Melissa J. Schank

Melissa J. Schank, Chief Executive Officer, has worked with nonprofit associations for over 20 years, and has been with the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association more than 15 years. She earned her master’s of human resources, business administration, bachelor’s of communication and mediation certificate from Saint Edwards University in Austin, Texas, and is a certified association executive. Her greatest strengths are overseeing the long-term planning, financial management, and strategy for legal educational programs, in addition to managing the organization’s seminars, membership, publication, and communication departments.

Executive Officer’s Perspective: Red, White, and Blue


“Permanence, perseverance, and persistence despite all obstacles, discouragements, and impossibilities: It is this that in all things distinguishes the strong soul from the weak.”

—Thomas Carlyle

This month we come to a close celebrating Buck Files’ 250th Federal Corner article. This is nothing to be taken lightly. It takes a dedicated, meticulous, and hardworking person to ensure they turn in their edited article each month. The work Buck has put into each issue since 1986 is unequaled by anyone, anytime in the Voice.

Buck would review from six to 20 cases each month to find a specific case that was not only current but also germane, then explain it in words that our readers could digest. For 35 years, Buck has voluntarily provided diligent federal updates and shared the information to help trial lawyers.

This is a challenge—and yeoman’s work when you think about how many cases come out each month—finding the perfect one to explain in six or eight pages, covering relevant facts and providing supporting evidence.

We all know what Buck’s bio says. Did you know he was a former U.S. Marine, photographer, vegan, and a big believer in family comes first? He has been married to wife Robin for more than 50 years and has two children—one a lawyer, another an accountant—and three grandkids he never stops talking about!

When you talk to anyone who knows Buck, they’ll mention how passionate he is about his family, the law, and his clients, but also, most notably and significantly, they’ll call him loyal. Buck had been with his law partner, who passed, for more than 40 years. Carrie Hall, his paralegal, has been with him for more than 25 years, as has Tammy. Kimberly has worked for Buck for 24 years and Karen for 22 years.

His stories over the years have not only warmed my heart; they’ve also made me so proud to work for TCDLA. Quite often I share them with the staff here and even my family. Recently, we lost a great warrior, Scrappy Holmes, someone Buck grew up with in Kilgore. The relationship they had is like no other, though anyone who can call Buck a friend knows how special he is. He will go out of his way to help anyone. He is one of the most compassionate and devoted individuals, both to his friends and clients.

Buck is very modest, as most of our leaders tend to be, but he has been instrumental for the last 15 years in strengthening the relationship between SBOT and TCDLA. He has offered advice and suggestions for improvement throughout the years to grow TCDLA as well.

Buck helps behind the scenes and asks for no credit or recognition. He is truly one of our heroes—red, white, and blue. I will miss our weekly discussions. Keep reading the Voice, and we will still have the Federal Corner with a team of authors. If we are lucky, we might even get a guest column from Buck in the future. Thank you, Buck, for all you have done, and all I know you will continue to do for criminal defense lawyers!

Executive Officer’s Perspective: Another Historic Event


The only thing you sometimes have control over is perspective. You don’t have control over your situation. But you have a choice about how you view it.

-Chris Pine

When I first started to write this article, I was going to write about how we have become so reliant on technology since COVID. Everyone has had to learn new programs, change the way we have always done things. Technology is tricky. By the time you buy the most recent device, program, or update, another is available.

How the tables turned this past week during our Texas arctic blast – another historical event to add to the pandemic and share with younger generations. It was tough to realize we had no power, water, and heat for days—the simple things I had taken for granted. The days just all ran into each other. Checking in with family, staff, and friends, I felt so helpless because there was no definite answer to when things would get back to running efficiently – normal? What is that? When the state offices and schools completely shut down, and over four million have no power, you know it is something very wrong. No light at the end of the tunnel, literally.

As with all tragedies, the takeaway is how I could have better prepared for things in my control. I sat here for a while to think about what I could do differently. I was well equipped with food and toilet paper since the start of COVID, candles, and flashlights if the power went out, lots of blankets. I had backups to charge the cell phone and laptop. Staff who had power were on standby to get us through the four live programs scheduled. One staff’s husband went in their 4 x 4 to make sure we didn’t have another busted pipe at the office. Check, check, and check.

