Sometimes when you look through a pile of old papers, you find a jewel hidden under them. COVID-19 boredom put me on a spring-cleaning spree at the office, and what turned up but the “MINIMUM FEE SCHEDULE-CRIMINAL CASES” for Travis County dated October 17, 1969. A fine old lawyer gave it to me back in 1978. The contents of this pamphlet are both hilarious and hard to believe. Can you imagine, in today’s world, a county bar association publishing a minimum fee schedule?
I am not a Travis County lawyer, but Betty Blackwell, our beloved past president, is. Betty has written a short summary of the characters involved in the production of the pamphlet back in 1969. Two of them are our own Frank Maloney and Robert Jones, the first and 14th presidents of TCDLA, respectively. In this difficult time for our country and our profession, we hope you enjoy what follows.
The MINIMUM FEE SCHEDULE put out by the Travis County Bar Association was sold for the exorbitant sum of $1. It was intended to let the local bar know what to charge, and it also included an interesting list of offenses. Back then TCDLA didn’t exist to publish code books, so local groups had to assume that role. How far we have come in providing access to resources for lawyers is astounding.
Take a look at the minimums for retained cases and prepare to be amazed: A jury trial for murder with “m” – meaning malice – was $1,500. Hourly rate was $40. And apparently Travis County was the sex-crime center of the world. Of the 11 felonies listed with suggested fees, six of them were sex related. Shame, Travis County, shame! And look at the difference in the fee for rape at $1,000 and sodomy at $1,250. I don’t have the nerve to attempt to explain that.
Appellate specialists, be prepared to go broke. A brief and argument before the CCA was $1,000. You could expect to get the lavish sum of $1,500 if it was a capital case. If Mowla wasn’t already bald, he surely would get that way with these fees!
Now to pleas: A felony plea fee was $250. Considering what some counties have paid in very recent years for court appointments, that is not bad. Obviously, some counties have come a long way to go in regard to fees, while others apparently are currently using a copy of the pamphlet for a guide.
The Penal Code has never been a great source of pleasure for us, but let’s have some fun using what is in the pamphlet. Some of the offenses listed and the punishments associated with them will definitely make you scratch your head: Fornication was a misdemeanor with $50 the minimum fine – no jail time. On the other hand, running a bawdy house would get you a $200 fine and 20 days in jail for each day the bawdy house was open. I suppose wise advice was not to fornicate in a bawdy house. There was no harassment statute but sending an anonymous letter could get you a $25-$1,000 fine and one to 12 months in the county pokey.
Today we deal with gang violence all the time. It was better for the client back then. The fine for firing into a car was a minimum of $5. But the gang members had better not throw a stench bomb because that was a felony punished by $25-$5,000 and/or one to 25 years in the pen! And then there was castration at five to 25 years in the big house. Disfiguring was only two to five years. I guess you had to think twice about what body part to disfigure.
For those inclined to be a Casanova, beware: Seduction was a two-to-10-year felony. But then wife desertion was only a misdemeanor with up to two years in the county jail. The smart move was to marry anyone you seduced. How that conflicts with fornication was probably a bar exam question. If it wasn’t, it should have been. And finally, in this day of deadly viruses and social distancing, we close with a crime that we are all told to commit every day–wearing a mask in public would get you up to a $500 fine and 12 months in jail.
Tip Hargrove, San Angelo
The producers of the pamphlet included Robert Jones, Dain Whitworth, Paul T. Holt, Wallace Shropshire, Herman Gotcher, Jr., Frank Maloney, Forrest Troutman, and Jon Coffee.
Robert Jones, the chair of the committee, is a past president of TCDLA. He brought John Boston on as executive director of TCDLA. Robert personally went around to every criminal defense office in Austin asking that we all join TCDLA. In 1984 he was elected, with no opposition, to a criminal district court bench in Travis County and eight years later he was defeated for re-election and then served as a visiting judge for some time.
Dain Whitworth had been in the district attorney’s office before leaving to join the staff of the Texas District and County Attorney’s association. He and John Boston were great friends and for many years, they were the lobbying team at the legislature on all criminal law matters. They usually agreed on more issues than they disagreed upon. He moved to the coast of Texas and has a small practice there.
Paul T. Holt was a legend in Austin. He has the largest criminal defense practice here for many, many years. He never hired more attorneys, only more secretaries, at one time carrying three full-time secretaries on his staff. He would open his office on Saturday morning to do free wills for any police officer. He was the great advertizer before it was legal, handing out glow-in-the-dark key chains with his name and phone number and always the phrase “To a good friend from Paul T. Holt”. My favorite story of Mr. Holt is that during his prime trial years, he had a card file on every person who ever served on a jury in Travis County and how they voted. It gave him an incredible advantage when it came to trials and every opponent knew it.
Wallace Shrosphire had been the county attorney of Travis County and then went into private civil practice as his wife Doris Shrosphire became the long-serving county clerk of Travis County.
Herman Gotcher, Jr., had been a legal aid lawyer before being hired as an assitant district attorney where he made his name as “Maddog Gotcher.” He was vicious in the courtroom and tried a string of drug cases, winning many long prison sentences in the early 1960s, until the criminal defense firm of Minton and Burton came into existance. Charlie Burton was the brillant mind behind that lawfirm with Roy being the flamboyant one. But it took the two of them to finally start getting some acquittals in drugs cases in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, to change the DA’s view of those cases.
Frank Maloney was the first president of TCDLA. He practiced law for many, many years in Austin. The saying in Austin during that time was, “If you are innocent, hire Maloney; if you are guilty, hire Minton and Burton.” Those offices were the two most prominent criminal defense firms in the state at the time. Frank went onto the Court of Criminal Appeals and upon forced retirement, he taught law at the University of Texas law school before finally completely retiring.
Betty Blackwell, Austin
Many thanks to those wise souls who, in 1969, gave us something we can laugh at in 2020. Keep safe and certainly hope to see you IN PERSON soon.