Chuck Lanehart

Chuck Lanehart is a shareholder in the Lubbock firm of Chappell, Lanehart & Stangl, P.C., where he has practiced law since 1977, and he is a 1977 graduate of Texas Tech University School of Law. He is board certified in the field of Criminal Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. He is statewide co-coordinator of the annual TCDLA Declaration readings and serves on TCDLA’s ethics committee and strike force. He previously served as president of the Lubbock Area Bar Association, president of the Lubbock Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, director of the State Bar of Texas and director of TCDLA. He is author of the History Press books “Tragedy and Triumph on the Texas Plains” and “Marvels of the Texas Plains.” He is co-author of “Carol of Lights/ Dirge of Darkness,” to be published by Texas Tech Press in 2023. In 2018, the Lubbock Area Bar Association presented Chuck the James G. Denton Distinguished Lawyer Award, the Bar’s highest honor. In 2008, Chuck was named among the “200 Most Influential People in the History of Lubbock” by the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. He can be reached at or 806-765-7370.

Ethics and the Law: Lawyers Who Seek Judicial Office: A Re-Examination of the Rules

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“I hate to hear people say this Judge will vote so and so, because he is a Democrat—and this one so and so because he is a Republican. It is shameful. The Judges have the Constitution for their guidance; they have no right to any politics save the politics of rigid right and justice when they are sitting in judgment upon the great matters that come before them.”

—Mark Twain

In light of recent controversial blockbuster rulings by the United States Supreme Court and in anticipation of upcoming Texas judicial elections, now seems a good time to re‑examine certain rules which apply to lawyers who seek judicial office.

The relevant rules are:

Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 8.02

    • A lawyer shall not make a statement that the lawyer knows to be false or with reckless dis‑ regard as to its truth or falsity concerning the qualifications or integrity of a judge, adjudicatory official or public legal officer, or of a candidate for election or appointment to judicial or legal office.
    • A lawyer who is a candidate for judicial office shall comply with the applicable provisions of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct.
    • A lawyer who is a candidate for an elective public office shall comply with the applicable provisions of the Texas Election Code.

Comment:

    1. Assessments by lawyers are relied on in evaluating the professional or personal fitness of persons being considered for election or appointment to judicial office and to public legal offices, such as attorney 113 general, prosecuting attorney and public defender. Expressing honest and candid opinions on such matters contributes to improving the administration of justice. Conversely, false statements by a lawyer can unfairly undermine public confidence in the administration of justice.
    2. When a lawyer seeks judicial or other elective public office, the lawyer should be bound by applicable limitations on political activity.
    3. To maintain the fair and independent ad‑ ministration of justice, lawyers are encouraged to continue traditional efforts to defend judges and courts unjustly criticized.

Texas Code of Judicial Conduct Canon 5:

Refraining from Inappropriate Political Activity

    • A judge or judicial candidate shall not:
      • make pledges or promises of conduct in office regarding pending or impending cases, specific classes of cases, specific classes of litigants, or specific propositions of law that would suggest to a reasonable person that the judge is predisposed to a probable decision in cases within the scope of the pledge;
      • knowingly or recklessly misrepresent the identity, qualifications, present position, or other fact concerning the candidate or an opponent; or
      • make a statement that would violate Canon 3B(10).
    • A judge or judicial candidate shall not authorize the public use of his or her name endorsing another candidate for any public office, except that either may indicate support for a political party. A judge or judicial candidate may attend political events and express his or her views on political matters in accord with this Canon and Canon 3B(10).
    • A judge shall resign from judicial office upon becoming a candidate in a contested election for a non‑judicial office either in a primary or in a general or in a special election. A judge may continue to hold judicial office while being a candidate for election to or serving as a dele‑ gate in a state constitutional convention or while being a candidate for election to any judicial office.
    • A judge or judicial candidate subject to the Judicial Campaign Fairness Act, Tex. Elec. Code §253.151, et seq. (the “Act”), shall not knowingly commit an act for which he or she knows the Act imposes a penalty. Contributions returned in accordance with Sections 155(e), 253.157(b) or 253.160(b) of the Act are not a violation of this paragraph.

COMMENT

A statement made during a campaign for judicial office, whether or not prohibited by this Canon, may cause a judge’s impartiality to be reasonably questioned in the context of a particular case and may result in recusal. Consistent with section 253.1612 of the Texas Election Code, the Code of Judicial Conduct does not prohibit a joint campaign activity conducted by two or more judicial candidates.

Other than the rules stated, there is relatively little interpretive guidance on the subject, as precedent construing the ethics rules is scant.

A judge who violates Canon 5 or other pro‑ visions of the Code of Judicial Conduct is subject to discipline by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct. A lawyer running for judicial office who violates Canon 5 or other relevant provisions of the judicial code is subject to discipline by the State Bar of Texas.

Other “relevant provisions” include portions of Canon 2, which state:

  1. A judge shall comply with the law and should act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.
  2. A judge shall not lend the prestige of ju‑ dicial office to advance the private interests of the judge or others.

A judge or judicial candidate must also comply with statutory provisions regulating fund raising and other matters contained in the Texas Judicial Campaign Fairness Act.

Candidates Shall Be Honest

Judges and lawyers running for judicial office “shall not . . . engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation”. Texas Disciplinary Rules of

Professional Conduct 8.04(a)(3).

And, as noted above, Canon 5(1)(ii) of the Code of Judicial Conduct prohibits a judge or judicial candidate from knowingly or recklessly misrepresenting “the identity, qualifications, present position, or other fact con‑ cerning the candidate or an opponent.”

Thus, for example, a former judge cannot imply in political ads that he is a current judge. And, a judge who seeks reelection and is defeated cannot produce campaign materials to “reelect” or “keep” the candidate in a subsequent race against an incumbent on another court.

Judicial Candidates are Prohibited from Campaigning for Others

A judge or judicial candidate is prohibited from lending support for other campaigns. Canon 5(2) prohibits a judge from authorizing “the public use of his or her name endorsing another candidate,” and Canon 2(B) prohibits a judge from lending the prestige of judicial office to the advancement of private interests.

Thus, verbally recommending another candidate or otherwise supporting another candidate is unethical. Political contributions are risky as well. A contribution is appropriate only “when the judge is satisfied that neither the contribution nor the public record thereof will receive public attention before the election.” 166. Comm. on Jud. Ethics, State Bar of Tex., Op. 145 (1992), reprinted in 65 TEX. JUD. COUNCIL & OFF. CT. ADMIN. TEX.

JUD. SYS. ANN. REP. 126 (1993). Yard signs and bumper stickers are prohibited by the Rules and Canons.

My trophy wife Paula Lanehart served on the bench for more than 20 years. She reminded me constantly that I, as the spouse of an elected judge, should never publicly support or oppose a political candidate for office. The ethical rules are not clear on this issue. (The lawyer spouse of a current United States Supreme Court Justice is in the spotlight for her political activism.) Nevertheless, I held my tongue and avoided political donations for more than two decades, but I have publicly and loudly made up for my silence since Paula’s retirement.

Conclusion

Most of us will never seek judicial office, and when we do, we usually lose. After all, voters and politicians with the power of appointment view criminal defense lawyers as only a bit higher on the political food chain than our clients.

However, we as criminal defense lawyers are often confronted with unethical judicial candidates who promise to tow a particular law‑and‑order‑themed party line or platform. We stand by our clients as they face bad judges who skirt ethical rules and make decisions based solely on their perception of political expediency. The resulting unethical political abyss poisons our justice system locally, regionally and nationally.

We must all remember Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 8.03(a)‑(b). When we are made aware of a breach of ethics by a lawyer or a judge, we are required to report the breach to the appropriate agency, the State Bar of Texas and/or the State Commission on Judicial Conduct.

Unethical conduct on behalf of another attorney must be reported to the State Bar. If you suspect a judge or candidate for judicial office of violating ethical rules, you must mail a completed, signed, and sworn complaint form to the State Commission on Judicial Conduct. The complaint form is available on the Commission’s website and can also be requested by email or phone.

I am reminded of one such breach of ethics many years ago in Lubbock County. A prosecutor known by criminal defense lawyers as unethical ran for a County Court‑at‑Law bench. Her opponent was a Lubbock County Associate Judge. The prosecutor claimed her opponent was not a judge but “only a mediator.” Her opponent filed a grievance, and the prosecutor was given a public reprimand by the 72nd District Court of Lubbock and required to pay $5,000 in attorney’s fees. Comm’n for Law. Discipline v. Susan J. Scolaro, Cause No. 99‑505,705.

Nevertheless, before her opponent’s grievance was adjudicated, the prosecutor won the election, but she was soon removed from office. The court found she failed to satisfy the statutory qualifications to be a judge and lied about it. Scolaro v. State ex. rel Jones, 1 S.W.3d 749 (Tex. App.—Amarillo 1999, no pet.). Her removal came primarily through the efforts of members of the Lubbock Criminal Defense Lawyers Association. Those who spearheaded the effort to remove the unethical judge were publicly skewered by the clueless Lubbock media and ultra‑conservative local citizenry. The judicial post she held is now occupied by a former member of the Lubbock Criminal Defense Lawyers Association. Karma is a thing.

“Always do right; this will gratify some people and amaze the rest.”

—Mark Twain

2022 Declaration of Independence Readings: Memories and Media Mentions

Waco, McLennon County: But what a different country we could have created! What a more universally prosperous society we could have advanced. What a better existence for all our people could have been established. And here is how it could have happened.

In his original draft of the Declaration of Independence presented to the convention, Thomas Jefferson listed the King’s abuses. He saved the worst for last. I venture to say you never heard of it or were taught about it.

It said: “He has waged a cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him; captivating and carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation hither.”

At the insistence of South Carolina and Georgia, this Article condemning slavery was stricken.

For 246 years we have reaped the bitter harvest of this original sin of slavery. So let us resolve to breathe life into the Declaration and the Bill of Rights as we continue the great experiment called America. Ladies and gentlemen, our Declaration of Independence.

—David Bass

Bastrop, Bastrop County: I enjoy reading the Declaration of Independence in the Texas July heat in Bastrop, Texas. I meant to memorize the Declaration after reading each year. Maybe next year will be the time. Each July, reading at the courthouse is a reminder to me of how important our rights are. My only spectator this year, aside from an occasional passerby, was a silent robotic lawnmower. That does not make my reading experience any less significant to me. People are dying to get to our country and enjoy the opportunities that this document protects. Reading the Declaration of Independence aloud is a great way to honor it.

—Eric Toberson

Reading of Declaration of Independence Reminds Community of Freedoms

Harrison County: Defense lawyers performed the annual recitation of the Declaration of Independence on Friday for Harrison County community members.

