Jeep Darnell

Jeep Darnell received his Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science from Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi, and received his law degree from the University of Oklahoma. Jeep is licensed to practice in Texas and New Mexico and licensed to practice before the United States District Courts for the Western District of Texas, the District of New Mexico and the Eastern District of Wisconsin as well as the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. Jeep has represented clients in everything from administrative hearings to felony trials and appeals and has a civil practice as well. He is a member of the El Paso Bar Association Board of Directors and a member of the TCDLA Executive Committee, Board of Directors, COVID-19 Task Force, and CDLP Committee, and serves as either chair or co-chair of the Technology Committee, Membership Committee and Listserve Committee. Jeep has spoken at seminars across Texas teaching lawyers about all aspects of criminal defense. Jeep is married to Meghan Darnell and they have two little boys, James Ford and Kennedy Patrick.

Editor’s Comment: June 2022

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Anymore I dread turning on the news every morning. I used to be a news junkie, but I just can’t handle it. I used to watch the news on TV while I got ready, and then I’d listen to NPR on my way to drop my oldest son off at school and then on my way to the office. Aside from the fact that each day’s news seems to only be more depressing than the day before, I have reached my limit on the injection of political ideology into the legal system. I know ‑ it’s always been there, and it always will be, but it seems that the American legal system has recently become the pawn in the game of politics. And that’s a dangerous path to traverse. The issue has become so pervasive that I have asked my friend and former Editor, Sarah Roland, to co‑write this column.

Take for example Operation Lone Star; no greater waste of money and resources may have ever been undertaken just so the Governor can use human beings as puppets to try to claim victory for his party and mouth off to the President of the United States. And now, the Governor is helping fund  this  Operation with over $30 million diverted from the already troubled Juvenile Justice Department. Meanwhile, the rights of hundreds, if not thousands, of criminal defendants hang in the balance while a few of our brothers and sisters, like Angelica Cogliano who is a member of this editorial board, fight to protect their bare minimum constitutional rights. Thank you to those in this fight.

Another example is the recent leak of the draft opinion from the United States Supreme Court in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. It’s unprecedented. There’s no real point to address the merits of the legal analysis in Dobbs yet since this is just a draft, after all. And we’re not here to argue whether abortion should be legal or not (you can likely guess both of our viewpoints), but how are we to feel confident in our system of justice if the highest court in the land no longer has dignity and is simply playing politics, or worse, has become relegated to a political pawn of whichever party is in power. Let us be clear, whichever side of the political spectrum leaked the opinion, it was wrong. Unprecedented. And what real purpose did it serve other than to further fuel a raging, incessant fire? However, should we be surprised? Please read Buck Files’ article in this issue regarding the embarrassment that was the Ketanji Brown Jackson confirmation hearings. This may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back. Not only was an unquestionably qualified judge attacked, but our criminal justice system and the very work we all do every single day was blistered by the senators who played politics to demean her; not her credentials but her character. What was the character flaw that she was attacked so vehemently for? Being a criminal defense attorney. Protecting the constitutional rights of people in the most impossible of situations. Ensuring that our constitution means something for everyone. Since the SCOTUS does hear criminal cases, what a welcome relief that there will now be one justice who has done what we do. A justice who understands what it’s like to not just stand beside, but stand up for, the constitutional rights and protections that all of us enjoy and that many often take for granted. The very realistic hope is that Ketanji Brown Jackson will bring a different perspective to the Court. There are three sitting justices who were once prosecutors. Now there will be one former public defender.

How are we supposed to fight the ever‑unpopular political problems that we deal with every day; like our clients’ mental health problems and how that plays into their defense, or Veterans in the criminal justice system, or marijuana cases and the discrepancies in how those cases are treated state‑wide, when the very fact of doing the work we do regardless of the subject matter of a particular case is under attack in the halls of congress? It feels like we are in a whirlwind these days with everything in the news and with courts rushing to unclog the COVID backlog as if it can be done in a matter of a few months. We are going nonstop and making that ever uphill climb. But we have to remember to take care of ourselves. This month – May – is Mental Health Awareness Month. And we are all acutely aware of the criminalization and warehousing of those who suffer from mental illnesses. That’s the appalling reality of our criminal justice system. We fight against it every day one case at a time. But we can’t be effective advocates if our own mental health hangs in the balance.

