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 Director’s Perspective: Reenergizing Yourself – By Melissa J. Schank


“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”

—Mahatma Gandhi

South Padre’s CLE events were very well attended this year. We had several members comment on how this has become a TCDLA tradition over the past ten years. The camaraderie that has built up over time cannot be replaced. Veteran attorneys still come to prepare or improve their presentations, while new attorneys enjoy the one-on-one interaction and conversation that build lifelong relationships. It is so meaningful when the attorneys take time on a personal level and share real-life experiences after the seminars each day. Bobby Lerma and Bill Trantham and their crew truly outdid themselves this year. The beach cookout was delicious, and all had a fabulous time. We thank them for their dedication to TCDLA and for the days’ time they dedicate in preparation to make this a unique tradition.

I had the opportunity to attend the Defenses of Executives in conjunction with NACDL this year. I was overwhelmed with the hospitality shown by each of the executive directors, as well as their willingness to share ideas. The creativity each state organization contributed was exciting and reinvigorating. I could not type fast enough. Speaking for TCDLA, the largest state association of criminal defense lawyers, I could brag on the many things we do well, but I learned so much more that we could try and other ways we could improve what we do. As each day went by, the juices continued to flow.

It was also very empowering to see that all of the executive directors except two were women. Discussions ranged from challenges associations face to marketing, technology, social media, staff, fundraising, and online CLE, to name a few. I felt energized by the guidance and mentorship many shared previously on the listserves, but to meet face to face and actually network during the day on a professional level—and then in the evening on a personal level—proved invaluable. Throughout the day and evening, we picked each other’s brains.

No one acted territorial or felt threatened: The group collaborated on ideas, exchanging documents, packets, and marketing material, as well as sharing insights on personal situations where maybe someone needed help or a pick-me-up. All in all, an overwhelming, great time. The group genuinely wanted each person who was an ED to be successful and were willing to help one another get there. A representative for NACDL affiliates also met with us to discuss how they could assist. We are looking forward to the upcoming year working closely with NACDL.

The staff was very excited when I brought back five pages of to-do items. Already they had been meeting to brainstorm on our marketing efforts and different ways to reach audiences via social media. The new ideas were welcomed, leading to more staff inspiration. The creative ideas and suggestions kept coming.

Is this how you feel when you leave a TCDLA event? It should be our goal for you to leave with techniques you can implement right away or motions to use, other methods for you to employ and tailor to your personal style. Do you come back and challenge yourself to try something different, out of the box? Did you meet new colleagues who you did not know otherwise, or did you stay to yourself or with your clique? Did you see young or veteran attorneys sitting alone—then invite them to join you for lunch or start a conversation to find out more about them?

I returned home from the NACDL event reenergized, empowered, and reinvigorated, alive with new ideas—at work and at home. I always feel like there are not enough hours in the day to finish what I need to do without going overboard. I need a getaway to discover something new and challenge myself to climb out of my box. Getting out of the office for personal time or continued education refreshes me, a jump-start. It relieves my stress and helps with the work-home balance.

In August I was able to take a vacation without the kids and just relax. When I returned, the staff graciously surprised me with fresh flowers, which I love—flowers are one of those things that can liven up any room. The kids always think it is so odd I frequently buy myself flowers. There doesn’t have to be a reason, I explain to them. The staff also warmed my heart with a beautiful desk display. They are truly amazing. We are lucky to have them!

Another year has come and gone, and I am year older. Time seems to go so much faster now, and I wish I could slow it down. I remember wanting to be 16 to get my driver’s license, then 18 to get into the clubs, then 21 to drink legally. But then you find you’re an adult and the bills roll in—and you want things to slow down. Yet every year seems to pass faster and faster.

I am thankful and truly blessed for all the opportunities and kindness I have been shown. I want to extend the warmest thank you for your big-hearted contributions I received on Facebook for our Texas Criminal Defense Educational Institution fund. I was overwhelmed by it. I am now a Fellow . . . Wait! Just in: a special new anonymous donation for $1,000! I am putting in the rest to become a Super Fellow! I am so excited to achieve this status! What a way to act as one, in unity. We can do so many things together!