I had people come over who needed food since theirs went bad without refrigeration. When I finally got power, others came to shower, and I left my house open. I checked in with co-workers, family, and friends, and they did with me. After several days without heat and water, I felt like a savage, surviving on libations and Girl Scout cookies. There were no patterns to the blackouts. But I am so blessed for my group of friends and family who reached out. TCDLA is the community we’ve built and the one we need.

Together I could see our TCDLA family reaching out to one another in group texts, direct texts, social media, and listserves. The relationships built through TCDLA are irreplaceable and it humbles my heart to be part of this community.

Now back to my original topic: The TCDLA staff along with the Technology Committee have worked really hard to update the How To section. You may think these are basic, but we had staff learn some new tricks to be more efficient with our daily work. If you have not gone through the sections, the videos are short and right to the point with hands-on examples. Many committee members are also working on pages under the members-only section and are reorganizing the video resource library. The COVID resource page has been updated and reorganized as well with new resources. We are working hard to keep up with technology – if only we had control of the power! Keep checking the members-only section for new additions!

Keep safe and warm!

Executive Officer’s Perspective: TCDLA Welcomes the 2021 JTIP Class


“Under our Constitution, the condition of being a boy does not justify a kangaroo court.” – In re: Gault, 387 U.S. 1, 28 (1967).

Juvenile Training Immersion Program (JTIP), TCDLA and the Texas Indigent Defense Commission have teamed up to bring the “gold standard” of juvenile defense training to Texas. Special kudos to Geoff Burkhardt, TIDC Executive director for this idea. The Juvenile Training Immersion Program (JTIP) isn’t your usual CLE. Instead, it’s a hands-on, immersive, 42-lesson training program that emphasizes the specialized role of juvenile defense counsel and the unique knowledge needed to provide meaningful representation to our youngest defendants. JTIP trainings aren’t a lecture—instead, JTIP trainings use small groups with intensive on-your-feet exercises in a mix of hands-on case scenarios, skill-building drills, facilitated discussions, and more. These innovative elements strengthen your trial skills and deepen your knowledge of juvenile defense.

JTIP is a creation of the National Juvenile Defender Center (NJDC). NJDC in a non-profit organization created in the 1990s to improve the quality of juvenile defense. NJDC provides training across the country on juvenile defense and works to raise the profile of the specialization through training, technical assistance, publications, and amicus briefs. You can learn more about NJDC, download their policy briefs and other resources at

TIDC and TCDLA recognized the need for training in this important area, and in 2019 applied for funding through the State of Texas’ Edward Byrne Justice Assistance Grant. This fund, provided by the U.S. Department of Justice and administered by the State of Texas, is usually awarded to law enforcement agencies. The Texas JTIP Project is the first time that these funds will be used to provide training to defense counsel.

We have selected the 18 attorneys below to be part of an elite corps of Certified JTIP trainers across the nation. They are scheduled for a training February 16-18, 2021, in Austin. They will then create the training and materials specific to Texas Laws. TIDC and TCDLA will bring six free regional juvenile trainings in the spring and fall of 2021. The seminars will cover the critical importance of specialized defense counsel in juvenile courts.

Welcome to our Texas Trainers!

Donna Broom, Tyler
Kristin Brown, Dallas
Sara Casner, Austin
Ruben Castaneda, Austin
Scott Constantine, Austin
William Cox, El Paso
Dolores Esparza, Dallas
Rebecca Garcia, Dallas
Todd Greenwood, Wichita Falls
Steven Halpert, Houston
Steve Keathley, Corsicana
Michelle Latray, Groesbeck
Melanie Lister, Austin
Michael Parson, Edinburg
Laura Peterson, Dallas
Scott Ruplinger, Austin
Stephanie Stevens, San Antonio
Nydia Thomas, Austin

Co-authored with Kathleen Casey-Gamez

Executive Officer’s Perspective: Ending 2020 and Entering 2021


Our souls need time to think, dream, and reflect.