So, let’s take care of ourselves and lean on each other and continue the fight to which we have all been called. We need to encourage each other and build each other up. Let us support each other and be sensitive to one another. We continue to learn from each other by using resources like this magazine and the countless CLE opportunities TCDLA makes available each year. It’s good that it’s almost time for Rusty so we can gather with the folks across this State who take the same punches we do on a daily basis and break bread together and maybe imbibe a little and rejuvenate our batteries. We’re in this together.

Jeep Darnell & Sarah Roland

Editor’s Comment: You Might Not Like It, But You Better Get Used To It

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Last year at Rusty Duncan I had the pleasure of speaking on the topic of “Technology in the Modern Criminal Defense Law Office.” Normally that level of excitement is reserved for the time of day when everyone is taking a nap, but instead they had me speak at 8:00 a.m. on Thursday morning. One of the topics that had the crowd roused at such an early hour was the ethical implications in maintaining a “modern” law office. Attendees were a little shocked at the idea that if they didn’t maintain a fairly high level of technological understanding in maintaining and securing their technological information, it could be problematic.

As of 2019, comment 8 to Rule 1.01 of the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct states that,

  1. Because of the vital role of lawyers in the legal process, each lawyer should strive to become and remain proficient and competent in the practice of law, including the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology. To maintain the requisite knowledge and skill of a competent practitioner, a lawyer should engage in continuing study and education. If a system of peer review has been established,the lawyer should consider making use of it in appropriate circumstances. Isolated instances of faulty conduct or decision should be identified for purposes of additional study or instruction.

Changes like that make each of us responsible for so much more knowledge and skill than our predecessors had to deal with. No longer are the days where lawyers could pass off changing technology as something for another professional to have to worry about. We all have an ethical duty to maintain a level of proficiency in the technology associated with the practice of law, and more importantly the associated risks. It isn’t hard to figure out that means we have to maintain a level of understanding of how to minimize those risks. Over the next couple of months, beginning with this edition, we will try to bring you relevant articles on that very topic. Not just from other lawyers, but from professionals who are equipped with the knowledge that not all of us possess to assist in maintaining the level of understanding that we are tasked with knowing. I know it may not always be the most riveting of topics, but I hope each of y’all learn something from the material.

Be safe.

Editor’s Comment: The Castle Doctrine

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On occasion, we are reminded that what is old may be useful. See Chuck Lanehart’s article in this edition. I recently had the pleasure of handling a murder court martial at Fort Stewart, Georgia. The one and only real issue in the case was whether my client properly acted in self‑defense when he shot and killed a civilian who entered my client’s off‑post home in the middle of the night after beating on the door and threatening to come inside and do some form of harm (depending on whose story you believe). The government argued throughout the pretrial proceedings that the Texas defense of self‑defense, or the Castle Doctrine, applies to members of the military since the defense is not codified in the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). Our judge in the case, Colonel Cook from Fort Bragg, was one of the best and most thoughtful judges in front of whom I have had the pleasuring of practicing. At one of our 39a sessions (motions hearing), we were scheduled to argue for any nonstandard panel instructions. I convinced all three of my fellow defense counsel that we needed and were entitled to the Texas jury instruction on self‑defense within one’s home. Although I had said all the right words, i.e., equal protection and the right not to die in your own home, my team told me if we were going to wade off into that fight, I had to write the brief. And so, I started down the path of proving what I knew had to be true. I was shocked at the literal death of caselaw that existed on the topic within my normal time‑period search ranges. I mean, I knew about the seminal case, District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008), but I had to be honest with myself, I hadn’t done a deep‑dive into that case in a few or more years. I have to admit, Justice Scalia was not always a friend of the criminal defendant, but that case is worth going back and reading. Justice Scalia, in what may be dicta, essentially recognized the castle doctrine as a constitutional right. In deciding that the rights afforded by the Second Amendment were unconnected to service in a militia, Heller, 554 U.S. at 595, Justice Scalia specifically addressed the history of what we now refer to as the castle doctrine, noting that the right to protect one’s “castle” was recognized by at least 1866. Id., at 616. Scalia even went so far as to state that the handgun ban at issue in Heller amounted “to a prohibition of an entire class of arms that is overwhelmingly chosen by American society for that lawful purpose” and “extends, moreover, to the home, where the need for defense of self, family, and property is most acute.” Id. (emphasis added). The opinion went even further and noted that the statutory requirement that “any lawful firearm in the home be disassembled or bound by a trigger lock at all times, rendering it inoperable,” id., “[made] it impossible for citizens to use them for the core lawful purpose of self- defense . . .” Id. at 630 (emphasis added).