In other news, TCDLA co-sponsored the Innocence for Lawyers CLE with the Innocence Project of Texas (IPOT). Course directors Gary Udashen, Mike Ware, and Allison Clayton all work endlessly throughout the year with IPOT. The staff was invited to attend the dinner presentations and listen to these exonerees. It always amazes me how their spirits are not crushed and they are not jaded. The staff returned and talked about how empowering the speakers were. If it were up to me, I would want everyone to hear their stories just once. IPOT was founded in 2006 to provide free investigative and legal services to indigent Texas citizens convicted of crimes they did not commit. Thirty-one states still have the death penalty, but I try to remain optimistic. I had the opportunity to listen to Rick Wardroup discuss his experience in a capital case, traveling to Huntsville when they executed his client. I hope he will share his story soon. I have been in Huntsville several times when people were executed, a surreal experience. Texas has had eight executions since January this year, compared to seven in all of 2017. These are grim statistics; I can’t say fewer is better.

Also new: TCDLA initiated a communication audit to review the Voice IP phone system, fax machines, internet connections, and speed in-house and on the website. The audit was performed by an independent consultant to review expenses and compare our systems with current technology and services available. While at one time VOIP was the service to select to avoid long-distance charges, many phone carriers now include limits of 8,000 to 10,000 minutes of long-distance calls. With more and more people using cell phones, they end user does not incur long-distance fees, making pay lines obsolete.

Technology is ever-changing. By the time you adopt the current model or learn the latest technology, the new version is released the next week. Are you up-to-date with the technology needed to represent your client effectively?

With that in mind, you might want to join us for a new CLE,  “Forensics, Phones, and Snitches,” held in Austin (Lakeway) September 13–14, 2018. Our course directors and the CLE Committee have put together a fresh new lineup. This is a must-attend seminar for every lawyer who defends serious felony cases. Learn how to decipher—and combat—the social-media and cellular evidence in your case. Learn how to deal with enhancement paragraphs, and, when all else fails, learn how to protect yourself from the inevitable writ. Hear from experts and lawyers who have successfully handled these types of cases. Get away to Lakeway! We have responded to our members’ comments on evaluations asking for seminars at venues with more amenities, selecting the Lakeway Resort and Spa for the September seminar and board meetings. Show your support for not only the new location but also the seminar.

Executive Director’s Perspective: It Takes a Village – By Melissa J. Schank


The months of June and July are special times for TCDLA, though extremely busy. Most people are preparing for their summer vacations, but in the home office, June is particularly demanding, preparing for and orchestrating the annual Rusty Duncan Advanced Criminal Law Course, our annual board meetings, and all events that includes. But it’s all worth it for the opportunity to work with and see so many of our wonderful members. This year we had more than 800 attendees. Our success was due to our members and the leadership of our course directors—Gerry Goldstein, Nicole DeBorde, John Hunter Smith, and Mark Thiessen—who selected 36 stellar speakers.

At the annual TCDLA Board meeting, all board members checked in and signed a con­flict of interest statement, as well as a code of conduct policy and implementation of a procedures policy. TCDLA is one of the few associations proactive in creating a policy. The Executive Committee was very thorough in writing the language the board adopted in June. We are working on creating a training for board members and staff to review annually. This is so new that many associations will use TCDLA’s as a model. The board also voted in the North Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association as a new affiliate—welcome! David Moore also created the TCDLA Family Task Force, headed by Cynthia Orr and Nicole DeBorde, to aid with border issues. Our members have shown an overwhelming response in providing support and assistance.

