kelly was convicted and became the first forensic DNA case to make its way through the appellate courts. Eventually, the case set the standard for the admission of novel scientific evidence as Kelly v. State, 824 S.W.2d 568 (Tex. Crim. App. 1992). While the DNA identification testimony was not actually very important in the trial of the Kelly case, it has become a lynchpin of current criminal law litigation.

We knew at the time of the trial that we were on the cutting edge of DNA forensics and put a great deal of effort into ensuring that the DNA evidence would be admitted, and then stand up on appeal. We knew at the time that the technology would be a great tool for law enforcement and prosecution. We also understood that DNA would benefit any accused who was excluded as a potential donor of the DNA in question. What we did not foresee was the extent to which DNA would be used post-trial to exonerate those who had been and would be convicted of offenses that they did not commit. One of the greatest achievements of the technology has been to exonerate hundreds of inmates across the country and state who would have had no other means of proving their innocence to the level required during the postconviction writ process. 

After DNA identification testimony was accepted by the court, DNA labs began to spring up around the state. Kelly paved the way for the use of this powerful science in the courts. DNA evidence and testimony have now become very commonplace in our courts.

Joe David Childress

Jani Maselli Wood

My first client at my first real legal job.  Back then it was Inmate Legal Services – I was a prison lawyer in 1996. By the time I met Joe David, he was old. He was serving 25 years for a failure to stop and render aid. He had been sentenced as a habitual defender based upon his life sentences from an early career as a cat burglar in the 1940s.

He had some smart trial lawyers (Ken McLean and Mac Secrest) that challenged those 1940s convictions. Prior to Gideon, Harris County defendants were given “stand-by” counsel to waive their rights to a jury trial. Calling upon local lawyer John Cutler, licensed in 1947, he expertly explained the practice for the record. But the Texas appellate courts were A-OK with those Gideon violations.

So, Joe David filed a pro se federal writ. He lost. I was assigned to his unit and he wrote and asked me to handle his Fifth Circuit appeal. My first federal appeal; Joe David told me what law to argue.

And we won. The United States Court of Appeals reversed his sentence because the enhancements violated his Sixth Amendment right to counsel. I was ecstatic driving to the Goree unit to tell him. Joe David and I laughed and made plans. As he walked away, I yelled – “You be good Joe David.”  He raised his fists in the air and said, “They haven’t broken me yet.”

But in actuality – he was broken. And he died before he was released. I showed up at the funeral home with some grocery store flowers. Joe David was laid out on a table; I rested the flowers on the floor beside him.

I was alone.  The funeral director came to me as I wept. He said, “Are you family?  And I told him “Yes.  I’m his lawyer.”


Soloman Monroe

I must admit I was skeptical when I first joined TCDLA. As a brand-new lawyer I was unable to envision how I could ever benefit from such a massive organization or make an impact on such experienced attorneys, some of whom had been practicing longer than I had been alive. Simply put, I was intimidated, fearful, and overwhelmed. As I have come to learn, however, TCDLA is not some massive organization. We are a family.

Sure, at first glance we may appear separated and scattered in our own sections of the state, left to fight our battles alone. But the truth is, we may be on our own, but we are never alone.

We work together for our clients and for ourselves. We educate and instruct each other so we can reach new heights. We fight and bicker but rush to defend each other when attacked. We celebrate the victories and give comfort for the losses. We are there for one another in an emergency, or just there to share a drink.

I may have been too naïve to see it when I first joined. But I am forever grateful to share these experiences with the TCDLA family.

We All Need TCDLA on Our Team

David Botsford

Back in the dark ages — the 1970s to the 1990s — TCDLA was a must less structured organization than it is today. This was particularly true in the amicus and strike force arenas, as the types of guidelines and protocols relied upon today had not yet been enacted. While the goals of both of these committees were identical — helping our members –. Those goals continue to this day, but the efforts of these two committees prior to the advent of the internet were mostly overlooked.