“The Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, which is the statewide criminal defense bar association, puts this on. I’ve read the Declaration probably almost 8 times,” said Kyle Dansby, a local criminal defense attorney, and coordinator of the celebration. “And even though you’ve read it multiple, multiple times, when you read certain parts of it, in particular the big bold language that we know about, it’s still important, it still affects me.”

This is the tenth year the Declaration of Independence has been read in downtown Marshall during the Fourth of July weekend.

Harrison County can count on its local defense attorneys to uphold citizens’ freedoms and honor the Declaration of Independence. This holiday event served as a reminder to the public of the responsibilities and rights that all Americans share. “I’ll still get a feeling, still a little chill because we deal with these things every single day,” Dansby said, “As defense attorneys, the reason we read the Declaration of Independence around the fourth of July is to remind the public that we are here actually helping to enforce those rights on behalf of people who are accused by the State of Texas of committing crimes.”

Bonnie and Bob of Marshall gave a declaration of their enjoyment of Dansby’s recitation, feeling especially proud of the complete and correct pronunciation of such difficult words as those found in the historical document. “He did a wonderful job. He pronounces every word perfectly and some of those words are really difficult,” Bonnie said, noting the solace defense attorney Dansby provided throughout the celebration.

—Sadiq King, The Marshall News Messenger

Coldspring, San Jacinto County: I read the Declaration of Independence this morning (July 1, 2022) in Coldspring, Texas—the seat of San Jacinto County. Rain threatened. One guy yelled at me in code. Could have been Ku Klux Klan, QAnon, or something else. We must keep carrying the light to the dark forests. It has been done before.

—Bobby Scott Maybry

Olney, Montana: After attending the (excellent) Lubbock County Declaration reading, I drove 24 hours, 1745 miles to northwest Montana with my dog Penny. On July 4th in Olney—human population 191—I read members. County community in front of the Ranger station as a few fascinated squirrels, deer, moose and bear watched. Then I was off to Polebridge, population 100. I could not take the short‑ cut across Red Mountain because snow still blocked the road, but I arrived in time for the Independence Day festivities. The guy in the parade wearing a pink tutu and huge man breasts got more attention than me reading the Declaration. Understandable, I suppose.

—Danny Hurley

Lockhart,  Caldwell County: There were eight of us in Lockhart today, representing three law offices. Our “lead” reader was 13‑year‑old Ethan Garza, son of my long‑time investigator, Joe Angel Garza. Although he got away before we were able to get a name or his agency, there was a “press” photographer taking photos. The only newspaper out there is the “Lockhart Post Register.” We have tipped them off in the past but, presuming this fellow is from that agency, this year was the first time they’ve ever appeared. We all gathered at Black’s for great barbeque following the reading.

—David Schulman

Brady, McCollough County: Daughter Lindsey Craig and grandson Rocky and I trekked south through the hinterlands to read the Declaration in Post, Sweetwater and Brady. It’s become a tradition. In 2016, we did the same thing in Big Spring, Gail and Garden City. The three of us have participated in Lubbock Criminal Defense Lawyers readings as well. Trust me, ten‑year‑old Rocky can tell you the true meaning of Independence Day better than 95 per cent of the population. What a wonderful patriotic family experience!

—Chuck Lanehart

Weatherford, Parker County: Tom Vick and Dan Carney report: Mission Accomplished. My granddaughter Ashtyn Carney Sweatt, Senior Texas A & M Executive Officer Squadron 23, stood alongside me. She has participated in years past as well. She intends to enter law school after graduating TAMU next spring. So Proud.

—Dan Carney

San Diego, CA: Today we read in San Diego. This year, we also commemorated Juneteenth by reading General Order 3, the order issued at Galveston, Texas that began Juneteenth. We read General Order 3 before we read the Declaration, acknowledging that the Declaration was an aspiration, a hope for the future. As was General Order 3. And we can acknowledge that the journey from the Declaration to General Order 3 continues on to today, and what we do as defense attorneys continues that quest to affirm that all people are created equal and equally de‑ serving of justice. That kept the ceremony to a short time frame (one of its beauties).

—Knut Johnson

Rockport, Aransas County: I read in the front entry of Aransas County’s makeshift lo‑ cation for court and other county offices. We lost the old court‑house in late August of 2017 (Hurricane Harvey). It is always a reminder of the hardships and sufferings that led our forefathers to break away from the rule of England. It is easy to forget.

—James E. Teague

Paint Rock, Concho County: The Concho County District Clerk, JP, and Sheriff ’s Deputy were more interested in the Revolutionary War rifled musket I brought than the reading! The court‑ house cat was missing this year, probably off on a trophy mouse hunt.

—Tip Hargrove

Declaration of Independence Reading to Happen Friday

June 28, 2022—The Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association announces that the United States Declaration of Independence will be read aloud on the front steps of the county courthouses of Texas counties prior to July 4, 2022.

In Shelby County, the Declaration will be read by local lawyers, Deck Jones, Jeff Adams, Stephen Shires and April Prince. The reading will take place at the main entrance to the historic Shelby County Courthouse at 1pm, Friday, July 1, 2022.

Shelby County News

Cameron, Milam County: Unprompted, my intern Makenzie Mays set up pocket Constitution pamphlets on the prosecutor’s table. This was after of our TCDLA Declaration Celebration. Clearly, she has learned a few things this from fearful men.

The signers of the Declaration refused to be ruled by tyrannical kings and aristocrats and instead replaced them with servant representatives—and placed us in charge.

We are not descended from fearful men, so let us remember that our leaders are not kings—they are our servants and we must promptly rid ourselves of any representatives, at the local, State, and national level, who choose to act like rulers—rather than our humble servants. summer. (The State moved the pamphlets to an area for defendants.)

—Matthew Wright

Gilmer, Upsher County: This morning I read the Declaration of Independence within the cool confines of the Upshur County Commissioners Court meeting. The County Judge asked that we not do it outside as it was hot, so instead I performed my reading inside prior to the adjournment of the meeting.

My completion was greeted with a standing ovation, and I received many hearty handshakes (no laurels) during my exit from the Commissioners Courtroom, and departure from the building.

What an amazing experience! I suffered a few chills down my spine during my reading, as the words were so amazingly powerful.

I was also able to plug TCDLA and specifically the reading to be held in Gregg County during my interview with KLTV.

Happy Independence Day to all my fellow warriors.

—Brandon Winn

Childress, Childers County: Edward R . Murrow said, “We are not descended from fearful men.” The signers of the Declaration of Independence showed tremendous courage and bravery by signing a document that they knew could result in their deaths, but they signed anyway. They signed because liberty and honor are worth more than life and fortune.

Today we must remember that we are not descended from fearful men.

The signers of the Declaration refused to be ruled by tyrannical kings and aristocrats and instead replaced them with servant representatives—and placed us in charge. We are not descended from fearful men, so let us remember that our leaders are not kings—they are our servants and we must promptly rid ourselves of any representatives, at the local, State, and national level, who choose to act like rulers—rather than our humble servants.

Today, as we read the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights, let the words wash over you as though you are hearing them for the first time. Really absorb them because this was a revolutionary document that led to a revolutionary war that led to this great nation. Because we are not descended from fearful men.

—Bethany S. Stephens

Grosebeck Limestone County: We had a HUGE crowd at the Groesbeck 4th of July parade in Limestone County. I was standing one block from the courthouse at the parade announcer’s stand. We had lots of support from the crowd. Seemed appropriate for this criminal defense attorney to pose in front of a police car. I tear up every time I start and end the reading. It’s just one of my favorite times of the year!

—Michelle Latray

Fort Worth, Tarrant County: The reading gives me goosebumps every year, such a moving experience. And I was honored to organize it this year.

—Emily LaChance

Local attorneys to read Declaration of Independence

In anticipation of Independence Day, local attorneys will take time next week to read the words that hailed the birth of a new nation.

Members of the Hunt County Bar Association, along with judges from the county’s state district courts and county courts‑at‑law, intend to participate in the reading of the Declaration of Independence on the steps of the Hunt County Courthouse at noon Friday, July 1.

About a dozen attorneys participated during the event last year, held during a few falling raindrops. Each attorney took a turn at one or more sections of the document. A small crowd gathered to watch the reading and then joined in the Pledge of Allegiance.

The event has been held seven times in the past eight years. It was canceled in 2020 due to the COVID‑19 pandemic.

The event is sponsored by the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, which has been presenting readings of the Declaration since 2010. During 2016, for the first time, the readings were conducted outside of courthouses in each of the state’s 254 counties.

—Brad Kellar, Greenville Herald‑Banner

Levelland, Hockley County:

July 4th, 2022, We lawyers knew what to do.
We traveled Texas county to county,
With flags and readings and patriotic bounty.
Aloud we recited our forefathers idea of great sense,
Our American Declaration of Independence.
Five counties we did see,
Starting with Cochran and Hockley.
Then around West Texas the words we did carry,
Out to county Yoakum and on to Terry.
On final reading with our work fam,
Was up north to county Lamb.
We shared the day with judges and local friends,
Artists and singers and hot summer winds.
We sweated a bit and shook lots of hands,
Clapped each other’s backs and prayed for these lands.
I’m so proud of the freedoms we’ve fought for and won,
And those who carry on what our forefathers have done.

Happy July 4, 2022!

—Anna and Philip Ricker

Houston, Harris County: Friends: I view the Declaration of Independence as an imperfect document, at least in large part because it was written by a slave owner talking about liberty. It also bothers me that Native Americans are referred to as “savages.”

Even with its inherent flaws the Declaration is fundamental as to who we are. We are people who reject tyranny no matter the source. The Declaration was the beginning in our national struggle for liberty. It’s part of a continuum. It was followed by the Constitution, Bill of Rights, Emancipation Proclamation, 13th Amendment, Civil Rights Movement, the Women’s Movement, the fight for Gay Rights and most recently Black Lives Matter.

I think as criminal defense lawyers we are part of the continuum. We are the natural heirs to our Founding Fathers, as we are the only people who daily fight to protect our neighbor’s liberty.

There will always be tyrants, some in robes. There will always be those who stand up to fight the tyrants. That’s us.

In 2010, when we stood with our backs to the Courthouse, we sought no permission. We just did it. We were fighting lots of abusive judges then. When we read it, when I heard “king,” I thought judge. To me it’s an annual opportunity to remind the tyrants in the courthouse and elsewhere that we don’t accept their tyranny and we will fight them for as long as takes.

—Robert Fickman

Congratulations to these 2022 Declaration of Independence Organizers

TCDLA and statewide Declaration coordinators Robert Fickman of Houston and Chuck Lanehart of Lubbock thank the following folks who organized Declaration readings in some 144 places in Texas, California, Louisiana, Peru and elsewhere this year.