The June meetings are also unique because of the changing of the guard. I had the opportunity to work closely with David, getting to know him on a personal and professional level. I truly admire his persona and the leadership he’s shown. He has guided me through challenging times, and I am grateful for his time and dedication. At the annual board meeting, we swore in our new board members, and I’m looking forward to getting to know them. In addition, we swore in a new president, Mark Snodgrass, my boss for the next 12 months. Each year, by the time I truly get to know the president and how to interact efficiently, it’s time to change the guard again. But I’ve worked with Mark as CDLP chair and on other committees in the past, so we are off to a great start.

Once Rusty ended, it was immediately back to work. We returned to the home office and began immediately processing some 800 evaluation forms from Rusty attendees. We ensure that every comment is recorded and seriously considered so we can continue improving. When we finish, we will start planning and making preparations for Rusty Duncan 2019 with our new course directors: Bobby Mims, Casie Gotro, Doug Murphy, and Jani Maselli Wood. Mark your calendars for June 13–15, 2019. The Hyatt Regency room block was full this year, so you might want to go ahead and make your reservations for 2019. This will be a legislative year, and though we understand everyone has many options, we want TCDLA to be your go-to for CLE. We strive to design CLE geared towards criminal defense attorneys, inviting exceptional speakers and experts while providing networking and time for socializing that cannot be matched in online CLE. We welcome any suggestions you may have for topics for future TCDLA CLE.

June is also particularly close to my heart as we get to cele­brate Father’s Day. This year I had a surprise visit from my dad. It was great just hanging out with family and, of course, eating lots of food. We had plenty of laughs and—as always—goodbyes were bittersweet. I owe my dad a lot for teaching me to adapt. As Air Force brats, we moved around when I was young. My knack for adapting to change and my learned social skills stem from these experiences. I almost wish I could have moved my kids around every other year just so they too could have gained similarly. It seems that talking on their game headsets will have to do for now for them learning communication skills. But I cherish the time I got to spend with family. One gratifying part of this visit came when dad saw the Voice cover with my photo on the coffee table. In that moment we could share in the pride I take in the place I work. I look forward to sharing and cherishing many more such moments with him. I have immense respect for the men who are fathers who raise children, nieces, nephews, and siblings, who are responsible for molding and mentoring the young. I genuinely believe in the saying “it takes a village to raise a child.”

We can also apply that same saying to a company or association. I know TCDLA is not successful because of any single individual. Our accomplishments are a result of the vision and passion of our officers, board members, committees, and members. Our staff provides the necessary support needed to assist in reaching the association’s goals. The president at the helm of TCDLA relies on past presidents and the executive committee’s guidance. It is great leadership that supports and empowers those they are surrounded by—again, it’s a village.

As swiftly as June came and went, July was here. Between the processing of all items related to Rusty Duncan, Public Defender training, and Capital CLE, we only had a little over a week to plan for July seminars. We prepared for our Trainer of Trainers to stay up to date with what our members want from our speakers. Experienced five-star speakers worked to convey what is expected of our future speakers. And we held the final edition of the Unleashing the Beast series, closing out Heather Barbieri’s year as CDLP chair, as well as an orientation and a members trip hosted by the Snodgrasses. Together we learned anew how TCDLA, TCDLEI, and CDLP—all unique and complicated in their own right—work together in complementing one another.

In between the activity, business stopped for half a day on July 3rd for TCDLA’s Declaration of Independence Readings. Robb Fickman and Chuck Lanehart helped organize more than 100 readings throughout the state. Word is getting out, and we had several out-of-state defense bars participate as well. This event will continue to grow due to their efforts.

What a rush—reading the Declaration on the steps of the Blackwell Thurman Courthouse. It was interesting to have so many people walk by and ask what we were doing. Many were enticed by the free doughnuts and coffee, but most left proudly displaying an American flag or lapel pin, and a number were curious enough to stay and listen to the reading. So many were brought together in this truly patriotic event hosted by the Austin Criminal Defense Lawyers Association and TCDLA. The audience included judges, attorneys, defendants, peace officers, children, and courthouse staff. We even had one comment that he would have participated if he didn’t have to go to jail. It was truly inspirational to witness such a gathering of folks from different walks of life. Each criminal defense lawyer or TCDLA staff person read a portion of the declaration with a true sense of patriotic pride, and despite the archaic words, each reader finished composed—and I believe with a true sense of connection to the never-ending battle against injustice that so many of our members face.