In fact, these two committees, acting more or less as one, have contributed greatly to Texas’ jurisprudence. Stearnes v. Clinton, 708 S.W.2d 216 (CCA 1989), Stotts v. Wisser, 894 S.W.2d 366 (CCA 1998) and Buntion v. Harmon, 827 S.W.2d 945 (1992), established the proposition that appointed counsel cannot be “unappointed” and “kicked off” a case — prior to trial or on appeal — at the whim of the judge or in response to a prosecutorial suggestion that defense counsel’s advocacy is making their jobs more difficult. If you have not read these cases, you should.

These committees also worked together in the “Range Wars” — stemming out of Lubbock and Amarillo — and reinforced the proposition that TCDLA will not stand idly by while our members are assaulted by overzealous prosecutors. Indeed, an amazing opinion by U.S. District Judge Mary Lou Robinson — to the effect that a civil RICO lawsuit filed by representatives of TCDLA (and others) against two elected District Attorneys (and other members of law enforcement) could and should proceed — essentially established the proposition that TCDLA will rise to the occasion and take necessary and appropriate steps when prosecutors and law enforcement corruptly go after innocent defendants and their dedicated counsel.

So too, in the arena of criminal contempt, TCDLA has long stood with its members and has gone above and beyond to protect us all. For instance, in February 1989, George Roland was called to the witness stand by the State in order to allow the State to make a supplemental record in a capital case against Robert Excell White. George proudly and properly asserted attorney-client and work product privileges, refusing to answer the questions. The judge ignored the privilege, held him in contempt, refused to set a bond, and ordered George to report to the Collin County jail no later than 5:00 p.m. that same day. TCDLA was able to file original writs with the COA and the CCA that same day and obtained George’s release that same evening at approximately 6:15 p.m. via an order from the CCA (after the Dallas COA had denied relief). The following day, the process repeated itself as to David Haynes, George’s co-counsel on the capital case. The CCA subsequently set aside all 13 of the contempts entered against George and David.

Even earlier than George and David’s experience, NACDL member Robert Glass was held in contempt for his cross-examination of a snitch during a federal trial in Louisiana. After Glass received the two word verdict, the U.S. District Judge held him in contempt. At Robert’s request, TCDLA filed an amicus, coordinating with NACDL, to support Robert’s appeal of his contempt conviction to the Fifth Circuit. TCDLA’s amicus significantly helped carry the day for Robert with the Fifth Circuit and the unpublished opinion (which I’ve cited on any number of occasions) established that respectful but aggressive cross-examination of a snitch — insinuating that the snitch is trying to curry favor with the prosecution and his sentencing judge — is not contumacious.

Lessons to be learned and followed: Always have TCDLA on your team, as the best offense is a great defense and TCDLA will provide you with that defense. Renew your membership, pay your dues and benefit from the countless ways that TCDLA makes your life easier and your profession more rewarding.

Seemingly Hiding in Plain View

William Wilder

What TCDLA means to me: As a younger lawyer and  even now,   several warriors have   given me invaluable advice and ideas.  Now, in my later years, I offer advice to younger criminal defense lawyers. I am a much better advocate for my clients because of fellow warriors, the Digest and invaluable and timely articles in Voice. I thank God for all of your service, and the countless accused are no doubt grateful.

