It has been more than a year since I stood at the lectern in the historic marble chamber that is the United States Supreme Court, and as I turn the page of the calendar to my next case, it is an appropriate time to reflect on what was a very special year.
Post Argument—February 25, 2013
After the bang of the gavel, the Chief Justice announced the case will be submitted. Courteous exchanges between my “friend” Andrew Oldham, Assistant Texas Solicitor General, and his associates were, I believe, sincere. Seth (Waxman), Bud (Ritenour), and Catherine (Carol), who sat at counsel table, felt relieved and confident in the “spot on” delivery we all were pointing towards. I had delivered the performance of a lifetime.
Strangers who watched the argument approached me and offered their congratulations. The highest compliment came from Deputy Clerk Jameson, who commented that he did not believe it was my first appearance before the Court. I have always held court personnel in the highest regard. They have a peculiar insight into court proceedings, and they know what is and is not good.
Of course, Teresa (my wife) and Robin (my daughter) were there. Robin was as ever proud of her Daddy. Teresa, who had sacrificed so much in her own way, got to witness the fruits of our collective labors.
After the case was set for submission, Teresa and Robin and I remained in the Supreme Court building. We went back to the clerk’s office to say goodbye to Mrs. Tycz—the deputy clerk who had been so encouraging. She congratulated me on my maiden appearance. Others had offered similar compliments as I left that hallowed chamber. But it was the decision of the nine Justices that mattered, and that decision was not expected until the end of the term before summer recess.
Teresa, Robin, and I ate at the Supreme Court cafeteria. After a stop at the gift shop, we made our way to Reagan Airport and then to San Antonio.
“The Law Is a Jealous Mistress”
My property professor at St. Mary’s Law School told us this in our first year, and he was right. My calendar was bursting at the seams, thanks to the local judges back home who gave me generous court recesses for four months of my calendar. The time had come to get back to the work at hand. But yet I still had that one special case. I started watching the Supreme Court calendar for announcements. Like an expectant father, I had an interest in the outcome but had no control over the process or its timing.
May 28, 2013
Almost three months to the day, while I was sitting in the Bexar County Jail in the midst of a parole revocation hearing, I received a message from my co-counsel, Bud Ritenour, on my iphone that we had won.
It was the crowning achievement of a 37-year career, a dream come true. It was like winning the Super Bowl, the World Series, and the NBA Championship, all rolled into one.
Later that day, I learned it was Justice Kennedy and not Justice Breyer who made the oral pronouncement in open court. It is customary that the justice who is the author of the opinion make the announcement. Ironically, Justice Breyer, who is a fellow Eagle Scout, was in the hospital recovering from a broken collarbone he incurred while riding his bicycle. Coincidentally, I had a major bicycle accident during my representation of Carlos. In 2009, I broke my hip, which resulted in a total hip replacement. It was as if Justice Breyer and I were “joined at the hip”—or scapula, as the case may be.
The Express-News Article
Craig Capitan, the courthouse beat reporter for our local newspaper, keeps his ear to the ground and is quick to get a story. We had discussed Carlos’ case when certiorari was granted, but the time was not ripe for such a story.
The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was coming up for oral argument, shortly after my case. Local attention was drawn more heavily to the Supreme Court.
When the decision came back favorably in Carlos’ case, I became newsworthy. Craig immediately contacted me and interviewed me. The next day the story ran, “S.A. Lawyer a Success in the Supreme Court.”
Recognition in the Community
After the story ran, I started receiving congratulatory messages from friends, old and new.
The one that stands out the most is my old Boy Scout friend, Steve Skinner. I had known Steve from our work in the local Boy Scout Council back in the 1970s. We had renewed our friendship in 2010, as we both were on staff at the centennial Boy Scout National Jamboree. We got together for lunch shortly thereafter. He told me that his future-son-in-law and he had talked about the fact that Steve knew someone who had appeared before the U. S. Supreme Court. Steve told me that his son, who graduated from the University of Chicago Law School, had a question on one of his final exams regarding my case.
Al Reiter, another good Scouting friend, suggested that I speak to the San Antonio Breakfast Club (of which he is a member). I was not quite sure how a bunch of retired businessmen would react to a criminal defense attorney who the court appointed to represent a condemned man sitting on death row.
I was pleased by their genuine interest in the process and my experience. They even extended to an invitation to join their club.
Recognition by My Peers
The accolades began to cascade down. The Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association named Bud and me as the Percy Foreman Lawyers of the Year. The San Antonio Criminal Defense Lawyers Association (SACDLA) followed suit, naming us Defenders of the Year. We were also named by San Antonio Scene magazine as one of San Antonio’s Best Criminal Defense Lawyers as selected by their peers. In addition, I was selected for membership into the National Trial Lawyers Top 100 Trial Lawyers for 2013.
I wrote an initial story about my Supreme Court experience entitled, “I Could Have Danced All Night,” published in TCDLA’s Voice and SACDLA’s Defender magazines.
Part of Supreme Court History
At last year’s Rusty Duncan Seminar when we received our lawyer of the year awards, I had the honor to meet the keynote speaker, Stetson Law School Dean Bruce Jacob. Dean Jacob is the last surviving participant of the landmark case, Gideon v. Wainwright. Clarence Earl Gideon is deceased. His lawyer, Justice Abe Fortas, is deceased. All of the nine justices who heard the case are no longer living. The judge and the lawyers in Florida who were involved in the original case and its retrial are deceased as well.
We talked about the plight of the indigent and the “right to counsel” and how our cases are linked. We parted—agreeing to keep in touch. I sent him a link to my oral argument. I had listened to the oral argument in Gideon in my preparation for my oral argument. He sent a reply email the following day telling me that he enjoyed my time at the lecturn.
“After the Ball”
As Bud reminds me, going to the U. S. Supreme Court is not a destination but a journey. I am now introduced by judges, lawyers, and laypersons as the lawyer who went to the Supreme Court. Although I have returned to my regular caseload, my life has been inexorably changed. I hope to stand as an inspiration to my peers, old and young, and in a peculiar way to myself. I will forever be able to say that I argued a case before the United States Supreme Court; and won.
And now, on to my next client.