In these turbulent times, what can you do to serve your county and truly help society, fight for equality and justice under the law? What can you do to help ensure everyone has equal opportunity? Are you willing to stand up for what you believe even if you are in the minority? How do you help others understand your point of view without creating strife? How we do we teach our society to be proud of who you are and what you believe? Did our forefathers face these same issues confronting us today?

I strongly believe in order for our society to be successful we must learn to love thy brother and neighbor, uplift and encourage each other, stand by and support those in need, and respect our individual independence. Our country came together and fought for independence and the right for everyone to pursue happiness.

Executive Director’s Perspective: Where Heroes Come From – By Melissa J. Schank


That’s where I’ll get the love in my heart: from, the fact that little young guys can look at the obstacles that I had to go through to become a Hall of Famer and know it’s not so bad when it comes to them trying to accomplish the same goal.

—Allen Iverson

This month we had a delightful visit from the family of Fidencio G. Garza Sr. of Edinburg. He was a recipient in 1986 of the TCDLA Hall of Fame Award. The Hall of Fame Award is TCDLA’s most prestigious award. The requirements are:

1.   Minimum of thirty (30) years has elapsed since engaging in active practice of law or the candidate is deceased
2.   Substantial commitment to defense of persons accused of crimes on appeal or trial, not to be based solely on won-lost record or publicity, but in court excellence; and
3.   Significant contributions to the profession.

Fidencio was married to Fela Villarreal, a public school educator. He was admitted to the bar after receiving his Juris Doctor degree from South Texas College of Law. Fidencio had two children—a daughter, Ernestina, and a son, Fidencio Garza Jr. The junior Fidencio followed his father’s footsteps and became an attorney in 1961 and later became a U.S. Magistrate Judge as one of many more accomplishments. Fidencio Sr. passed in 1957.

His family came by the office to take pictures with our Hall of Fame plaque in honor of his memory and in recognition of his accomplishments. Some traveled from as far as California. In attendance was Angela Moreno, Fidencio’s niece, whom he baptized, along with Baldemar Cano Jr., who also became a lawyer and judge, and his wife, Belia Cano. Alfredo and Emma Lopez and Buddy Cano also attended.

The family shared many stories—including when Fidencio Sr. ran for district attorney in Falfurrias County, a controversial move since he was Hispanic. Fidencio was shot during the election and ended up relocating. He had been fighting de facto segregation in Raymondville in the ’40s and ultimately prevailed (State v. Garza, 269 S.W.2d 596 [1954]).

His relatives described him as an aggressive criminal defense attorney. He was a strong-minded, macho, and assertive man. He was outspoken, at times domineering, and always stood his ground. He and his brother were the first in their family to go to college. Many of the children, nephews, and nieces looked up to him growing up as kids. They were very proud of him, and in their eyes, he was the number one attorney.

The description reminds me of a lot of our criminal defense attorneys. I travel to many seminars and events where I am around our members’ family. The stories they all share are fascinating. Each one is shared with love and similarly proud feelings. Our defense attorneys are true heroes.

Our Hall of Fame plaque is proudly displayed in our home office. Annually we delicately package it to travel with us to Rusty Duncan to display in our registration area. Stop by this year to take a moment and see the names of the recipients who have been honored through the years.

A reminder: The Hall of Fame awards applications are due April 10th each year. The application can be found on our website or requested by contacting the TCDLA home office. Recipients are selected only if a nominee is submitted and approved. We have several awards presented annually at Rusty Duncan for which we accept applications. We always hear comments after the fact that someone should be inducted. But we do first need an application for recipients to be reviewed by the Awards Committee. We encourage you to submit a form next year for a deserving candidate for one of the awards listed below. Any lawyer may nominate a qualified candidate.