So, what you might ask, is so old about a case from 2008? Nothing. It was the rest of my research that led me to a gem from 1896. In Alberty v. United States, 162 U.S. 499 (1896), the Supreme Court recounted a case from a year earlier: “In the case of Beard v. United States, 158 U.S. 550, the doctrine of the necessity of retreating was considered by this court at very considerable length, and it was held, upon a review of the authorities upon the subject, that a man assailed upon his own premises, without provocation, by a person armed with a deadly weapon, and apparently seeking his life, is not obliged to retreat, but may stand his ground and defend himself with such means as are within his control . . .” Alberty, 162 U.S. at 505. Although not named specifically “the castle doctrine,” this right has long existed in our jurisprudence. When I made the argument that our client had a constitutional right to defend himself in his home but, according to the government, forfeited that right by joining the United States Army, Judge Cook bristled . . . and denied my motion. He clarified that I was not going to get the entire Texas jury instruction. However, the issue was going to remain pending until trial, and he would revisit the issue once evidence was presented because he did not believe that a man or woman forfeited their right to be safe in their home just because they joined the Army. Ultimately, the government and the commanding authority did the right thing and dismissed the case. I don’t believe any of them, from the general on down, truly wanted to admit they wouldn’t use force in their own homes either.

Editor’s Comment: Baseball and Wind; That’s Just Life

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By the time y’all read this we will be moving out of February and into March. This season brings me immense happiness, but also carries incredible frustration. I love spring because it means baseball is coming back. Take Easter and Groundhog Day, roll them into one and that’s the day I embark on the annual trek to Phoenix, Arizona.  My Dad, my little brother, and my two little boys head over to watch Major League Baseball’s Spring Training. Days are spent watching sleepy baseball games while enjoying the beautiful weather and getting to spend generally uninterrupted time with my boys. But, for those of you in west Texas (I’ll even count Lubbock as part of that for these purposes, although a map would prove each of my friends up there to be wrong). March means the god-awful, sand-filled wind that brings along all of the dust anyone could ever bear, and some we can’t. I hate the damned spring winds. But, I suppose that is life and it’s a little bit of a microcosm of what we experience pretty regularly. I don’t know of many people, save for Derek Jeter or Mickey Mantle (I’m a Yankee fan), who probably experience the highs that we do when we get two-word verdicts, especially in the cases we’re supposed to lose. But, I don’t know that most folks know the pain of sitting next to someone you’ve worked your butt off to save only hear to the jury come back with one miserable word. I suspect maybe Jeter knew a pain close to that feeling when the Yankees lost to the Red Sox in ALCS after being up three games to none, but at least he didn’t have to get hit in the face with the damn dust-filled wind coming out of the west at a million miles per hour. Each issue I try to think of what I can say that could possibly reverberate with all of the criminal defense attorneys in this State. What ties bind us? Fortunately, or unfortunately, I think the ties that bind us are the extreme highs and lows of our practice. Be kind to one another because unless one of us is friends with Derek Jeter, the only people that truly know how high and low we feel at work are the brothers and sisters we encounter in court, correspond with on the Listserv, and see at CLEs and Board meetings. Just like I know that only my dad completely understands the beautiful experience of rebirth that I feel getting to spend days at baseball games with my young sons. Also, I know that only the men and women of this organization completely understand how I feel when I walk a client out of a courtroom after a hard-fought battle. Just the same, only the folks of west Texas (yes, even Lubbock) know how bad the wind sucks in March, and only the men and women who practice criminal defense know what it’s like to have your head caved in during a defeat. Keep fighting brothers and sisters. Rusty is just around the corner.