This 13‑year‑old tradition continues to inspire the public, the media and most importantly those who participate in these patriotic celebrations of liberty. The Great Document probably means something different to each person who reads. However, regardless of our political and social backgrounds, we all read to protect the rights and liberties that we hold dear and that we fight to defend every day.

Robb expressed his personal opinion in his introductory remarks to the Houston reading, “To me it’s an annual opportunity to remind the tyrants In the court‑ house and elsewhere that we don’t accept their tyranny and we will fight them for as long as takes.”

These intrepid Declaration organizers are to be congratulated:

City , County and Name:

Abilene, Taylor Co., Jenny Henley
Amarillo, Potter Co., Joe Marr Wilson, & Vaavia Rudd
Anson, Jones Co., Jenny Henley
Archer City, Archer Co., Dustin Nimz
Athens, Henderson Co., Shana Stein Faulhaber
Austin, Travis Co., Bradley Hargis
Ballinger, Runnels Co., Karl Vancil
Bandera, Bandera Co., Gary Trichter
Bastrop, Bastrop Co., Eric Torberson
Beaumont, Jefferson Co., Dustin Galmor
Bellville, Austin Co., David Moody
Belton, Bell Co., James Stapler
Benjamin, Knox Co., Dustin Nimz
Big Lake, Reagan Co., Stephen Dodd
Big Spring, Howard Co., Reina Cisneros
Bonham, Fannin Co., Myles Porter
Boston, Bowie Co., Brent McQueen & Mac Cobb
Brady, McCulloch Co., Chuck Lanehart & Lindsey Craig
Brenham, Washington Co., Robbie Charette
Brownfield, Terry County, TX, Anna Ricker & Phil Ricker
Brownsville, Cameron Co., TX, Sheldon Weisfeld
Brownwood, Brown Co., TX, Judson Woodley & Todd Steele
Bryan, Brazos Co., TX, Sarah Wilkinson
Burnet, Burnet Co., TX, Michelle Moore
Caldwell, Burleson Co., TX, Shelly Megan Shaw
Cameron, Milam Co., TX, Matthew Wright
Canton, Van Zandt Co., TX, Jeff White
Canyon, Randall Co., TX, Joe Marr Wilson & Vaavia Rudd
Carrizo Springs, Dimmit Co. TX, Ted Rodriguez
Center, Shelby Co., TX, Deck Jones
Centerville, Leon Co., TX, Michelle Latray
Channing, Hartley Co. TX, Rick Russwurm
Childress, Childress Co., TX, Bethany Stephens
Clarksville, Red River Co., TX, Laura McCoy
Cleburne, Johnson Co., TX, Don Bonner
Coldspring , San Jacinto Co. , Bob Mabry
Comanche, Comanche Co., TX, Judson Woodley
Conroe, Montgomery Co., TX, Amanda Webb & Josh Zeintek
Cooper, Delta Co. TX, Brent McQueen
Corpus Christi, Nueces Co., TX, Lisa Greenberg
Corsicana, Navarro Co., TX, Kerri Donica
Crockett, Houston Co. TX, Jody Griffith
Crowell, Foard Co., TX, Dustin Nimz
Cuero, De Witt Co., TX, Joseph Sheppard
Daingerfield, Morris Co., TX, Brent McQueen, Laura McCoy & Mac Cobb
Dalhart, Dallam Co., TX, Rick Russwurm
Dallas, Dallas Co., TX, Deandra Grant
Denton, Denton Co., TX, Haylee Brown
Dumas, Moore Co., TX, Rick Russwurm
Edinburg, Hidalgo Co., TX, Lucia Regalado & Joseph Connors
El Paso, El Paso Co., TX, Jim Darnell, Jeep Darnell, & Cris Estrada
Emory, Rains County, TX, Brent McQueen
Fairfield, Freestone County, TX, Michelle Latray
Fort Stockton, Pecos County, TX, Christiana Valadez
Fort Worth, Tarrant County, TX, Emily LaChance
Franklin, Robertson County, TX, Christopher Smitherman
Fredericksburg, Gillespie County, TX, Tammy Schmidt Keener
Gatesville, Coryell County, TX, Allen Place, Shea Place, Paul Harrell
Georgetown, Williamson Co., TX, Robert Maier
Giddings, Lee County, TX, David Moody
Gilmer, Upshur Co., TX, Brandon Winn
Goldthwaite, Mills Co., TX, Judson Woodley
Greenville, Hunt Co., TX, Katherine Ferguson
Groesbeck, Limestone Co., TX, Michelle Latray
Halletsville, Lavaca Co., TX, James M. Reeves
Hempstead, Waller Co., TX, David Moody
Henrietta, Clay Co., TX, Katie Woods
Hereford, Deaf Smith Co., TX, Vaavia Rudd
Houston, Harris Co., TX, Robb Fickman, Jed Silverman
Huntsville, Walker Co., TX, Wyvonne Hill
Jefferson, Marion Co., TX, Brent McQueen & Mac Cobb
Johnson City, Blanco Co., TX, Michelle Moore
Jourdanton, Atascosa Co., TX, Megan Harkins
Kermit, Winkler Co., TX, Alvaro Martinez
Kerrville, Kerr Co., TX, Gary Trichter
Kingsville, Kleberg Co., TX, Sam Fugate
La Grange, Fayette Co., TX, David Moody
Lampasas, Lampasas Co., TX, Greg Hupp
Laredo, Webb Co., TX, Roberto Balli
Leakey, Real Co., TX, Nathaniel Munier
Levelland, Hockley Co., TX, Anna Ricker, Phil Ricker
Linden, Cass Co., TX, Brent McQueen
Littlefield, Lamb Co., TX, Anna Ricker, Phil Ricker
Lockhart, Caldwell Co., TX, David Schulman & Roger Nichols
Longview, Gregg Co., TX, Lew Dunn & Brandt Thorsen
Lubbock, Lubbock Co., TX, Rusty Gunter & Chuck Lanehart
Madisonville, Madison Co., TX, David Moody
Marfa, Presidio Co., TX, Dick DeGuerin
Marshall, Harrison Co., TX, Kim Ryan, Kyle Dansby
McKinney, Collin Co., TX, Justin Wilson & Mito Gonzales
Meridian, Bosque Co., TX, Matthew Wright
Midland, Midland Co., TX, Latawn White
Morton, Cochran Co., TX, Anna Ricker, Phil Ricker
Mount Pleasant, Titus Co., TX, Laura McCoy
Mount Vernon, Franklin Co., TX, Laura McCoy
Muleshoe, Bailey Co., TX, Matt Morrow
Nacogdoches, Nacogdoches Co., TX, Sean Hightower & Tim James
Odessa, Ector Co., TX, Lane Haygood
Ozona, Crockett Co., TX, Stephen Dodd
Paint Rock, Concho Co., TX, Tip Hargrove
Palestine, Anderson Co., TX, David Moody
Paris, Lamar Co., TX, Jerry Coyle
Pearsall, Frio Co., TX, Katie & Grady Roberts Jr.
Pittsburg, Camp Co., TX, Laura McCoy
Plains, Yoakum Co., TX, Anna Ricker, Phil Ricker
Plainview, Hale Co., TX, Paul Holloway
Port Lavaca, Calhoun Co., TX, Joshua Maseda
Post, Garza Co., TX, Chuck Lanehart, Lindsey Craig
Quitman, Wood Co., TX, Donna Bloom
Rankin, Upton Co., TX, Stephen Dodd
Richmond, Fort Bend Co., TX, Paul Tu
Rio Grande City, Starr Co., TX, Gema Lopez
Rockport, Aransas Co., TX, James Teague
Rockwall, Rockwall Co., TX, Justin Hall
San Angelo, Tom Green Co., TX, Tip Hargrove
San Antonio, Bexar Co., TX, Adam Kobs, Warren Wolf
San Augustine, San Augustin Co., TX, Sean Hightower & Tim James
San Marcos, Hays County, TX, Charmaine Wilde, Chevo Pastrano, Scott Co., Matthew Maldonado
Seguin, Guadalupe Co., TX, Joshua Maseda
Seminole, Gaines Co., TX, Paul Mansur
Sinton, San Patricio Co., TX, Joel Thomas
Stanton, Martin Co., TX, Chris DeAnda
Stratford, Sherman Co., TX, Rick Russwurm
Suphur Springs, Hopkins Co., TX, Brent McQueen
Sweetwater, Nolan Co., TX, Chuck Lanehart, Lindsey Craig
Tyler, Smith Co., TX, Brian Rollings, Edward Estrada
Uvalde, Uvalde Co., TX, Emmett Harris
Vernon, Wilbarger Co., TX, Dustin Nimz
Waco, McLennan Co., TX, David Bass
Waxahachie, Ellis Co., TX, Chad Hughes & Theresa Peel
Weatherford, Parker Co., TX, G. Thomas Vick , Dan Carney
Wichita Falls, Wichita, James Rasmussen
McAllen*, Hidalgo Co., TX, Lucia Regalado, Joseph Connors
Texarkana, TX*, Bowie Co., TX, Brent McQueen & Mac Cobb
Texarkana, AR*, Miller Co., Arkansas, Brent McQueen& Mac Cobb
San Diego*, California, Knut Johnson
Robstown*, Nueces Co., TX, Sheldon Weisfeld
Polebridge*, Flathead Co., Montana, Danny Hurley
Olney*, Flathead Co., Montana, Danny Hurley
Banff*, Alberta, Canada, Tyler Flood
Galapagos Island*, Ecuador, Robert Miller
Shreveport*, Caddo Parish, Louisianna, Brian Alexander
Montell*, Uvalde Co., TX, Liz Rogers
Horseshoe Bay*, Llano Co., TX, Tom Stansbury & Chuck Lanehart

*not Texas county seat

Celebrating What Freedom and Independence Mean: Declaration Readings – 2022

Every year we gather together, across the State of Texas and beyond, to read the Declaration of Independence on the courthouse steps in order to remind those that seek to do injustice that we are here to defiantly stand in their way. This symbolic gesture probably means something different to each of the folks that read. However, regardless of our political and social backgrounds, we all read to protect the rights and liberties that we hold dear and that we fight to defend each and every day. The founder of this wonderful 13‑year‑old tradition—Robert Fickman of Houston—will join me in coordinating statewide readings again this year. Those of you who have been involved in the past—you know who you are—will soon be contacted with information about the 2022 readings.

If you are not familiar with the TCDLA Declaration readings, you have not been paying attention. Patriotic criminal defense lawyers across Texas gather at the local courthouse and simply read the Declaration of Independence. (Our readings have inspired similar events in other states and in foreign countries.) Sometimes, it means just one lawyer reading to an audience of none on a small town square. Sometimes, it means a dozen or more lawyers reading to large crowds on expansive courthouse lawns as flags fly and children play, and with everyone singing patriotic songs. We hope those who witness or participate in a reading come away with an appreciation of what Independence Day truly means.