A DWI Victory: I used to be a county attorney in Edna, Jackson County, Texas. After that, I moved to Bay City, and a man from Ganado (small town in Jackson County) employed me on a DWI. I favor taking county or state highway employees on juries, and we had one. I knew the DPS officer, and that he would testify he did not know much about the breath test, and could be easily cross-examined on this point. The client was a 240-pound salesman who was trying to make a sale to a young man, who had his wife present, that evening in Victoria,  25 miles  away. I engaged a math professor to testify who looked like Santa Claus and was  quite believable. He performed an algebraic equation to show the amount of beer that a 240-pound man would need to drink in order to exceed 0.10 (the percentage of intoxication then). The DA was a math minor and asked my math professor no questions on cross. I engaged a pathologist from nearby Bay City to testify about blood alcohol. He was running late, had an airplane, and flew 45 1 miles to our airport. (The word in town was that Wilder had done hired a big shot doctor from Houston to testify. I never denied it).  The client had taken the couple out for a big buffet dinner, and I had pictures of what they ate. The client drove them all over Victoria after dinner in his Corvette because they had never been in one. Then, during the trial, I asked her if she had a little secret for the jury, and she replied “I am pregnant with our first child”. The customer’s lovely blonde wife (and her husband) testified about my client’s driving them around Victoria, and he had no trouble driving.  In addition, he had driven the 25 mile stretch from Victoria to Edna with no problems. Guess what, not guilty. When talking to the jurors, which included the highway department employee, I asked what the main turning point was to find him innocent, and the highway employee replied, “I know that highway and overpass quite well, and when the DPS officer testified he was parked just over the rise I knew he was lying because there was no room for him to be there!”. So much for my Perry Mason presentation.

Worth the Wait

Heather Barbieri

From the beginning, TCDLA had my heart.  I remember going to my first Rusty Duncan Seminar, and how the staff made me feel so welcome.  Soon after, I started attending the board meetings and, after a couple of unsuccessful attempts, was voted onto the Associate Board.  I was truly honored to be selected. 

TCDLA is not only a prestigious organization, it is a bona fide community.  The moment I realized this was when I found myself trying my first federal trial in Tyler, Texas–alone.  But that isolated feeling quickly subsided as fellow TCDLA brethren and icons, Bobby Mims and Kelly Pace came to my aid.  They took time from their busy schedules to come to my trial, and guide me every step of the way—and they did it because they cared about a scared young TCDLA member who was in the trenches.  That’s when I knew being a member of TCDLA meant I was part of a very special family. 

From that point on, I committed myself to TCDLA, and have reaped the countless benefits of this extraordinary organization.  And if there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that we gain tremendous rewards when we simply choose to serve TCDLA and its members.

With infinite gratitude, Heather Barbieri

Why TCDLA is Important to Me

Amanda Hernandez

Being involved with TCDLA is by far one of my favorite parts of practicing criminal defense. I continue to learn so much from attending and speaking at seminars and have met friends and mentors that I will never forget. One of my favorite TCDLA memories so far was watching Dick DeGuerin speak at Rusty Duncan in 2016 regarding the Robert Durst case and why we do what we do. Hearing him talk about winning a “losing” case was inspiring and something I always try to remember when I face a challenging case. Attending Trial College and Round Top were also some of my favorite TCDLA experiences that helped me grow as a lawyer and as a person. Recently being selected as an associate editor for the VOICE was also very exciting! The VOICE has always made me feel connected with my colleagues all over the state and I am grateful to have the opportunity to contribute to something so valuable to our membership. I’ll always be grateful to TCDLA and can’t wait to make even more memories through the organization.

TCDLA Teaches You to Win!

Tip Hargrove

Do we actually learn anything at TCDLA seminars that can really help us?

Damn straight we do.

Years ago, as a somewhat experienced lawyer who still needed help, I was appointed on a case involving the death of an infant. The DA had a reputation for ignoring the rules, and the rural Judge tended to let him get away with it. Not long before I was appointed, I had attended a TCDLA seminar. One of the boring looking topics was something to the effect of how to use Pre-Trial Motions to our advantage. The speaker kept emphasizing “get a ruling, get a ruling. Without a ruling your motion is worthless”.

Co-counsel and I filed all the usual motions and, just as the speaker suggested, we included with every filing an order granting the motion. When each motion specifically requesting Discovery was ruled upon, we always requested a ruling and a signed copy of the order.