Be safe,
Jeep Darnell

Editor’s Comment: The Law School Committee

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If you are looking to get involved with TCDLA please look no further than the Law School Committee and their now annual Interactive Career Pathways Event, which will be held this year on February 26, 2022, via Zoom. For all the work that can be done by any of the members to help make TCDLA a stronger organization, this committee may be the most rewarding and it’s fun. The Law School Committee is chaired by Anne Burnham. She has worked to put together an event that connects current law school students and current attorneys who have been practicing for five years or less and interested in entering criminal defense, with our own criminal practitioners. The format of the event is really the best part because it allows those students and young lawyers to get to break out into small groups and talk to TCDLA lawyers about practicing in a specific geographical area and also about handling specific types of cases. I, not surprisingly, am the odd ball of the Committee as I volunteered to be the liaison for my law school alma mater, the University of Oklahoma. But, every single one of the Texas law schools has a liaison on the Law School committee as well, and those liaisons are in charge of recruiting students from the respective law schools to attend the event by working with the criminal law faculty, the career development staff, or any criminal clinic attorneys. 

I have to admit, I was a little bit worried about getting in contact with some of my former professors and giving them my song and dance routine about who I was, if they didn’t remember, and why I was contacting them. To my surprise it was easy.  Many of them remembered me, and making contact again was neat enough. But the real reward was getting to reach out and connect with law students who have a hunger for the work that we do every day and giving them a pathway to a career in this wonderful work. Although I was really only signing up to help Anne with recruiting students for last year’s event, it has turned into a mentor-type program with many of the students who signed up from OU. I have been able to give real-world career advice to those students who aren’t going to practice at the big law firms. Getting to assist in creating the excitement in finding career placement for students has been such a pleasant surprise and brings me my own sense of helping to build the future of TCDLA. 

We all went to law school, and I would imagine we all have some contact at our respective law schools. Most importantly, we can all provide assistance and advice to students who have an interest in criminal defense. Don’t be shy, please reach out to the TCDLA home office and get involved with the Law School Committee.

Be safe.

Editor’s Comment: The Christmas Miracle

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By the time you read this we will have finished Thanksgiving dinner and we may be moving out of our respective food-comas.  I hope that each of you had a wonderful Thanksgiving, safe from COVID, and with the ability to enjoy all the family time that you can possibly handle. Now, on to Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanza, and other winter holidays that allow (require) each of us to do it all again. In case my tone is not clear via the typed word, too much family time is too much for me on occasion. I am known to reach my limit on extended family interactions somewhere around the first or second day of joyous festivities, and I suspect I am not alone in that need for space.  But, shame on me.

We, as criminal practitioners, know better than just about anyone what a privilege it is to spend time with family on the holidays. So many of our clients, whether they are pre-trial or post-conviction clients, don’t get to experience what we take for granted or what, in my case, tends to drive me nuts. I can’t tell you the number of jail calls I get beginning around the week before Thanksgiving begging me to try one more time to get someone out of jail. I know as well as the next person that not every client is being truthful about wanting to be home for their respective holiday celebration, but I’ve got a soft spot in my heart for the old line, “I just want to spend Christmas with my kids.” Even when I know the dude is full of it, it makes me wonder how I would feel if I couldn’t see my boys’ smiles on Christmas morning. Even if picking up all the trash after opening presents and the inevitable breaking of a Christmas present on Christmas morning is aggravating, seeing and feeling the joy of watching them open presents fills my tank and helps me get going for another year.

When I was a baby lawyer, I had this yearly feeling by Thanksgiving that I was tired of it all and needed a break from the grind. I would try and coast as best as I could to the end of the year. (Let’s be honest, I still get that same feeling). Then, one year, I was set for trial in early December on an injury to a child case for an appointed client for whom I had been fighting for years. I knew the judge wouldn’t actually be calling any cases for trial that week and that all of the trials would be reset. I was grouchy and tired of the grind that Friday morning when I showed up at the courthouse just to reset my client’s case. My poor client had been beset by horrible health problems during the duration of her case, brought on in part by the anxiety of the pending charges. I walked into the court coordinator’s office to get my new setting and she instructed me I needed to conference the case with the prosecutor. Annoyed, I walked to the room where the prosecutors were waiting and grumpily informed them that I was told to conference with them before I got a reset and consider this grumpy message my conference and I was leaving. The lead prosecutor on my case, however, told me to wait a second. He told me that the case had been reset too many times and, although they knew they weren’t actually going to trial, they had subpoenaed many of the cases in order to determine if they actually had any witnesses to testify in the eventual trials.  Mine was one such case. He said, let’s go check and see if I have a witness. We walked out, together, into the foyer on that floor of the courthouse where he called for his witnesses, and none appeared. He walked me back into the court offices and filled out and signed a dismissal. After getting the Judge’s signature, I walked a copy to my client, handed it to her with a smile and told her something to the effect that the perpetual annoyance of her case was over. She burst into tears in the middle of the crowded foyer. She hugged me and told me that I had saved her life. 