The 2022 readings will take place on July 1 or on whatever date works best for your community around Independence Day. If you  have been involved as an organizer of a local Declaration reading in the past, we would appreciate you confirming with us you will organize again this year. If you have not been involved in a Declaration reading in years past but want to get involved this year, please contact us: Robert Fickman of Houston, 713‑655‑7400 (), or Chuck Lanehart of Lubbock, 806‑535‑2689 (chuck@lubbockcriminaldefense.com).

Please join us in honoring our nation’s most sacred document in the spirit of independence.

Claim your Community!

Who Shot the Sheriff? The South Plains Trial of the Century

The following article was first published in the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal’s “Caprock Chronicles” column. It is also included in Chuck Lanehart’s upcoming book, “Marvels of the Texas Plains: Historic Chronicles from the Courthouse to the Caprock,” published by The History Press.

In the winter of 1935, two trials dominated South Plains newspaper headlines. The celebrated New Jersey trial of Richard Hauptmann for the kidnapping and murder of the Lindberg baby became known as “The Trial of the Century.” But on the South Plains, Hauptmann news coverage was overshadowed by the Lubbock trial of Virgil Stalcup, accused of murdering the Dickens County Sheriff.

Stalcup was born in New Mexico in 1907. He was small—five-feet-six and 140 pounds—with fair complexion, green eyes and balding light brown hair. Described as “pug-nosed,” he sported a gold-capped front tooth and smoked constantly. He was married at age 20, and the couple had a daughter. Stalcup found work as an auto mechanic but soon embarked on a more lucrative, brief, and intense life of crime.

His specialty was armed robbery, stealing from victims throughout the Southwest. At age 23, Stalcup landed in the Texas penitentiary, serving 125 years for robberies out of Wilbarger, Potter and Wichita Counties.

On April 13, 1934, Stalcup escaped from prison and made his way to the home of his father—O.B. Stalcup—near Lawton, Oklahoma. There, he hooked up with 38-year-old Clarence Brown of Snyder, Texas. They pulled off a string of robberies in Oklahoma, New Mexico and Texas.

When authorities closed in on O.B.’s home on June 17, there was a shootout. Stalcup was shot in the shoulder and his 54-year-old father was killed. Two police officers were wounded by gunfire. Stalcup and Brown surrendered.

After their arrest, Stalcup and Brown confessed to a number of crimes. Both were transferred to Dickens County to face trial for the robbery of a bottling company truck driver. Stalcup was transferred to Lamb County for a plea of guilty to a Littlefield robbery. After the judge sentenced him to a ten-year prison term, Stalcup told the judge he “had no intentions of serving the sentence.” He was returned to Dickens County.

The Dickens County Sheriff was 43-year-old Bill Arthur. Born in New Mexico in 1886, Arthur moved to Dickens County as a young man. He married Nannie Stegall in 1908 and the couple had six children. In 1931, he was elected sheriff and the family moved into the first-floor living quarters of the 1909 Dickens County Jail. Prisoners were housed on the second floor of the quaint stone structure.

In mid-July of 1934, Sheriff Arthur confronted W.J. “Jenks” Yarborough in McAdoo. Yarbrough, a 40-year-old farmer, was suspected of illegally carrying a handgun. Yarbrough pulled his .25 caliber pistol and shot Sheriff Arthur five times. The Sheriff did not fall. He pulled his pistol and fired but missed as the shooter fled. The Sheriff walked to a nearby icehouse and told the proprietor, “Let’s go to the hospital.”

He was treated at a Lubbock sanitarium. Doctors were unable to remove four bullets lodged in the Sheriff’s thigh, buttocks and chest. Nevertheless, the Sheriff was soon well enough to resume his duties.

His wife Nannie told Sheriff Arthur he should find another line of work. “I had rather he pick cotton – anything,” she said. But her sound advice was ignored.

Yarbrough was soon arrested and taken to the Dickens County Jail and housed in a cell adjacent to Stalcup and Brown.

On August 18, Stalcup and Brown—brandishing a knife—escaped from the jail. Within days, Brown was re-captured at his home in Snyder and returned to the Dickens County Jail. His attractive 27-year-old wife, Thelma, often traveled to see her husband in the hoosegow. On one such visit, she charmed jailers in order to smuggle a pistol into the jail. The pistol would later factor into the killing of the Dickens County Sheriff.

Stalcup remained free for a couple of months. In the badlands near Clarendon, the outlaw was spotted by a large posse of well-armed lawmen. During a wild ten-mile car-and-foot chase, deputies fired at him with machine guns. He was captured unharmed on October 23 and was returned to Dickens County. During his two months on the lam, Stalcup had committed robberies in at least three Texas counties. A reporter wrote he faced 254 years in prison.

Just four days later, the commode on the second floor of the jail overflowed. The layout of the tiny, five-cell jail required Sherriff Arthur to enter the cellblock in order to examine the problem with the toilet.

Stalcup and Brown played cards in the southeast cage as Yarbrough read in the northeast cage closest to the commode. Apparently, none of the cell doors were locked.

The Sheriff knelt over the commode to repair the plumbing. Suddenly, a shot rang out! Sheriff Arthur stumbled into Yarbrough’s cell and fell to his knees by the cot, mortally wounded from a bullet to his neck.

Stalcup and Brown were gone, along with the Sheriff’s weapons and car. Investigators suspected Sheriff Arthur had carelessly entered the cellblock armed and was killed with his own pistol.

A nationwide manhunt for Sheriff Arthur’s alleged murderers—Stalcup and Brown—paused on October 30 for the Sheriff’s funeral. More than 5,000 mourners, including dozens of law enforcement personnel from several states, attended.

Four days later, both desperados were arrested near Houston without incident. “I guess this is the last break I’ll ever make,” Stalcup said.

Talk of vigilante justice in Dickens meant the duo would be housed in the more secure Lubbock County Jail. Stalcup and Brown were indicted for capital murder. Stalcup’s case would be tried first, on a change of venue to Lubbock County.

Trial began Monday, February 5, 1935, in Lubbock’s stately 1916 courthouse. Described as “calm, cocky and pudgy-faced,” Stalcup smoked constantly during the proceedings. With his blonde wife holding his hand, Stalcup’s five-year-old daughter clambered over his lap, kissing him repeatedly—as two dozen officers stood nearby for security.

Stalcup’s young court-appointed lawyers were from Lubbock: Hugh Anderson, Dub Benson and Robert Allen. The prosecution was led by special prosecutor George Dupree, a legendary Lubbock trial lawyer. Dickens County DA Alton Chapman and Lubbock County DA Dan Blair augmented the State’s team. They subpoenaed 60 witnesses.

Jury selection was completed on Tuesday, and when testimony began Wednesday morning, the courtroom was packed with observers. Another 200 were turned away.

The State’s first three witnesses were prisoners present in the jail when Sheriff Arthur was murdered though none saw the attack. Jenks Yarbrough, serving a 15-year prison sentence for a previous shooting of the Sheriff, testified he looked up when he heard the shot and saw Stalcup “holding a big gun.”

Inmates Curtis Squyres and Luther Hall both saw Stalcup with a “drawn pistol” after the shot rang out. Squyres hollered for help as Stalcup ran down the stairs. Stalcup yelled, “Shut your (expletive) mouth.” Hall saw Stalcup open the cell block door with keys in his left hand and saw Brown follow Stalcup down the stairs.

The Sheriff’s 12-year-old daughter Creola was home in her family’s first-floor jail apartment when she heard the shot. Tearfully, Creola told the jury she saw the jail door open and Stalcup with a gun. As Stalcup drove away in the Sheriff’s car, Creola chased on foot, returning to see her daddy’s lifeless body being carried down the stairs.

Stalcup never testified but granted interviews to a reporter during the trial. “I didn’t kill the man,” he said, refusing to name the shooter. He praised Sheriff Arthur. “I admired him myself. I respected him. He was always kind to me.”

A firearms expert testified the gun used to kill the Sheriff could not have been either of the two weapons known to belong to the Sheriff, a .38 and a .45. An older model revolver was presented as evidence. It had been left at Brown’s brother-in-law’s home by Stalcup and Brown after their jail break. However, no evidence was offered to show Brown’s wife smuggled the revolver into the jail, and no evidence connected the revolver to the Sheriff’s murder.

The State rested. The defense called a dozen quick but ineffective witnesses, most of whom had already testified for the State. Impassioned final argument lasted six hours on Monday, February 11, 1935, and jury deliberations began. The unanimous guilty verdict came at 9:13 Tuesday morning, and the jury recommended the death penalty. It was the first death sentence ever imposed by a Lubbock County jury.

Upon hearing his fate, Stalcup’s lips began to twitch. It was the only emotion he displayed during the entire trial, but it did not last long. Two minutes after the verdict, the condemned man was smiling as he shook hands with his lawyer.

***

In April of 1935, a slender and bespectacled Clarence Brown pled guilty to the Sheriff’s murder and was sentenced to 99 years in prison. He died in the Texas penitentiary in 1959. His wife Thelma was sentenced to two years in prison for smuggling the pistol into the jail. She served 13 months in the pen and seemed to disappear.

A year later, Stalcup’s appeals failed over the next year. He was returned from death row to Lubbock to receive his execution date. He spoke to reporters, who wrote he had, “lost his bravado and embraced the Catholic faith.” Again, he denied killing the Sheriff and complained of “perjured testimony” during his trial. “There’s a higher power that will even up all these things some time. They’ll have to pay for it someday.”

His execution date was scheduled for May 4, 1936. Stalcup left the courtroom arm-in-arm with his mother, but his wife and daughter were not present. During a search, authorities found he was in possession of Sheriff Arthur’s handcuff key, though it did not fit the shackles he was wearing.

The evening before he was to be electrocuted, Stalcup was offered a special last meal. He refused. At 12:03 am, he walked firmly to “Old Sparky” and died calmly without making a statement.

Stalcup was the 129th man to be executed by electrocution in Texas. The state’s electrocution method of execution, which began in 1924, took the lives of 361 men, no women. Since the first lethal injection took place in 1982, Texas has executed 573, including six women (through February of 2022).

A Diary of Declaration Readings

Declaration reading in Gail, Borden County, Texas, USA. Population 231. There may not be much to this one-jail-cell-town out on the Caprock of West Texas – except a great sense of American pride. The entire courthouse staff (yes, all six) showed up to support the reading today!

-Laurie Key, Lubbock

My Dad, Philip Fickman, despised tyrants and bullies. Perhaps that is because most of our family was murdered in the pogroms.