  • TCDLA Hall of Fame
  • TCDLA Percy Foreman Lawyer of the Year
  • TCDLA Charles Butts Pro Bono Lawyer of the Year Award
  • TCDLA Senator Rodney Ellis Justice Award

If you would like to see the award criteria or video capturing the recipients’ history, visit our website at and click on the “About” tab. There you’ll find videos, honorees’ names, criteria, and applications. Join us this year as we induct Martin Underwood, Daniel Hurley, and Frank Jackson into the 2018 TCDLA Hall of Fame on June 21, 2018, at Rusty Duncan in San Antonio. For more details, contact the TCDLA office at (512)478-2514. Hope to see you in June!

Executive Director’s Perspective: Making a Life – By Melissa J. Schank


“I’ve learned that making a ‘living’ is not the same thing as ‘making a life.’”

—Maya Angelou

I am overcome with joy and excitement and cannot type fast enough to capture all my thoughts and sensations. I am humbled by the Executive Committee’s vote of confidence in me, and I am truly honored to serve TCDLA as your Executive Director. I appreciate the overwhelming amount of support and encouragement I have received the last few months from our members. I have never felt so proud, receiving calls, texts, and emails congratulating me. I am devoted to TCDLA and admire each of those whom I have had the opportunity to work and serve alongside. I will continue to do my best to maintain TCDLA as the largest—and finest—state criminal defense organization in the nation.

With our leadership under the helm of President Moore and the incoming officers, TCDLA’s future is bright indeed. In addition to the officers, we have a 92-member board, 38 committees, and a legislative team, all working furiously throughout the year to improve and maintain our position in criminal defense. I encourage each of you to visit our website if you have not been lately and see who are now our officers, board, and committee members. We are continuously looking for ways to improve TCDLA, increase our visibility, and set new goals. To that end, if you have any suggestions, please send them to me, and we will reach out to the appropriate committee or department to implement those ideas complementing our strategic plan and goals. Your amazing staff is here to assist our members with any needs or requests as well.

TCDLA is a membership organization, here to serve our members in so many ways, all specifically for criminal defense lawyers. This includes providing superb continuing education through TCDLA and CDLP and the most up-to-date legal publications. But it also includes member benefits such as the Strike Force, the ethics hotline, the Voice, representation in the legislature and various organizations, and many more listed on our website. We are effective because of the personal involvement of our members, and together with our leadership, legislative team, and staff, we will remain strong. When we speak with one voice, we are a formidable force for justice.

*  *  *

March has always been one of my busiest months. We have three large seminars we put on—the Tim Evans Texas Criminal Trial College, Mastering Scientific Evidence, and a board meeting (Anatomy of a Trial this year). All of these events take a massive amount of energy and work by the course directors, speakers, and staff. Each is truly unique, and all proved to be very successful.

This year at one of the Trial College dinners with faculty and attendees, I looked around at the group of more than 100 in attendance. The entire restaurant was servicing our group, and even with all hands on deck and advance notice, they were not prepared. I noticed several attendees become very frustrated waiting for their food or bill. But what truly amazed me was that the majority of the group utilized this time to network with other students and share what they had learned or discuss tools they used in their cases. As I walked by, a table would be asking faculty question after question. The stories and sharing were fascinating. I try to encourage all attorneys to come to the Trial College. It is an intense five-day training with attendance limited to 80. The relationships students build with the faculty are life-long. Throughout the students’ careers, they will be able to reach out to these faculty members and always receive a response. Tim Evans and Lydia Clay-Jackson definitely created an exceptional program and set the foundation. Kerri Anderson-Donica and Lance Evans have continued the tradition as deans.

With March already so busy, I try to take off the week of spring break each year to spend time with the kids. I love to travel—for work or pleasure. With the kids, it does not matter to me where we go. I like to go somewhere and wrap myself in a sci-fi book and not do much else at all. I’m told I’m very boring to be with on vacation. I want to go somewhere not Austin when the Austin City Limits Music Festival takes over town. As the kids leave one by one to go to college, I will regret not being able to take our spring-break trips. On Easter, another holiday I look forward to each year, we go to the park with family and friends, and we eat and play softball, volleyball, and kickball. Crack cascarones on each other then eat again. For me, a work-life balance is essential.