I’m not re-living this story for an atta-boy. I’m telling y’all, and really reminding myself, that we all have a Christmas miracle in us that we can bring to one of our clients. And sometimes prosecutors surprise us near the end of the year, too. I don’t always get dismissals at Christmas time, but I might be able to get someone out of jail, or I might be able to do something as simple as going and visiting a client in jail, not to talk about the case, but just to visit and remind him or her that they aren’t alone. If we shrug off the tired at the end of the year, we can bring some semblance of joy to someone we represent and make this time of year a little happier. And who knows, that may make all the difference in the world to our client.

Be safe.

Editor’s Comment: Goose, Meet Gander

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From October 7 through October 8, 2021, I had the pleasure of attending my first TCDLA Forensics Seminar.  The seminar may be the most educational CLE event I have ever attended.  What Philip Wischkaemper, E.X. Martin, and Larry Renner, along with Melissa and the folks at the home office, put together is an incredible event that every criminal defense attorney should try to make time to attend in the future.  While I got my normal dose of camaraderie that I often feel when I attend TCDLA events and get to hang out with our brothers and sisters from across the State, the Forensics Seminar struck me as such an interesting difference from the norm because all of us attendees were primarily taught by non-lawyers for the entire seminar. Learning from the professionals who know the sciences, rather than from lawyers who have learned it from a professional, was a fascinating difference.  Each of the scientific professionals who presented were wonderful and helped me, and I would hope others, understand at a deeper level each of their respective forensic sciences, including and maybe most importantly, the limitations. 

In fact, that was a regular topic of conversation among many of the attendees.  While we are generally trying to keep out many of these various fields of forensic science in our trials, we cannot forget that sometimes the fields of science can work to our benefit. While we should never allow the government to bring garbage dressed up as science in front of a judge or jury without a fight, we should not be unwilling to utilize forensic sciences to our benefit, even those forensic fields that may be considered on the fringe.  We’ve all known forever that polygraphs are inadmissible in criminal courts in Texas, but that doesn’t mean we cannot utilize them to conduct our investigations into our clients. It also doesn’t mean that the best post-conviction lawyers we have among our members don’t utilize them all the time to help with the exoneration of their clients. 

Similarly, blood spatter evidence should not be discarded by our members as junk without any potential merit. Let me be clear, I will never suggest that blood spatter evidence should always be admissible. What I am suggesting is that within the proper limitations of blood spatter evidence exists the potential exculpatory use of that forensic field. I have used evidence to my client’s benefit that I would probably fight tooth and nail to keep out or discredit if the tables were turned. Don’t let us box ourselves out from properly utilizing forensic sciences to our clients’ benefit simply because of our own disagreements with improper use of a certain field.

One of the other great presentations at the Forensics Seminar was by Mark Daniel. We all owe a debt of gratitude to Mark for the work that he has done on behalf of the criminal defense bar at the Forensic Science Commission. With Mark’s help, the Commission has made strides in limiting the use of junk science in criminal courts in Texas. Among those achievements is the licensing requirement for certain Forensic analysts in order for their forensic analysis of physical evidence . . . and expert testimony to be admissible in a Texas criminal court. See Tex. Code Crim. Proc. art. 38.35(d)(1).   Although not every Forensic science has such a licensing requirement, there are many professed forensic sciences that have been excluded from the licensing requirement because they are unreliable. On the other hand, there are other forensic sciences that the Commission has simply not required licensing despite the general evidentiary admissibility of the field. Do not forget to review to article 38.35 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure. And you probably want to get a copy of Mark’s PowerPoint presentation that specifically lays out the sciences that require licensing and those that don’t. 