My Dad loved this country and the freedoms we are all guaranteed. He always made July 4th a fun celebration for my brothers and me. Annually, my Dad and the other young fathers on the block put on a large, joyous, and probably illegal, fireworks display in the middle of our street.

When I became a dad, I always hosted a big barbeque on July 4th. Everybody was eager to eat, but before we ate I had my young sons, Sam and Daniel, read aloud the first and last paragraphs of the Declaration of Independence. I wanted them to understand the meaning of this holiday.

By 2010, many members of the Harris County judiciary were acting as if they were King George III. They were stepping all over the rights of our clients. Like our Founders, the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association had finally suffered enough of this tyranny.

So, in 2010, before we headed out to our family barbeques and fireworks,  members of HCCLA staged a symbolic protest against our local tyrannical judges by reading the Declaration of Independence on the courthouse steps. We sought no permission. That would be akin to our Founding Fathers asking the king for permission to declare independence.

I told my sons about our readings and about how it all started in our backyard with them. They liked it and they were supportive. For several years, Sam, who has a film degree, has edited TCDLA Declaration reading videos.

This year, Sam and Daniel were in town. I invited them to join us in the reading.

Watching my sons read the Declaration of Independence was something I will always treasure. In strong, resolute voices, they joined me and my colleagues in open defiance of tyranny. These readings are not about my family or how we celebrated the 4th of July. These readings are about all our families and our communal rejection of tyranny inside and outside of the courthouse.

-Robb Fickman, Houston

The Henderson County Bar Association gathered on the courthouse steps Friday to read the Declaration of Independence. Congress signed the unanimous declaration of the united thirteen colonies of America on July 4, 1776. It is the foundation for this country.

As the words rang out over the square, flags waving, the voices of speakers bounced back in echoes from the other buildings confirming the eloquent and courageous words of freedom and independence:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness . . .”

A crowd gathered on the lawn to hear the words that still ring true today. Shana Stein Faulhaber, local event organizer, said the words move her to this day every time she reads or hears it.

“I still get goosebumps,” she said.

Although she is new to the area, she has quickly jumped in and embraced community involvement.

Zane Faulhaber closed the ceremony by playing the “Star Spangled Banner” on electric guitar.

The practice was originally started by a group of criminal defense attorneys and has quickly grown to a state-wide event.

-The Athens Review

Following our first reading in Hopkins County, we hit the road to read in Delta (Cooper) and Rains (Emory) counties. We then joined up with Mac Cobb to read the Declaration of Independence in Morris (Daingerfield), Marion (Jefferson), and Cass (Linden) counties. Six counties, lots of miles, a few mispronounced words, but high spirits.

-Brent McQueen, Sulphur Springs

Shelby County criminal defense lawyers Deck Jones, Jeff Adams, April Prince, and Stephen Shires gathered at the front of the Historic Shelby County Courthouse July 2, 2021, to give a ceremonial reading of the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights.

The Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association has encouraged this annual event since 2016 across the state of Texas.

An audience gathered in front of the courthouse to hear the lawyers recite the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights. Although a heavy rain moved in on the event, the lawyers pushed through until they completed their task.

-ShelbyCountyToday.com

A handful of citizens came out Friday at noon to the Hale County Courthouse as county lawyers conducted their annual reading of the Declaration of Independence as part of the Fourth of July holiday celebration. This was the eighth annual reading of the Declaration, a tradition started in Plainview in 2013. The reading is an event put on annually by the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association. Mayor Charles Starnes was among the nine readers during Friday afternoon’s reading.

-Plainview Herald

A long-standing tradition for South Plains lawyers kicked off Independence Day celebrations with a reading of the Declaration of Independence reminding us of all the Fourth of July isn’t just for cookouts and fireworks. It’s a time to celebrate the official beginning of our country.

EverythingLubbock.com

It was a great day for the readings in Archer, Baylor, Knox, Foard, and Wilbarger Counties. Thanks to Robb Fickman and Chuck Lanehart for helping with this tradition and my dear friends Scott Stillson and Todd Greenwood of Wichita Falls for the fun road trip.

-Dustin Nimz, Wichita Falls

Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Bowie County (Texarkana, Texas) and Miller County Texarkana, Arkansas) simultaneously in front of the Federal Courthouse with Mac Cobb and Jeff Harrelson.

-Brent McQueen, Sulphur Springs

Freedom and the liberties that come with it were celebrated ahead of the 4th of July holiday on Friday when attorneys recited the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights in front of the Brazos County courthouse.

The annual tradition is celebrated across more than 150 Texas counties. Locally, the event is organized by the Brazos County Defense Lawyers Association.

Local criminal defense attorney Shane Phelps helped organize the event. He says the time for complacency about freedoms in the United States and Texas is over. Phelps says citizens need to appreciate why we celebrate this holiday and understand and exercise our rights.

“We stop every year to celebrate the 4th of July, but sometimes we don’t really appreciate what it’s all about. This is an effort to try and remind people of the sacrifice that was made by our founders so that we can enjoy the freedoms we do,” said Phelps. “So before we get started on our parties and our barbecues and boating, it’s a good thing to hear the words of the founders in the Declaration and the Bill of Rights, so that we understand and appreciate as we enter this festive holiday weekend just how important those rights are to Americans in Texas.”

Phelps says it’s up to everyone, including attorneys, to help protect the rights of American citizens.

“Criminal defense attorneys are champions of liberty. We step into the courts of Texas every single day, and we defend these rights. We remind jurors and judges of the Fourth Amendment, the Fifth Amendment, the Sixth Amendment, all of those rights that guarantee freedom to citizens,” said Phelps. “An important message and important part of that is to understand that if you don’t know what your rights are and if you don’t exercise them, then when you really do need them, they’re just not going to be there.”

Cameron Reynolds, president of the Brazos County Defense Lawyers Association, says knowing your rights and freedoms is crucial, and more people should take the time to read the constitution and Bill of Rights. Reynolds says those documents are more than just words on paper.

“I’ve been doing this defense work for the better part of 25 years. I’ve represented judges, police officers, doctors, lawyers, and I can tell you it’s a lot different when something’s happening to them,” said Reynolds. “It doesn’t mean that much until something happens to you or your family. Then you realize, man, I really need this. I need these rights to mean something.”

-KBTX-TV, Bryan

To commemorate the Fourth of July holiday, the Harrison County Criminal Defense Lawyers Association will host the group’s ninth annual public reading of the Declaration of Independence, this Friday, July 2.

The event will begin at 11:30 a.m., in front of the working 1963-model Harrison County Courthouse, located at 200 West Houston St, and not at the historic courthouse.

“The public is invited,” organizers stated.

Those who want to participate remotely can watch the live broadcasting on KMHT radio’s Facebook page.

“This is the ninth annual reading in front of the Harrison County courthouse,” organizers said. “Your local defense bar is committed to protecting and ensuring by rule of law the individual rights guaranteed by the Texas and Federal Constitutions in criminal cases.”

The local defense lawyers will be joining other defense lawyers across Texas and the United States as they recite the Declaration of Independence.

In honor of the nation’s freedom, lawyers across the state pause for a few moments of the designated day to read the Declaration in front of Texas county courthouses, and anywhere globally that a Texas attorney is.

“Since 2010, Texas criminal defense lawyers have gathered on courthouse steps across the state early each July to publicly read the Declaration of Independence,” the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association’s website, www.tcdla.com, states. “The tradition—unlike any other in the nation — is supported by members of the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association.”

The event has been carried on locally, in Marshall, since 2012.

-The Marshall News-Messenger

Miles: 250

Courthouses: 5

Speeding tickets: 1

Happy Birthday, America!

#tcdlastrong

-Michelle Ochoa, Beeville

After I participated in the wonderful, colorful,  inspirational 11th annual Lubbock Criminal defense Lawyers Declaration reading the morning of July 2, I changed into my snazzy US flag shirt in honor of my great friend, the late David Hazlewood, who never missed an LCDLA Declaration reading and always wore is lag shirt. Then  it the road for the Texas  Hill  country, companionless, in my beat-up Chevy Tahoe. Along the way, I read the Declaration  of Independence in Post, Sweetwater, Coleman, Brady, and Llano.

Unfortunately, I forgot my own advice and did not forewarn the citizenry to witness my oratory until I was five miles outside of Post. I phoned my buddy Ted Weems, the Garza County Attorney, but he was out. His assistant promised to come downstairs with the County Judge, his secretary, and maybe others to hear my presentation.

I guess the assistant was like me—forgetful—and no one from inside the courthouse appeared. A random young lady happened to wander up the courthouse steps, and she enthusiastically took my photo,  but she did not stick around to hear my rendition of the Declaration.

In Sweetwater, another young lady—wearing a US flag scarf—firmly refused to photograph me and hurried away as if I were a leper. So, I took my first snapshot self-portrait—known as a “selfie”—with my trusty cell phone camera.

The friendly Justice of the Peace court coordinator was my only audience in Coleman, and she graciously agreed to take my picture.

The courthouse in Brady was closed. With no assemblage, I delivered the most eloquent recitation of the Declaration heard anywhere ever, and there is no evidence to the contrary. Having mastered the art of the selfie, I snapped away, shuddering at my semblance.

When I arrived at the beautiful Llano County Courthouse, I was confronted with driving rain, so I ducked into the quaint gazebo on the courthouse square and read the Great Document. I did the selfie thing again: I hope it was my last.

What a hoot! Six counties, 304 miles, and three selfies. God Bless America!

-Chuck Lanehart, Lubbock

Over in Marathon, there was a Dog and Pony Show parade Saturday morning with  Brewster County Sheriff Ronnie Dodson leading participants through downtown. There was also a chili cook-off, dancing under the stars, and fireworks.

Marfa was mostly quiet over the weekend but famed criminal defense lawyer Dick DeGuerin continued his tradition of reading the Declaration of Independence aloud to a gathered crowd in front of the Presidio County Courthouse.

-Big Bend Sentinel

Judy and I  have read the Declaration in ten countries, including Russia twice on our travels as United Methodist missionaries. Here we are in Prague, only a few feet from a Jewish internment camp from Hitler’s death squads. It gave us a great sense of pride to be free and standing over so many who were gassed and horribly mistreated. So many people from foreign countries came up to us and simply said, “Yah! Yah!” Meaning yes to the end of tyranny and injustice!

-Ken Mingledorff, Houston

Travis County attorneys and TCDLA staff gathered outside of the Blackwell-Thurman Criminal Courthouse in Austin for our annual Declaration of independence reading. While this year’s reading didn’t feature our usual donut and coffee reception, we were pleased to keep the tradition alive, even during a pandemic. In the rare in-person gathering, the Austin Criminal Defense Lawyers Association members were pleased to see their colleagues and participate in this meaningful reminder of our shared passion for defending our community.