With Mother’s Day now approaching, I hope also to spend time with my mother, who lives out of state. I owe my work ethic to her and her steadfast determination. I remember her work­ing double shifts while she raised us. She was very good at saving money and prioritizing what was important. As an Asian mother, she was very hard on us at times and very direct. I remember getting so angry with her sometimes, and now I catch myself acting the same way with my kids and thinking, “I turned into my mom.” She molded me into who I am today and prepared me for what I’ve faced, both personally and professionally. She instilled in me what’s important in life: to be honest and humble and to work hard for anything I wanted. She never discouraged me in any direction I chose. She has always been open and honest and tried to share her experiences with me. Along with most young adults, I knew everything, of course, and had to learn the hard way. While it is still difficult for me to admit I am ever wrong, I find myself apologizing to my mom a lot the older I get. I would like to wish all the mothers a happy Mother’s Day and hope you get to do as much or as little as you wish!

As I travel to seminars and meetings, I look around and see we have so many generations in our workforce. We have baby boomers, Gen X, Gen Y, millennials, and then those born in the last ten years not yet labeled. I feel my youngest children lack the ability to communicate well since they are always texting. I still make them write thank-you notes—which they fuss about—but it is important to me. I try to instill in them my work ethic, and teach them the importance of their commitments and the need to be honest and humble. It scares me sometimes to think I am losing that battle.

To figure out how to successfully interact with all generations, I continuously read magazines on association trends and human resources and attend business continuing education. There don’t appear to be real boundaries where the lines are drawn. It seems that the young, Gen Y and millennials, start off with a high dependency on technology—i.e., texting and social media. Then they get into the workforce, and maybe their communication suffers because they’re not on the same page as the baby boomers or Gen Xers who are now their bosses. But in TCDLA we all work toward a common goal. The question, then, is how do we continue to all connect, grow, so that we can succeed as an association? I ask myself: Do I go above and beyond to include others who aren’t like me? Do you encourage upcoming members, offering your assistance, guidance, and support? We can do this.

Interim Executive Director’s Perspective: Why We Do What We Do – By Melissa J. Schank


Better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer

—Sir William Blackstone

When I started with TCDLA I was for the death penalty, a firm believer of an eye for an eye. The first year I traveled to over 30 TCDLA/CDLP seminars. Two always stick out in my mind as having a huge impact on my life and my beliefs. I attended a Prairie Dog seminar in Lubbock and listened to George Parnham present about the Andrea Yates case. The facts in the case gave me a clear understanding of events that lead to the tragic drowning of her five beautiful children. I still have a hard time grasping that no action could be taken against her husband at the time. This case really highlighted postpartum depression and the need for educating the public.

Rusty Yates remarried and began to bring his new wife to visit Andrea in the mental hos­­pi­tal, but attorney Parnham put an end to any continuous abuse. The compassion George showed for Ms. Yates and his ongoing contact overwhelmed me. To this day, he still keeps in touch with her. When my family and friends then talked about this case, I found myself advocating for our justice system, trying to explain why mitigating factors were so relevant—explaining details to all who would listen. Women are still hesitant to come forward or even acknowledge that they have a postpartum illness. Fourteen years later I am even more of an advocate of a justice system that placed Andrea in a mental institution. There needs to be an awareness of these symptoms so that women may get the help they need:

  • “Baby Blues” don’t get better;
  • sadness or guilt consumes your thoughts;
  • you lose interest in things you enjoy;
  • you have trouble making decisions;
  • you worry you won’t be a good mom;
  • your sleep pattern has changed;
  • you’ve had big, stressful changes in life;
  • you think about harming yourself.