Jo Ann Davis

As we continue, many are probably still wondering how to move forward with the continuous changes. Since March, TCDLA has put on numerous virtual trainings, creating the COVID-19 Resource Page, hosting roundtables, and creating resources to assist our members. The COVID Task Force, the Strike Force, the Ethics Committee, and the Voice editors stay busy trying to provide our members the best service and communication. Our newly formed Diversity, Justice, and Inclusion Committee has been meeting and discussing how to assist our members and clients. With the committees’, board’s and officers’ collaborative work, our goal is to address and confront the challenges we are facing. These efforts will remain a high priority through 2020 and beyond.

Upcoming, we have the Defending Those Accused of Sexual Offenses being offered in-person, livestream, or at your own pace. We hope to have you join us for the event on December 3-4, 2020. The Nominations Committee will also meet virtually to select our next slate of officers. We had an overwhelming number of applications sent in, which is exciting. All of our committees have been very active this year and will have lots of new tools and resources for our members. Did you know we have over 30 committees?

As the holidays approach, not only are many of us dealing with our job responsibilities, we have taken on a second job as a teacher. How many have gotten a new pet during this time? I have been teaching my kids what disappointment is and how to deal with it. As hard as it is for myself to be secluded, I can only imagine what they are feeling. I am over baking everything from scratch, bingewatching Netflix, rearranging the house, and now have moved onto making homemade Christmas cards… We will see how that goes.

I thought 2020 was going to be my year; I dare not say that with 2021. This year I went through the good and bad like many and learned not to get stressed with things beyond my control. I have become more compassionate with those I do not see eye to eye. Many people delete these people from their social media. I don’t want to do that. During this time of closeness with my children, I have learned a great deal from my mistakes. Missing my family and friends due to social distancing has been the biggest challenge for this social butterfly. This will be the first year for the holidays that I will make things a little easier and not go above and beyond and make everyone crazy with me (so I say now).

I hope everyone will reach out to someone during the holidays and be inclusive, kind, and caring. We have no idea what anyone is going through even though they may have a smile on their face and seem to have it all. People can be surrounded and yet be so lonely and then there are those who are alone. I hope that in 2021, we will have a safe vaccine and see one another once again. I truly do miss my TCDLA family! I truly believe everything happens for a reason, and maybe COVID is giving everyone some time to slow down, reconnect, and self-reflect. Wishing everyone a wonderful holiday, whether you are doing a lot or a little and a fabulous New Years! Cheers to you for surviving 2020!

Executive Officer’s Perspective: Moving Forward


“All you need is the plan, the road map, and the courage to press on to your destination.”

—Earl Nightingale

As we continue through the COVID-19 era, things continue to change. Some days TCDLA moves the defense bar one step forward, then other days, we take two steps backward. There are so many decision-makers determining what is the “safe” route or who should be in-person in courtrooms. There are debates surrounding finances, backlogs, and what is in the best interest of the client.

TCDLA has all hands-on deck working endless hours, talking with and assisting our members, and providing motions, checklists, and other tools. Our ultimate goal is for TCDLA to be a resource to protect our members and ensure their clients’ rights are not abridged during the reopening process.

For the lawyers who are on the frontlines, our leadership, committees, staff, and TCDLA as a whole are doing everything possible.  If you are on the frontlines, you are not alone; you have TCDLA’s group power backing you – whatever the right thing is for each case and attorney. TCDLA supports you .

As we get ready for the 87th Texas Legislative Session, our TCDLA Lobbyists and Legislative Committee will continue to lobby progressive reform for criminal justice. They will keep our members informed of bills filed or any other pertinent information. This will be an unprecedented legislature due to limited access and the ever-changing rules. It is also unknown, other than the budget, what the priorities will be and what will be discussed.

TCDLA would like to thank Michael Mowla for his past years of service for the Significant Decisions Report. He will be missed, and I look forward to seeing him in person again, along with everyone else.

We are missing our face-to-face interactions at seminars and meetings. Till our roads cross again, may your destination be a peaceful one.

Chief Executive Officer’s Perspective: The Value of Friendship


“Make new friends but keep the old. One is silver and the other is gold.”