 – Bradley Hargis, Austin

Get Back to Where You Once Belonged: TCDLA Declaration Readings July 2, 2021

It is early July. The morning is crisp and cool in the Texas town. Just before 9 o’clock, people converge from all directions, mingling on the shady west lawn of the courthouse square. Nearby, a historic whitewashed gazebo is the meeting place for a dozen or so well-dressed local attorneys.

A young lawyer curls her baby in her arms as an older lawyer shoos his toddler grandson from the makeshift stage. Children seem to be everywhere, running across the expansive grassy space with little American flags. Clerks, judges, and prosecutors file out from the courthouse to join the multitude for the familiar annual patriotic ceremony.

A man stands tall before the gazebo and proudly announces the reason for the gathering. He leads the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance. “God Bless America” follows, performed by a talented young lawyer in a dazzling blue dress. A few tears are dabbed away.

The lawyers take turns reading the paragraphs of the great document. Some readers are talented orators, powerful advocates familiar to all. Others have lesser voices, but even the small children are silent, spellbound by the majesty of the message.

Another lawyer in a blue dress belts out a rousing rendition of “This Land is Your Land,” with everyone joining the chorus and clapping hands. Kids dance. There are hugs and group photos, interviews from the local media and salutations all around. Everyone is excited to do it all over again next year.

But next year is 2020. The pandemic hamstrings TCDLA’s great tradition of sponsoring local readings of the Declaration of Independence. Many local criminal defense lawyers are able to stage modified readings, mindful of health concerns. It is certainly not the same.

Meanwhile, the pandemic kills more than half a million Americans. What it can never kill is the American quest for liberty. The principles enunciated in the Declaration of Independence are eternal for all Americans.

By July 2021, it seems likely the TCDLA Declaration readings will return to normal. It is a chance for Texas criminal defense lawyers to publicly champion liberty and individual rights.

The founder of this wonderful tradition—Robert Fickman of Houston—will join me in coordinating statewide readings again this year. Those of you who have been involved in the past—you know who you are—will soon be contacted with information about the 2021 readings.

Visit TCDLA.com to see county coordinators. Email  to be added. Watch the 2020 TCDLA Declaration Video.

Please join us in honoring our nation’s most sacred document in the spirit of independence.

WE WILL NOT BE DETERRED: Reading of the Declaration of Independence 2020

TCDLA is committed to celebrating our freedoms by organizing local readings of the Declaration of Independence throughout Texas every year. This year, perhaps more than ever, our annual patriotic project is especially warranted.

Criminal defense lawyers are at the point of the spear against despots, unreasonable laws, and misguided regulations. We therefore must remind the public how America’s founding document is relevant even in the face of a worldwide pandemic.

State Declaration reading co-organizer Robert Fickman and I invite all members to celebrate the Declaration of Independence on or about July 3 in a reasonable fashion depending on health risk circumstances. We hope you will follow whatever social distancing measures are recommended in your community. It may mean just one TCDLA member will read the Declaration on the courthouse steps without inviting an audience. It may mean a ZOOM reading. Whatever works best in your town is okay, as long as the Declaration gets read. As always, your event should be properly memorialized, so please send TCDLA your best photos/selfies of the reading, and please post the pix on social media.

We will not be deterred by the pandemic. Our commitment to the principles enunciated in the Declaration has never been stronger.

THE SAGA OF SLIPPERY SAM CATES, Crosby County’s Crafty Miscreant

Two shotgun blasts 100 years ago rocked Crosbyton, exposing the tiny Texas South Plains town as a seeming cauldron of sexual promiscuity, leading to death, scandal, and intrigue. Yet the compelling Roaring Twenties tale of Sam Cates, at the center of the drama, seems to have been forgotten. Until now…

Cates and Burton

Samuel Wavely Cates was born to Maggie and Samuel Absalom Cates in McKinney, Texas, in 1896.1 The fourth of 11 children, he completed eight years of school.2

Little is known of his childhood, but a family tragedy must have had a devastating effect on young Sam. In 1915, Sam’s father, Samuel, attended a Methodist Church ladies’ box supper at Jean, in north Central Texas. Following the meal, Samuel was shot three times and killed.3 He was 49 years old.

Two young men were arrested for the killing of Samuel but no-billed by the grand jury.4 Predictably, there was idle talk in the Young County community about the reason the men were not prosecuted.5 Samuel’s 47-year-old widow, Maggie, was left to care for her three youngest children on her own. She never remarried and died at age 82.6

Samuel’s son, Sam, was rather small, 5’8” tall and 135 pounds, with brown eyes, light hair, and gold crowns covered his two front teeth. He did not smoke or drink.7

His registration form for the 1918 World War I draft listed his occupation as “farmer,” and he listed his residence with his mother in Walters, Oklahoma.8 Perhaps Sam was attempting to dodge the draft, for he did not live in Oklahoma in 1918. Since 1917, he had lived in the tiny South Plains town of Crosbyton—population 800.9

Sometime prior to 1920, Sam was accused of homicide, though no details of the crime are known. Attorney J.W. Burton of Crosbyton was said to have helped him avoid the hoosegow.10

Joseph Warren Burton was born in Iowa in 1873. He and his wife, Metta, an Indiana native, were married in 1905. According to a newspaper account, he was the first man to settle the town of Crosbyton, yet no evidence backs the dubious claim.11 12 He was “a well-known practicing lawyer” on the South Plains and was called “Judge” Burton.13 There is no record of J.W. having served on the bench, but his father was once a district judge in Iowa.14

Despite the mysteries surrounding the relationship between J.W. and Sam, it is clear J.W. hired young Sam to work as a clerk in his law office and as a chauffeur for his wife, Metta.15 16 Sam also boarded at the Burton home.17

The Killing

On Monday, March 8, 1920, Sam drove to Lubbock to pick up Metta, who had been hospitalized for a “mental and nervous” condition.18 When Sam and Metta returned to their Crosbyton home at about 10 p.m., J.W. was waiting.19

Jealous accusations flew, as Metta accused her husband of having an affair with her young niece, Florence Carlton, a houseguest. Sam had informed Metta that, while she was away, J.W. and Flo had taken two excursions, one to Lubbock and one to “the canyon,” each time returning home after midnight.20

Sam told Metta, “They might have found an opportunity for the gratification of any mutual desire they might have had.”21 According to Sam, “Mrs. Burton had been taught from past bitter experiences that her husband was not immune from the lure of the opposite sex.”22

Then all hell broke loose.

Metta began “fighting and upbraiding” her husband, Sam said. J.W. accused Sam of spreading lies about Flo and the lawyer. He told Sam to leave the Burton home the following morning. As Sam described the scene, an enraged J.W.—over six feet tall—suddenly attacked the smaller Sam and then backed Metta against a wall, violently beating and choking his wife.23 24 25 

Sam settled the dispute. He grabbed a shotgun and fired two blasts, the first hitting the lawyer’s arm, a superficial wound. The second blast, to J.W.’s side, proved fatal.26

Sam placed a pillow beneath the head of the dying lawyer and apologized.  “Mr. Burton, I’m awful sorry this happened.” He heard J.W.’s reply, “Sam, I jumped on the wrong man, I jumped on two innocent kids.”27 J.W. clung to life and remained conscious for hours, whispering his last words early Tuesday morning. He was 46 years old.28

Metta’s Will

If J.W. Burton left a will, it was never probated.29

Immediately after J.W.’s death, Metta executed her will, leaving almost half of her estate to Sam Cates! Within a few weeks, the widow was dead. “Her constant refusal of nourishment in any form, together with the sorrow caused by the untimely death of her husband is conceded to have been the cause of her death,” according to her obituary.30 She was 45. Sam’s inheritance amounted to about $7,000, worth $90,000 in present-day dollars.31

The relationship between 23-year-old Sam and 45-year-old Metta must have generated much local gossip. Sam eventually admitted the couple was involved in a torrid two-year sexual affair.32

Another major beneficiary of Metta’s estate was her maid and cook, 22-year-old Mary Steffen. Mary, who had worked for the Burtons since age 16, was—like Sam—bestowed property valued at $90,000 in modern dollars.33

A smaller bequeath went to J.W.’s law partner, Parke N. Dalton, who may have also had a love affair with Metta.34 35 

Despite the shameful controversy, J.W. and Metta Burton were buried side-by-side in an Iowa cemetery.36

The First Trial

The district attorney and district judge arrived in Crosbyton and conducted a “preliminary trial,” probably an examining trial. Sam was immediately arrested and jailed.37

In May of 1920—only three months after the shooting—the Crosby County Courthouse was the setting for Sam’s trial. The indictment charged “murder with malice aforethought,” a capital crime. If convicted, Sam faced the prospect of execution by hanging.38 39

The prosecution alleged Metta and Sam conspired to murder J.W..40 There was speculation Sam would enter a plea of insanity, but instead Sam said he acted in self-defense and in defense of Metta.41 42

The jury was told of Metta’s generous bequest in favor of Sam. They also heard of Sam’s intense interest—from jail—of whether Metta had executed her will before her death.43

Sam testified, and denied having a sexual relationship with Metta.44 But in later court documents, he described their love affair in quaint prose.

Sam “had access to the person of Mrs. Burton almost as unlimited and free as that of the deceased himself,” court pleadings revealed. “Such relations were invited by Mrs. Burton and took place not only in distant parts of the country, but also in the home of the deceased.”45

Sam attempted to deflect the issue of his inheritance from Metta. He alleged one of the State’s witnesses, attorney Parke N. Dalton, had engaged in a love affair with Metta. Dalton was J.W.’s law partner and was left a small inheritance from the lawyer’s wife.46

An eyewitness to the shooting was 22-year-old Mary Steffen, the Burton’s maid and cook.47 She was expected to be the prosecution’s most important witness.48 Instead, Mary testified for the defense. She portrayed J.W. as the aggressor on the night of March 8, “jumping” on Sam and choking Metta.49

However, on cross-examination, Mary’s testimony did not help Sam.