Trial rolls around a year later. Over and over the DA would offer an exhibit, we would rise, pull out the specific order related to the exhibit and say “Judge on X date you signed an order saying the DA had to provide us that evidence. The exhibit just offered was not provided.” “Objection sustained” again and again.

Finally, at a dramatic moment, the DA was about certain photos that were very damaging to our defense as they documented supposed bruises. I stood, order in hand. Before I could even open my mouth, the DA slammed the photos on the table, yelled “Never Mind!” and sat down in a huff. (Yes, by then the jury was snickering.) After five days in court and two hours of deliberations, the sweet words of NOT GUILTY were read. NOT GUILTY thanks to TCDLA!

Tip Hargrove San Angelo lead counsel, Tom Davidson San Angelo co-counsel.


Nicole DeBorde Hochglaube

TCDLA is such a gift!  I have been grateful over the years for the many friendships I have made with some of the most amazing lawyers and human beings on the planet. Wherever your case may take you, there is a TCDLA staff member who can help and a member at the ready, to support you and your client. Whether you need someone to lend them their ear about a case, the practice, a great day or a bad one, you will find one in this amazing group. I have been so fortunate to have had the opportunity to see TCDLA’s Strike Force in action up close.  At a moment’s notice, when a lawyer finds herself in the cross hairs of a court’s ire for zealous advocacy as necessitated by the defense function, the most talented lawyers in the area drop everything to appear on that lawyer’s behalf.  Our members from across the state always stand at the ready without hesitation to offer their substantial knowledge and talent, even when they do not have an abundance to time to spare.  We have had the busiest lawyers take our Strike Force calls for help from the hallway during trial and from the airport between gates.  What an extraordinary thing. I cannot imagine a more wonderful group to have by my side through thick and thin – and the war stories we get to hear along the way are the cherry on top! Thank you for your wisdom and friendship!


Laurie Key

TCDLA, her staff and members, have inspired me both personally and professionally. My first experience with TCDLA was at the 2003 Rusty Duncan Seminar. Bill Wischkaemper, my mentor and “boss”, invited me to the ‘big-wig’ dinner in the wine cellar at Paesano’s. I sat at a table with the Who’s Who of TCDLA. I was inspired. Inspired by their presence. Inspired by their stories. Inspired to break through that (plexi)glass ceiling of mostly all male leadership. I learned one valuable lesson that night: good wine is expensive.

Throughout the last 18 years, I have been inspired by the women of TCDLA. Prior to my joining, TCDLA had exactly 1 female president. We have had 3 since and have 2 more women on the current officer chain. What an absolute inspiration all of these women have been to me, and I have to believe they have inspired countless others. #mytribe

TCLDA staff. Wow! Year after year, these guys pull off the unimaginable. Their support of each of us inspires me to greater heights each and every day.

Cheers to you, TCDLA, and the next 50 years of inspiring others to be their best!

Fifty by Fifty

Kameron Johnson

News story. Deputy shoots unarmed woman several times in the street. My first thoughts were here we go again another unarmed African American shot by police. Despite the recent and ongoing social unrest regarding police misconduct I continued to think that police reform has been more of a current trend instead of an era of systemic change.  Has the movement been more entertainment or true reform?  Then the story gave a name of the woman shot.

Twenty-five years ago, I was a young public defender with the Travis County Juvenile Public Defender.  Our office was small but had been in existence for twenty-five years when we got the call that the Travis County District Attorney was prosecuting an eleven year old child for Capital Murder. Although the Juvenile Public Defender was established in 1971 as the first public defender office in the country dedicated solely to the representation of youth the office was understaffed and underfunded. Indigent defense in Texas was experiencing the same problems as the rest of the country in that it was woefully underfunded. Going against the vast resources of the State of Texas the case was tried in a community that was polarized and divided on the issue of juvenile justice. During the mid and late 1990s terms such as “super predators” “crack babies” and “if they do adult crimes, they should get adult time” persisted. The case of L. M. was no different. The elected District Attorney was quoted in the major Austin newspaper as calling an 11 year old child a “monster” and was committed to “prosecuting her to the fullest extent.”