There is no way I can summarize in one short column the information I learned at the Forensics Seminar.  However, I can tell you that until we learn to work with experts in the various forensic fields and gain our own understanding of the proper application of the fields and the limitations, we are simply missing out on a benefit to each of our clients. Lucky for us, Philip Wischkaemper is planning to put on the Forensic Seminar again next year.

Be safe.

Editor’s Comment: October 2021

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A cursory review of the widely-known source www.nationaldaycalendar.com shows that October is the National month of a laundry list of causes and celebrations, some serious others not so serious.  While Bat Appreciation Month, National Toilet Tank Repair Month, Squirrel Awareness Month (which according to the website is different than Squirrel Appreciation Day, which occurs in January), and International Walk to School Month are certainly causes that I am sure others may get very excited about, there are a few other causes that are a little nearer and dearer to my heart that I’d like to discuss in my column this month.

For those of you who don’t know me, I am married with two little boys: James (6) and Kennedy (3). I practice out in the west Texas town of El Paso, with my dad, Jim, and my brother from another mother, Cris Estrada. I had a dog that I adopted as a puppy in law school, named Hank the Cowdog, who just recently passed away. Our other dog, Sissy, who is a Great Dane, was very sad and lonely after Hank’s passing.  So, a few weeks ago, my wife Meghan and I loaded up the boys and we went to one of the local rescue shelters. We checked out the cast of poor, unfortunate souls cast aside and forgotten, and ultimately found the newest member of our household: Major Joe, a German Shepherd, Standard Poodle, Beagle, Boxer mix (we sent off his DNA to figure out what the Wookiee looking thing we just brought home was).  Our vet believes that Major Joe is likely about 2 years old, so we have been working hard to house train this wall-jumping, ball-fetching, barking, and howling mess of a new buddy. 

Another new joy-invoking task that we have recently undertaken is little league baseball. James just turned 6 in August, so he is only now old enough to play coach-pitch baseball.  The league in which we are playing has players ranging in age from six years old to eight years old.  Our team is made up entirely of six-year-olds, none of whom have ever played baseball. After four practices and one game, I am sad to report that we have not yet reached the fundamental level of Tinkers to Evers to Chance.

I tell y’all of these new-found joyous activities only to say that October is also National Adopt a Shelter Dog Month, Emotional Intelligence Awareness Month, Emotional Wellness Month, National Learning Development Month, and National Positive Attitude Month, which are clearly issues I am either fully invested in or need to become intimately aware of soon.

So, what does any of this have to do with TCDLA or being a criminal defense lawyer? While trials are occurring throughout the State, no one is back to practicing law the way we were before the pandemic hit.  We are in month 19 of this seemingly never-ending nightmare and I am, as I assume most of y’all are, am yearning for a return to normal. However, the delay in returning to normal is giving all of us an opportunity we will likely never get again: to spend a little bit more time with our families. I miss the intensity of trial, but I have to remind myself that I need to take advantage of this time I have been given to be a dad like I never was before the pandemic hit. I need to enjoy a few more adventures with my boys, because the reality is that I will never get this much time with them again for the rest of our lives. Unless, of course, they end up following in my footsteps someday, and come to work in our office as lawyers down the road. That thought is sobering. So, I now have to remind myself that October is also National Sarcastic Awareness Month and I need to maintain my sense of humor too.

Be safe
-Jeep Darnell

Editor’s Comment: Fight the Good Fight

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Despite the necessity to do so, it was one of my very greatest pleasures to work with TCDLA lawyers on the COVID-19 Response Task Force Committee during the height of the pandemic in 2020. The work that Chair Clay Steadman, then Co-Chairs Allison Clayton and Nicole DeBorde Hochglaube, along with vice-Chairs Betty Blackwell, John Hunter Smith, and Kyle Therrian, along with the rest of our Committee, did to help the members of this Organization and their clients remain safe against tyranny was as much fun as one could have when courts were shut down. Man, I thought those days were moving past us. It appears what was old may be new again. 