                                                                                       –Joseph Parry

We often have friends that we don’t see every day, yet when we do, we are able to pick up right where we left off – as if it was only yesterday. Friends like that are treasures, more valuable and precious than gold.

With all the stress, tragedy, and uncertainty of our world (which are only compounded by the nature of our profession), it is at times a real struggle to maintain a sense of normalcy. Sometimes it is all we can do to maintain our sanity. Then you throw the pandemic into the mix… We need those dear old friends now more than ever.

Now is the time for us to band together and rely on each other for support and tools to make it through this unprecedented time. While you are at it, why don’t you try to expand your sphere of close friends. TCDLA is the perfect place to both stay connected with old friends, as well as being fertile grounds to reach out and develop new relationships.

With an upcoming election, a seemingly unending pandemic, and the uncertainty of what the new normal will be in our practices, there will be many opportunities for us to share our positions and thoughts. We all have biases no matter what race, religion, or gender you are – these are facts. I encourage everyone to make new friends and take a moment to remind ourselves that it is OK to think differently. Share your thoughts, explain to someone while starting a healthy conversation where you both listen and hear each other – respectful debates are okay. This last month, I have learned so many things and realized I have biases and am learning how to acknowledge them to strip them away. I am also focusing on my personal growth and understanding the effects the pandemic is having on my mental health and taking stress to another level.

I recently talked with my mother about everything that was going on, and she made several comments that made me take a step back and process what she said. Mom has always had a narrow view of how things should be. The responses and opinions she gave surprised me because I never thought she would be open to change, or open to considering the positions of people who think differently than her. It was not only encouraging, it was heartwarming: We could have a discussion that would not end in an argument or hurt feelings.

At the end of the day, especially during these times, we all need friendship and a place we can go to talk, vent, and commiserate – especially with people who should understand us like nobody else can. We are all struggling with the lack of interaction and the challenges of today’s new norm. More than ever, we need to be kinder, hear the pleas for attention, and reach out to a friend, family member, or colleague. I challenge you to check in with someone each day, start your morning off by doing something for somebody else. Surround yourself with positivity, and those will be the gold and silver of old and new TCDLA provides!

Chief Executive Officer’s Perspective: Working Together


“Diversity is about all of us, and about us having to figure out how to walk through this world together.”

-Jacqueline Woodson

There is just so much changing daily. We have the governor issuing so many executive orders, I can no longer keep up all of with them. As we continue with this new norm each day, we face how to continue with training, take part in court, and serve clients.

TCDLA is an organization of 3,400+, and we train more than 5,500 a year. Now is the time we need to have a strong united voice. We have several committees working on today’s current executive orders and the ongoing issues criminal defense attorneys face. We also have representatives meeting with the Supreme Court of Texas, OCA, and SBOT to fight for our member’s rights and protect the Sixth Amendment. If you are facing any of these issues, contact our chairs below or visit our COVID website, which we are always updating.


Allison Barbara Clayton,
Nicole DeBorde Hochglaube,


Michael Gross,

We also have our lobbyists, Shea Place and Allen Place, fighting for our members. Shea regularly posts on the Legislative listserve. If you are not receiving the messages, contact TCDLA. The listserve is for informational purposes and not open for responses. You can email the Legislative team at .

Visit page 8. We are starting our second cohort for the Future Indigent Defense Leaders with partners Texas Indigent Defense Commission and the Harris County Public Defender’s Office. Reach out and welcome the new mentees to our TCDLA family.

Special thanks go to everyone who participated in our first-ever virtual Rusty Duncan. Kerri Anderson Donica and Course Directors John Convery, Deandra Grant, David Guinn, and Carmen Roe did an amazing job. I could not leave out your fabulous, hardworking staff – kudos! I was overwhelmed by the support and contributions our members gave to the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Educational Institute. Due to everyone’s generous support, we have scholarships available for our TCDLA seminars starting September 1, 2020. If you need more information for TCDLA seminar scholarships, email or call 512.478.2514.