The defense argued the prosecution used unreasonable pressure to persuade Mary to reveal evidence harmful to Sam’s defense. According to Sam’s lawyers, “She was not accustomed to quick thinking . . .  readily susceptible to psychological suggestion.”50

She described in explicit detail Sam’s love affair with Metta, including far-flung liaisons she witnessed in Texas, Iowa, and Illinois.51 Mary’s testimony may have sealed Sam’s fate. She said a defenseless J.W. was on the ground—and not choking his wife—when the fatal second shot was fired.52

Several State’s witnesses discredited Sam’s claim that J.W. choked Metta, offering testimony that there were no marks or bruises found on Mrs. Burton’s neck.53

The defense countered, “Mrs. Burton was wearing a high fur collar closely fastened about her neck . . .  of sufficient thickness to have prevented . . .  the leaving of marks upon the flesh of her neck.”54

The prosecution made a “herculean effort” to obtain the death penalty.55 Sam dodged the hangman’s noose but was convicted and sentenced to 99 years in prison.56 He appealed.57

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled in Sam’s favor: The evidence of his inheritance from J.W.’s wife Metta was inadmissible.58 The matter was returned to Crosby County for a new trial, but the case was so notorious, an impartial jury could not be found.59 Lubbock County was chosen for a change of venue.60

The Second Trial

Lubbock was four times larger than Crosbyton but was still a small town—population of 4,000. The city was just 40 miles west of Crosbyton, so the residents had been subjected to a fair amount of publicity on the Sam Cates case in the Lubbock Avalanche. But it was June of 1921, and the Burton killing was now a year in the past. Twelve male jurors were chosen in less than a day.61

Sam’s defense lawyer was the powerful W.H. Bledsoe of Lubbock, famous for winning an acquittal for his client in the first Lubbock County murder trial eight years earlier.62 In 1923, as state senator, Bledsoe would sponsor legislation that brought Texas Technological College to Lubbock.63 The establishment of the college was the defining moment in the educational, economic, and cultural history of Lubbock.

How Sam was able to afford such a prominent attorney is curious, as Sam’s inheritance from Metta never materialized. Her sister, Letta McCullough of Illinois, contested the will. Many witnesses testified Metta was of “unsound mind” when she executed the document.64 Affidavits were filed claiming she was “ranting and raving” much of the time following her husband’s death.65

Witnesses said Metta suffered from a variety of “mental and nervous diseases” for many months. After her husband’s death, she would talk about how much she loved “poor Jodie,” which was J.W.’s nickname. In the next breath, she would talk about her affection for “poor Sam,” and then she would rage against everyone in Crosbyton in the most “vile and obscene language.”66

The probate judge agreed the will was illegitimate.67 Both Sam and Mary Steffen lost their claims to Metta’s estate.68 Ironically, Bledsoe represented the successful will contestant, Letta McCullough.69

It seems the lawyer who convinced the court to deny Sam his inheritance would have a serious conflict of interest representing the same man in his murder trial, but that’s exactly what happened. Perhaps legal ethical rules of the day were not well understood or enforced. Or did Bledsoe feel guilty and offer to represent Sam pro bono? No records show Bledsoe was court-appointed, so the matter remains a mystery.70

The Crosbyton Review and the Lubbock Avalanche published dramatic accounts of the second trial in June 1921.

The gathering of legal talent could have been called the West Texas “dream team” of the 1920s.

The defense was led by Bledsoe, assisted by Lloyd Wicks of Ralls and Lubbock lawyers W.C. Huffhines and Clark Mullican. Prosecutors were District Attorney Gordon McGuire of Lamesa, R.E. Underwood of Amarillo, Parke Dalton of Crosbyton, and John R. McGee, Lubbock county attorney.71 Judge W.R. Spencer, the first district judge to be based in Lubbock, presided.72

Many witnesses were “taken through a close examination, and when the State would draw out several points in their favor, the counsel of the defendant would tear down the evidence until so to speak, they would break about even.”73

Metta’s niece, Florence Carlton, a houseguest at the time of the shooting—and accused by the defense of having an affair with J.W.—testified she heard no threats from the lawyer.74 She saw Sam fire both shots and saw J.W. lying on the ground when the second shot was fired.75

Sam testified for five hours. “Answering in a very mild and polite tone of voice, and sometimes with a smile,” he swore J.W. attacked him and then attacked Metta.76

He said his first shot was not to kill, but to show he meant business. Sam said he accidentally wounded J.W. in the arm. The lawyer did not fall but continued to choke his wife. J.W. cried, “Kill me, damn you!” Sam then shot to kill.77

“I knew at this time my life was in danger,” Sam testified. “Judge Burton was in the habit of keeping a revolver in the house. I have known him carrying a revolver with him. He was looking for trouble all the time.”78

If J.W. was in the act of choking his wife when Sam fired the shotgun, it is remarkable Metta was not injured by the deadly blast.

The prosecution subpoenaed Mary Steffen to repeat her vivid description of Sam and Metta’s love affair, and to testify she saw a defenseless and wounded J.W. on the ground when Sam shot-gunned the lawyer to death.

However, in a bizarre but brilliant move, minutes before she was to take the witness stand, Mary and Sam were joined in holy matrimony in a civil ceremony at the courthouse! Mary’s testimony, harmful to Sam’s case, was never heard, barred by the marital privilege.79

The legal-stunt marriage probably saved Sam from a much longer prison term. After a week-long trial, the Lubbock jury convicted Sam and sentenced him to 14 years in the Texas penitentiary.80

The law of the era provided a successful appeal and retrial could result in no worse than the lenient 14-year sentence Sam received. So, with little downside to filing an appeal, Sam’s lawyers took his case to the Court of Criminal Appeals a second time.81

But this time his appeal did not get far, because Sam took an unauthorized leave of absence.

The Escape

In August of 1921, while housed at the Lubbock County Jail awaiting transfer to prison, Sam wrote a letter to Clyde Anderson of Dallas: “Listen, Clyde, we are in great need of some ‘hack saws.’ You get a half dozen, and pack them in a box of candy. You know how to pack them so ‘would-be Sheriff’ won’t find them. Do this as quick as possible. Address the candy to Hewlett Smith, your brother. Have it to return to a fake name, you will know how to do that old stuff.” A deputy intercepted the note, and no hack saws were delivered to the jail, averting a possible getaway.82

A month later, when Lubbock County Sheriff Charles A. Holcomb and his wife, Minnie, served lunch at the jail, Sam and two other prisoners attacked.83

The sheriff fought back, but the prisoners overpowered him, and Sam took the sheriff’s gun, commanding Holcomb: “Throw up your hands! Put ‘em up!”84

As Sam held the gun on the sheriff, the others attempted to gag his wife and “choked her severely.”85 Suddenly, Deputy Sheriff John McCulloch appeared and leveled his pistol on Sam.86

The sheriff shouted, “Shoot him, John!” The deputy fired, but the bullet passed under Cate’s arm. After the deputy’s miss, Sam sprang for the door. The sheriff took advantage of the chaos and tackled Sam, wrestling the gun away. All prisoners were subdued.87

When the dust settled, the inmates were locked away in the jail’s “dark cell,” which the sheriff thought was escape-proof.88 As Sheriff Holcomb busied himself investigating a major chicken theft involving 35 hens and seven fryers, he was confident the prisoners were secure in his dungeon.89

But the sheriff was wrong.

On September 30, 1921, Sam and his accomplice, Hewlett Smith, busted out of jail.90 Parts of their cots were strewn about the cell, and a small steel bar about the size of a pencil was also found.91 It was a mystery how the two broke out of the escape-proof dark cell.

Later, the sheriff gave the editor of the Crosbyton Review a tour of Sam’s escape route. The editor wrote, “It is a miracle how Cates and his companion effected their escape from the dark cell, but after going through the jail and having the situation fully explained, one is convinced that such a thing is possible, for the time lock on the cell is defective and a mastermind with nothing else to do but experiment with such things might do wonders.”92

Sam left what might be described as a sarcastically tender parting note to Sheriff Holcomb: “Dear Charlie and Family, I hope you all the best of luck all the rest of your days. Don’t think too hard of me for doing this. I too am very sorry for our other troubles so please forgive me. If you people don’t ever catch me, you can bet that I will always be a good boy. Give my best regards to my Mary. With love, always, Sam.”93

Sam and his accomplice, Smith, went their separate ways after the jailbreak.94 Three days later, traveling by foot at night, Sam reached Seminole. He caught a ride to Midland, sold his watch to his driver, and used the money to reach El Paso. He made his way to Mexico and eventually surfaced in the remote desert town of Indio, California. Using the name of John Lewis, he waited tables at a restaurant and made many friends in the small town of about 1,000 residents.95

The Recapture

Unfortunately for Sam, he made the mistake of telling a friend he was wanted by the law in Texas. The remark was passed along and reached the local sheriff’s office. In January of 1922, a deputy approached Sam from behind as he was cutting bread in the restaurant. He pressed the barrel of a revolver against Sam’s back and ordered him to put his hands in the air, but the outlaw kept the knife in his hands until forced to drop it. Sam was handcuffed and initially feigned ignorance of his Texas arrest warrants, but he soon admitted his identity.96

Upon his recapture in California, Sam had $250 in the bank ($3,000 in current dollars), fine clothes, and other valuable possessions. A letter signed by Indio’s most prominent citizens attested to his excellent character.97 He had been in Indio less than four months.

His employer said, “He was very faithful and honest with me,” and asked authorities to keep him informed of Sam’s fate.98 He seemed always to be “a good boy” in Indio.

Sheriff Holcomb hurried to California to retrieve Sam, the man who had held a gun on the sheriff and choked his wife during a failed escape attempt. He was naturally curious how Sam had broken out of the sheriff’s not-so-inescapable “dark cell.”99

Sam was happy to brag on his intricate and complicated jailbreak. The Avalanche reported, “He and Smith worked out a plan for turning the combination on the jail with a belt made of strips of their cot, opening the other doors and locks with a mechanical device constructed of the lumber in the cot, using as a guide to direct their work on one of the taps they had to take off a small looking glass which was fastened to a long cot rail. The wrench they constructed of two pieces of the cot, making a V shape instrument out of it, pounding the tap off after several tedious attempts and when they finally reached the top of the jail and the open windows, made a ladder of what sheeting and other cloth they had in their cell and swung to the ground.”100

Meanwhile, the Court of Criminal Appeals refused to hear Sam’s appeal of his 14-year Lubbock County murder sentence, deciding “the jurisdiction of the appellate court does not attach because of the escape pending appeal.”101

The Penitentiary

Soon transported back to Lubbock for court, Sam had two years added to his penitentiary term for his assault of Sheriff Holcomb during his failed jailbreak in 1921.102 In addition, Sam was sentenced to four years in prison for a Crosby County forgery, with the sentence to run concurrently with his other convictions.103 The assault sentence was stacked atop the 14-year murder judgment, so he was to be imprisoned for a total of 16 years.

His prison release date was calculated: February 25, 1938, when Sam would be 42 years old.104  Sam set about to rearrange his release date. 

Soon after arriving at an East Texas penitentiary in March of 1922, Sam appeared to assume the demeanor of a model prisoner. He wrote to the Avalanche, reporting the prison library had burned all its books. Sam politely requested donations for the new library, and the newspaper promised to send a carload of books and magazines.105

But Sam had no plans for casual reading.