On August 4, 2021, Bexar County Judge Ron Rangel, Judge of the 379th Judicial District Court and Local Administrative Judge for the Bexar County Courts, shut down all in-person jury trials again because of the renewed threat COVID-19 has on members of the community. While I suspect that other counties and courts may follow suit depending on the on-going or worsening COVID-19 threat, there will be courts, judges, and locations where the threat to lawyers, defendants, and necessary witnesses will be ignored. I know that the band will be ready to get back together to fight for the protections of all our members should they be put in danger. Please do not hesitate to contact your local Committee representative if there are situations that arise that make you feel unsafe in the practice of criminal defense. We did not sign up to give up our lives to defend the Constitution. We may give up just about everything else, but don’t forget we all have someone who we have to protect, whether it be ourselves or our loved ones. I hope the new surge is short and that we can sooner get back to normal. Until then, be safe.

Editor’s Comment: July/August 2021

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I’m old enough to know that I’m still too young to get to toot my own horn regarding my wins and important cases.  There are far too many lawyers who have earned the right to do that in the pages that follow this article. Those men and women have spent far longer than I have changing the face of criminal defense in this State and bettering the lives of countless defendants. I am, however, old enough to tell everyone how important TCDLA is to me. My best friends belong to this Organization, and I can’t tell you how lucky I am to be able to say that. I’ll always remember Clay Steadman pushing me to get more involved; John Hunter Smith hearing me present the first time at a CLE and telling me I needed to keep speaking while immediately recruiting me to do so; David Moore asking me to serve and even chair a few committees during his Presidency; Heather Barbieri, Lance Evans, and Reagan Wynn all taking the time to help me learn as much as I could at the TCDLA Texas Criminal Trial College; Betty Blackwell and Clay asking me to speak in Austin at the seminar they were moderating (Clay told me I was in the big leagues and I better not f*ck this up and I better not say f*ck either); Sarah Roland asking me to serve as one of her co Vice-Editors; my good friends Sarah and Rusty Gunter recruiting me to come speak in Lubbock just so I could be introduced with my testicle case (don’t ask); Kerri Donica asking me to serve on her COVID-19 Task Force and fighting the good fight all over Texas for an entire year with one of the best groups of lawyers I’ve ever been around; and many other unforgettable times. My time in TCDLA has made me certain that I am exactly where I am supposed to be. 

For those that don’t know this about me, I went to college wanting to be anything but a lawyer. Specifically, a lawyer in Texas. More specifically, a criminal defense lawyer in Texas. Even more specifically, in El Paso, Texas.  My dad, Jim, is the best lawyer I know and I just didn’t want to have to work as hard as he has for as long I’ve been alive. But during college, it only took one science class for me to figure out I wasn’t going to be a doctor, so I started working towards law school.  I went on to attend the University of Oklahoma College of Law, never intending to practice criminal defense, and certainly not criminal defense in Texas, and absolutely not criminal defense in El Paso. My first day of Constitutional Law class set me straight, though; I was going to take a side in criminal law and that side was on the side of the good guys. Still, I sure as hell wasn’t coming back to Texas or to El Paso.  It turns out God had other plans and, for the last 10 years, I’ve been working alongside my dad, as a criminal defense lawyer, in Texas, working too hard but fighting the good fight. So, in addition to all of the friends I’ve mentioned, and all of those I haven’t, I have my dad, the person I’ve looked up to forever, to thank for getting me into what consists of the greatest group of people I’ve ever known. If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t have known after one day of law school what I wanted to do for the rest of my life and I wouldn’t be who I am today.  He’s also the person who told me I had to join TCDLA because it was (and is) a giant organization of people who work too hard fighting the good fight every single day. That’s why all of the people I’ve mentioned are among my best friends. They understand what I do because it is what we all do on a daily basis, fighting the un-winnable fights because it’s the right thing to do (or maybe we’re all nuts). 

Be safe.


50 Years of Editors

Sarah Roland…………………………2016-2021

Michael Gross……………………….2013-2016

Greg Westfall…………………………2009-2013

Emmett Harris………………………2005-2009

David Richards……………………..2004-2006

John Carroll…………………………..2001-2004

D’Ann Johnson……………………..1999-2000

Suzanne Donovan…………………………..1998

William P. Allison…………………1995-1997

Jim Skelton……………………………1993-1995

Kerry P. Fitzgerald…………………1984-1994

Stanley Weinberg…………………..1981-1983

Clifton Holmes………………………1977-1981

F.R. “Buck” Files, Jr……………………….1976

Harry Lee Hudspeth………………1974-1975

Emmett Colvin……………………..1973-1974

Wesley H. Hocker………………………….1972