Twenty-five years ago, I did not have time to stop and think that I was trying a case that would arguably be one of the biggest cases in Texas history. I did not know then that this case would have  coverage in the national and international media as well as have several documentaries made. What I did know was that I had an innocent child who needed help.

During the middle of the trial I was held in contempt of court.  While I was preparing for another fight with the judge two attorneys who I had never met came running into the courtroom sweating and without introducing themselves just said “what happened.?”  Next both just put their hands on my shoulder and said, “we got this.” Those two attorneys were from the TCDLA Strike Force.  At the time I did not know or had even heard of TCDLA.  After about one hour they both emerged from the judge’s chambers smiling and joking with the judge. I do not know what happened or what was said but I had my contempt hearing vacated and continued the trial.  The Juvenile Public Defender received an acquittal on all the murder charges during that trial and after a three-year battle which included making new law which would have an effect on both juvenile and indigent defense cases alike, all charges against that child were dismissed.

I joined TCDLA after my experience with that Capital Murder trial and have been a member ever since. This year marks my twenty-fifth year with the Juvenile Public Defender. We are celebrating our fifty year anniversary as an office along with TCDLA’s fifty year anniversary. Happy 50th birthday Juvenile Public Defender and TCDLA. Fifty years of seeking justice!

TCDLA: More than a Mere Membership

Susan Kelly

It was a dark and stormy night. Well, maybe not stormy, but definitely dark when I was sitting in my car in the parking lot of Bed, Bath & Beyond, answering a call from someone named Lydia Clay-Jackson.

“What can I do for you?”

“I am TCDLA Vice President and want you to serve on the nominating committee for next year’s board of directors.”

“Me? Seriously?”

It was 2011. I had been a TCDLA dues-paying member since 1998 when I quit life as a prosecutor and hung out the proverbial shingle. I loved being a lawyer, and I especially loved being a criminal defense lawyer.  But truthfully, I had not benefitted from, nor seriously been involved with TCDLA until Lydia’s call. I remember the meeting was set on a cold December Saturday at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in downtown Houston. This meeting occurred right in the middle of a knock-down, drag-out, 18-count Aggravated Sexual Assault jury trial that I was battling alongside my husband and co-counsel back in Waco.  The jury deliberations recessed that Friday and were to resume on Monday. Having to drive to Houston at the crack of dawn, I did not immediately read the article in the Waco newspaper describing our agonizing trial. When I finally arrived, I remember looking around the large meeting room at all these strange, intimidating faces and feeling incompetent to play a significant role in determining the leadership of this prestigious organization. But soon, the uneasiness settled, and I found those around me to be warm, smart, funny, and genuine.

After that one December meeting, I became immersed in the TCDLA machine: serving on committees, speaking at events, teaching at trial college, becoming a board member, dodging writing VOICE articles, and enjoying a camaraderie with true friends who were struggling with the same professional issues as I was…and some of the same types of personal issues as well.  I cannot begin to name drop all my TCDLA family members who have been there for me… from answering courtroom life-line calls, to saving me from the sea after a rogue wave devoured and then spewed out my law partnership and marriage into a zillion pieces. And after that, when I would sink back into the abyss, those same people were there, reeling me back, pushing me on, reminding me of my worth as a lawyer-and as a human being. All of this helped to restore my confidence in taking my name back, rebuilding my practice, and zealously serving my clients with pride. I could go on and on, but I am way outside my word limit.  If you want to know more about my specific TCDLA experiences after Lydia’s phone call, this story is to be continued. Such adventures to share!! So, for now, all I can say is, if you get the call to step up to more than mere membership, you might consider not only the impact you could have on others, but the impact it could have on you.

On January 1 of this year, Governor Abbott appointed Susan to serve as the 54th District Judge in McLennan County which exclusively handles criminal cases.

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