Within a year of writing the letter, Sam sawed through the bars of his cell window, stole a car, and escaped.106 When recaptured, “20 lashes” were ordered, but somehow the “punishment [was] set aside and lost [good] time restored,” according to his prison conduct record.107

In 1926, after having served less than four years of his 16-year sentence, Sam was granted a full pardon by Texas Governor Miriam “Ma” Ferguson, and he was released from prison.108

Governor Ferguson—who granted more than 4,000 pardons during a four-year period—was rumored to have granted many reprieves in exchange for cash payments.109 Most of Ferguson’s pardons were for those convicted of liquor-related crimes during the Prohibition era.110 As Sam was not a bootlegger and apparently had little money, it is a mystery why he was favored by the governor’s pardon.

The Aftermath

In 1940, census records show Sam was living in Harris County and was employed as a cook at a downtown restaurant. He was divorced, and there is no record he ever fathered children.111

Mary—the girl Sam wed just before she was to testify against him—seems to have disappeared after her name appeared in the 1920 census as a “servant” in the Burton home.112 Records indicate she may have been buried in Wisconsin in 1966 at age 66 or 67.113

When he registered for the 1942 World War II draft, Sam was 45 years old. In 1918, he had registered for the draft during World War I, but never served in the military during either World War.114

In his 1942 draft registration documents, Sam described himself as self-employed and gave the same address he gave as his place of employment in the 1940 census. Perhaps by 1942 he was the proprietor of the downtown Houston restaurant.115

Nothing more is known of Sam’s life after 1942. He died in 1984 at age 87 and is buried in Parker County, Texas.116

It seems Sam Cates, Crosby County’s crafty miscreant, was “always a good boy” after his pardon by Governor Ferguson. He had no more troubles with the law and made no more daring escapes.

It remains a mystery how Slippery Sam—mostly—got away with it all.

Reading Old Words Is Good for the Soul

Perhaps my earliest memory as a baby lawyer was watching worried law professors and bar leaders wringing their hands, wondering: “How can we improve our image as lawyers? Pro bono work? Public service? Legal ethics education?” Nothing seemed to work. I soon realized the cynical conventional wisdom of Shakespeare’s often misinterpreted “Let’s kill all the lawyers” philosophy is a universal truth among the public, especially in the case of criminal defense lawyers.

PR is a tricky deal for criminal defense lawyers. The public generally regards us with a disgust and repulsion commensurate with that caused by the most heinous crime currently featured on local TV. We are obliged to say “no comment” a lot: very poor PR. Sometimes we win, but only our clients are happy. When we lose, almost everyone is grateful. So, in 1970, we formed a support group called the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, partly to address our public relations problem.

Almost half a century later, the July 2016 TCDLA-endorsed statewide reading of the Declaration of Independence is the single greatest public relations success in our association’s history, in my humble opinion. TCDLA has a wonderful tradition of supporting important legal challenges, spearheading essential legislative reforms, protecting its members and spreading comprehensive legal knowledge, but we are about the only ones who notice these accomplishments. So, we spend a great deal of time and effort congratulating ourselves for our successes (including this column). Meanwhile, we try to put our best foot forward for the public. After a six-year incubation period, this year’s Declaration readings became a ubiquitous lawyer feel-good movement, embraced by the public and media seemingly everywhere. Because of this grand focus of attention, the public was made aware that we are something more than mere zealous representatives of the citizen accused. Perhaps they thought, “These guys and gals are patriots just like me.”

But it was more than a PR stunt and much more than just a show for the public. It was like the culmination of a twelve-step program that made us, the lawyers, feel good. It galvanized the criminal defense bar for a unified, worthwhile, statewide show of support for the most basic of our American values. It made us feel patriotic on the most American day of the year. It transcended our roles as advocates for the little guys. It reinforced the reasons we choose to live here and do what we do for a living.

Here’s how it all started.

In Roswell, New Mexico, on a hot Independence Day evening in the early ’60s, a kid named Robbie Fickman witnessed the gleeful camaraderie of his father Philip and his buddies as they exploded fireworks in the street, a blatant violation of some silly city ordinance. It was a small rebellion that Robbie remembered. By the time he had kids of his own, the man now known as Robb famously required them to recite parts of the Declaration of Independence before indulging in July 4th festivities to instill in them the proper meaning of our national holiday celebrating revolution.

In 2010, Robb was a well-established Houston criminal defense lawyer. He and others in the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association (HCCLA) were frustrated by years of adversarial relationships with the local judiciary. Robb suggested a symbolic, peaceful sort of protest against the modern-day tyrants who ruled the courthouse like Britain’s George III once ruled the colonies: HCCLA members would recite the Declaration of Independence on the courthouse steps just before July 4th. With backs to the courthouse. Without permission from anyone. About 15 lawyers read the great document, some media showed up, everyone got a big kick out of it, and the seeds of a movement were sown.

Annual Declaration readings by individuals and groups of criminal defense lawyers slowly spread across the state and nation.1 By 2015, TCDLA and many local criminal defense organizations had embraced the tradition, and on July 3 of last year, readings were held in 139 Texas counties, in several sister states, and in a couple of places overseas.2 Robb decided he would go “whole hog” in 2016, and in February, he asked TCDLA members for help in organizing a statewide campaign to hold readings in each of Texas’ 254 counties.

A dozen volunteers from all parts of the state answered Robb’s call to arms.3 The first agenda item was to name this small army. “Robb’s Texas Rangers” was suggested. As was “Fickman’s Foo Fighters.” Considering the seemingly impossible task of covering the huge expanse of Texas, “Fickman’s Folly” seemed appropriate.4 Instead, the optimists prevailed, and “F Troop” was chosen.5

F Troop went to battle, badgering lawyers statewide to lead local readings. Tens of thousands of emails and phone calls were exchanged over a period of about 15 weeks. A promotional video was produced, and an interactive map of counties and their Declaration leaders went online.6 On May 26, all the arm-twisting paid off. It was announced that each county in Texas had been claimed: 254 county seats plus a reading in the Big Bend, and supplemental readings in Bandera County (Vanderpool in addition to the county seat) and Grimes County (Navasota in addition to the county seat), 257 readings in all.7

The promotional budget for the project was zero. Some leaders donated a few of their own dollars for the campaign, but TCDLA was out nothing, other than the cost of a few plaques to recognize the members of F Troop. The leaders and readers donated untold amounts of valuable time and billable hours. Some traveled hundreds of miles on their own dimes to reach every far-flung village in the hinterlands.

Aside from a small Smith County flare-up, the readings were a huge success.8 Readers and organizers gushed on social me­dia about their special experiences in every venue, audience members expressed appreciation in every corner of the state, and newspapers and TV stations were universally positive in their Declaration-reading coverage.

The effect on individual TCDLA members who participated in the event was poignant. As is reflected in the accompanying article, one of the main themes running through their Declaration-reading stories is not patriotism or lawyerism, but family. Lawyers involved daughters and sons, spouses, grandchildren—even in-laws—in the readings. It was a way to inspire and connect, to educate and enlighten those who watch us struggle daily in our careers, perhaps without a clear understanding of what moves us to do what we must do. Those who participated should now know.

I will be surprised if TCDLA does not see a marked increase in membership as a result of this event, and participating local bars should experience a similar jump in interest. Even if mem­ber­ship is unaffected, the event should be heavily promoted every year, if for no other reason than the good it does for our collective souls.

Finally, I am reminded of a backhanded compliment I’ve heard from prosecutors and judges for many years: “That’s a true believer.” The statement says more about the prosecutor or judge than the intended target of the comment, I think. Many prosecutors and judges prefer to deal with criminal defense lawyers who are pragmatic and easy, who will convince clients to plead out to unreasonable deals, who will do anything to avoid a trial. They prefer defense lawyers who ignore their duty to zealously represent clients. A “true believer” is a criminal defense lawyer who regularly gets under the skins of prosecutors and judges, who always remembers his or her duty, and whose inspiration is the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights.

Every TCDLA member who took part in the 2016 Declaration readings is not only an advocate and a patriot, but also “a true believer.”

Notes

1. 2010: Houston (about 15 readers).
2011: 30+ counties.
2012: 24 counties.
2013: 51 counties.
2014: 74 counties.
2015: 139 counties.
2016: 257 readings in 254 counties.

2. The experience of Declaration reading lends itself to wonderful experiences and stories. It is one reason readers seem to come back every year. Here’s a story Robb Fickman likes to tell:

Last year I drove to Liberty with Christina Appelt. I did the reading. We left and drove toward Kountze to do the reading there. I was speeding and got pulled over in some little East Texas town. I think the guy who pulled me over must have been the police chief. He had every police badge/sash/braid known to man attached to his uniform. He was dressed more like a Banana Republic Dictator than a cop. I thought, “Oh hell, what’s this guy gonna do to me?”

He approached the window and asked in a rough sarcastic voice if I had some kind of emergency. I said no, and then I paused and said, “But I am working on a special project.”

That piqued his interest. He probably didn’t get that line much. He asked, “What’s that?”

I then told him I was working with a group of lawyers reading the Declaration across Texas. I left out we were defense lawyers, as that fact was not helpful to my narrative.

I showed him my copy of the Declaration and Christina showed him photos of the courthouses in Liberty & Kountze. After listening to my story, he studied my copy of the Declaration. Then his demeanor changed. He smiled and in a friendly tone he pronounced: “I like that. I appreciate y’all doing this. Why don’t we just call this one a warning?”

We shook hands and we were off. I said to Christina, “Well now we really have to go to Kountze. He may know someone there.” And that’s how reading the Declaration saved my Liberty.

3. F Troop includes 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.

4. This is a subtle historical reference to “Seward’s Folly.” William Seward was the U.S. Secretary of State who engineered the purchase of Alaska for $7 million from Russia (1867). Detractors called it “Seward’s Folly.” Similarly, Robert Fickman is the TCDLA leader who attempted to engineer a task most everyone agreed was sheer folly.

5. “F Troop” was a satirical American TV sitcom about U.S. soldiers and Native Americans in the Wild West during the 1860s that originally aired for two seasons on ABC.

6. The promotional video, produced by Sam Fickman of Los Angeles, and the interactive map, created by Charles Blevins of Lubbock, are available on the TCDLA home page: www.tcdla.com.

7. In addition to Texas, 2016 Declaration readings were held by criminal defense lawyers in San Diego, California; Angel Fire, New Mexico; Sienna, Italy; and Prague, Czechoslovakia.

8. https://www.tylerpaper.com/TP-News+Local/238023/kerry-max-cook-joins-criminal-defense-lawyers-in-reading-declaration-of-independence.