We are continuing with Mindful Mondays once a month. The programs are meant to reenergize and give invaluable tools during these times. Our next quarterly event will be September 24-25, 2020, in Arlington. It is two events – Family Violence and Telling a Trial Story – attend both. You can attend in person or virtually. We will have our board meeting Saturday, September 26, 2020, to continue discussing strategies to protect our members and clients.

If you need anything or have questions, contact our office and we will get you to the right person. Together, we will figure it out and make it through this!

Chief Executive Officer’s Perspective: Your TCDLA Family


“Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family: Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.” 

-Jane Howard

June is always a time of rebirth due to changing of the guards. With these strange and difficult times because of COVID-19, we continue into the unknown. Regardless, TCDLA has become stronger. The membership and local bars and under the leadership of Kerri Anderson Donica have united. It has truly been a pleasure to work with Kerri, not only as president but as a mentor and friend.

The executive committee has met numerous hours to ensure we are supporting all the needs of our membership. A huge thanks goes out to TCDLEI Chair Clay Steadman and the board for providing more than $45,000 in scholarships for attorneys enduring hardships.

The COVID-19 Task Force, led by Clay Steadman, Nicole DeBorde Hochglaube, John Hunter Smith, and Jeep Darnell, works endless hours communicating with members and working with counties to ensure safe conditions. Our GA-13 committee, under the helm of Betty Blackwell, Allison Clayton, Jeep Darnell, and Kyle Therrian, have written numerous writs, worked into the late hours of three a.m. to meet deadlines, and assisted so many of our members.

In addition, the Ethics Hotline, chaired by Robert Pelton, fields numerous calls daily and the response time is remarkable. Our members rave about the service and responses they receive from Robert and his committee.

The Strike Force, under Nicole DeBorde Hochglaube and Reagan Wynn, stands ready to defend our attorneys if the need arises. Robb Fickman has fielded concerns with the court system raised by our members as well.

TCDLA has more than 32 committee each serving a unique purpose. All the committees and chairs this year have worked tirelessly and provided support as needed and requested without any complaints.

Laurie Key as CDLP chair has worked very hard to adapt to the new norm and quickly change live events to webinars. Our committees are composed of volunteers. While trying to practice during this time, each has shown so much dedication, support, and selflessly given time.

Our May DWI Defense Project seminar was very successful. Courser directors Larry Boyd, David Burrows, and Frank Sellers, as well as all the speakers, not only hung in there with TCDLA and tried something new, they did it with ease. Of course, we had some glitches, but they were champs along with all the viewers!

The TCDLA staff are also here to assist you. We will get you the information or service you need. Do not ever hesitate to contact us.

As Grant M. Scheiner takes over the responsibilities of president in June, we will continue to work together, develop and maintain strong bonds, and TCDLA will be stronger than ever and be here for our members and support criminal defense attorneys throughout the state of Texas. Together we are your tribe, clan, and most importantly your TCDLA family!

Chief Executive Officer’s Perspective: Groundhog Day


“Be mindful. Be grateful. Be positive. Be true. Be kind.”

                                                                                        – Roy T. Bennett


It’s been almost a month we have been working remotely. At first it felt like time was going by fast, then it turned into Groundhog Day  on repeat – get up, get dressed, coffee, go work on the sofa, fix lunch for the kids, go back to the sofa to work, fix dinner, go to bed. The only thing that changed each day was the food.

After a week of being sore from just sitting on the couch and working, but not working out, I decided I had to force myself to go outside. Then I got sore from playing basketball and volleyball with the kids – sigh. Three weeks later, I need to make myself take a break during the day just to move around. After reorganizing the pantry and storage closet, I have picked up several hobbies, binge-watched way too much Netflix, and started cooking items from scratch.

Most of the staff are working remotely while a few go into the office to cut checks, open mail, and process orders. We are watching our cash flow as I can imagine most of you are. We continue to ensure our expenses are down to the essentials. We are already projecting out various scenarios to prepare the best we can.

The past couple of weeks have been non-stop working on every aspect of criminal defense and the impact of COVID-19. Our Task Force has put in countless hours and continue to be there for our members. If you need any assistance, I encourage you to reach out to your district representative, who is listed on our website. Utilize the resources TCDLA offers during this challenging time. I haven’t had time to work on the items I would normally be working on due to being faced with COVID-19.

On April 10, 2020, the Hon. Lora Livingston of the 261st District Court of Travis County issued a temporary restraining order enjoining enforcement of Executive Order GA-13 in TCDLA et al. v. Abbott. The following day, the Texas Supreme Court stayed that order and has since ruled the individual judges in Harris County don’t have standing to sue for an injunction. However, the Supreme Court made very clear the constitutional arguments put forth in the petition and in TCDLA’s writ of habeas corpus are very strong and should be considered by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.

TCDLA President Kerri Anderson Donica, Past President Betty Blackwell, COVID-19 Task Force Chair Clay Steadman, along with along with his Vice-Chairs, John Hunter Smith, Nicole Houchglaube, and Jeep Darnell, and the GA-13 Subcommittee members Allison Clayton, Jeep Darnell, and Kyle Therrian, have been instrumental in assisting attorneys throughout the state fight Governor Abbot’s unconstitutional Executive Order GA-13. Their tireless work and dedication over long hours  has resulted in one of the most vulnerable groups in Texas’ population, the poor, being released from jail pending the resolution of their respective cases.

We are each going through our difficulties of being separated from family and friends: family violence has risen, and anxiety levels and responsibilities have increased tremendously. TCDLA has put on several Mindful Mondays to help deal with stress, partnered with TIDC to prepare you for the new norm for online courtrooms, and Financial Fridays to help you with finances. If you missed any of the events, we have them on our website. If you can’t find the recordings, call us – 512.478.2514 – we will point you in the right direction.

With everything going on, I am frequently reminded to slow down just a bit and force my kids to take a break from their electronics, watch a movie, go outside, or play a game. I have to say I enjoy the time with the kids, but miss my family and friends. I look forward to when I get to see adults in person, not on Zoom or FaceTime. Sometimes we need a gentle reminder to be thankful for what we have and for the people we don’t get to see all the time. I try to reach out and say “Hello” to those I haven’t heard from in a while. Kind words go a long way. Whether you call, text, FaceTime, or Zoom, connect with someone today you have had on your mind or someone you haven’t heard from in a couple of days or weeks. Together we must continue to be positive, kind, and thankful. I am grateful for whoever is reading this article at the moment.

Chief Executive Officer’s Perspective: Trying Times


“We are each other’s harvest; we are each other’s business; we are each other’s magnitude and bond.”

– Gwendolyn Brooks

This month has been overwhelmingly difficult – both professionally and personally.  I know I am not alone in feeling the weight of concerns that have come along with the global spread of COVID-19 – how to keep our members, staff, and family safe while still ensuring income is coming to pay the bills.

At TCDLA, we have always had an overwhelming number of committees and members band together to assist in various areas. 

When a member brings a concern, we unite as one to get the resources or answers needed. This pandemic and its effect on our profession is no different. The Executive Committee, under the leadership of President Kerri Anderson Donica, has worked unselfishly and tirelessly on so many issues that surround the criminal defense field and TCDLA. We are updating the website and continuing to add resources and motions. Do NOT hesitate to reach out and let us know how we can do better to support you. We have several different alternatives for face to face CLE that we are also offering.  I want to stress more than anything, at trying times like this, we need each other and should not be ashamed to share our deepest concerns, fears, or feelings.

I hope each of you builds the courage to ask for help when needed.  We are here for each other. One thing I have seen over and over is how TCDLA bands together and takes care of each other. It is very humbling and powerful.

Visit our website for more information. Please send your concerns, requests, or any resources, documents, or motions you have to share to .

Ethics Hotline is being closely monitored. Call 512-646-2734.

Strike Force Co-Chairs:

     Nicole DeBorde | | (713) 526-6300 p

     Wm. Reagan Wynn | | (817) 336-5600 p

Be sure to continuously check our website for updates. Our home office is not closed but some staff are working remotely. Our phone line hours are from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. For 24-hour help, contact Melissa Schank, 512-619-2060, Mari Flores, 512-743-5149 or Rick Wardroup, 806-283-1496.