The other seminar I attended that changed my way of thinking is the Innocence Seminar cosponsored with the Criminal Defense Lawyers Project and Innocence Texas (formerly Innocence Project of Texas) in Dallas. Timothy Cole was a student at Texas Tech who was wrongfully accused of rape and imprisoned in 1985. He died in prison in 1999 due to insufficient healthcare in the prison and was not exonerated until after his death. Inno­cence Texas continued the fight, leading to his exoneration on April 7, 2009. (He was later pardoned in 2010.) Michele Mallin, herself the victim of rape, presented at the seminar I attended and gave an account of what lead up to the misidentification and the court proceedings. She spoke about misidentification and wrongful conviction. I could feel her remorse and how this has affected her even 20 years later. This case was particularly sad for me, listening to Timothy’s family recount events, hearing what they went through and how they fought all those years to have him exonerated. The Legislature subsequently passed the Timothy Cole Act, increasing compensation for exonerees—the start of an ongoing battle.

Each year TCDLA, CDLP, and Innocence Texas continue to put on two seminars, Innocence for Students and Innocence for Lawyers. The seminars have had numerous exonerees and their defenders present and share their stories. Attendees including myself are impacted, learning how to continue the fight for justice.

I remember a dreadful gloomy day when I was at the Tim Evans Texas Criminal Trial College and an execution was scheduled in the Walls Unit of Huntsville Prison. Some people protested outside with signs, while others jumped up and down with excitement, which I just couldn’t understand. That night I couldn’t sleep thinking about the process, “what if they were innocent”: Did they have sufficient evidence, and would it matter? The process seemed inhumane. That was just one of the many nights I couldn’t sleep, thinking about the what-ifs and ways to make changes.

In the last ten years we’ve had an outrageous number of executions in Texas—169. I have listened to more than 20 exonerees present. I have talked with them, their families, and built relationships. I keep in touch with some on Facebook and see them in their daily lives. I am ashamed that at one point in my life I was for the death penalty, which ignores the fact that innocent people are executed. These seminars changed my view on the death penalty. Now I truly understand the quote above. I commend our capital defenders.

Our criminal defense attorneys do yeoman’s work, making life-saving pleas, creating new laws, and bringing light to the criminal justice system. I am very proud to say I work for TCDLA. I do not try to change my family’s and friends’ beliefs intentionally (okay, maybe a little). I just try to give them another view and hope with the information and insight I provide that they will have a better understanding of cases. If I can give one person an inside look at what defense lawyers do—show their dedication and compassion, and how they defend those accused of a crime—it is genuinely a rewarding feeling.

Interim Executive Director’s Perspective: Transition – By Melissa J. Schank


The best part of your story is when it changes.

—Bella Bloom

As I reflect on the last 13 years, I want to thank Joseph Martinez for sharing his wealth of knowledge and allowing me to gain all the experience that has prepared me for this moment. I have some very large shoes to fill, but thanks to Joseph’s guidance—as well as our leadership, members, and staff—the transition will be smooth.

Under President Moore’s direction, the staff will work closely with the Executive Committee to ensure continued success. Your staff is here to serve our members, and they are ready and willing to interact and provide any support needed. I am proud to work alongside them; they are dedicated, hardworking, and loyal to TCDLA.

I encourage each of you to get to know the staff; we have several who have been with us more than a decade. Staff members are cross-trained and can assist you with most anything, and if they don’t know the answer they will find it!

Miriam Duarte (formerly Rendon), your Database Coordinator, has been with TCDLA for more than 11 years. She can run any reports and statistics involving membership, seminars, or publications. She is your go-to person for any questions regarding auto-draft (save $$$), membership, and listserves. Are you on the lawyer locator? Send her your specialty areas and start marketing yourself.

Craig Hattersley, your Communications Director, in his ten-plus years with TCDLA has an abundance of institutional knowledge. He is responsible for all the marketing brochures and communication pieces, the Voice, and final publication products. He creates every piece of art we use for the website or anything that comes out of our office. Craig is available to assist local affiliates with any marketing needs. We offer our members logos to place on their websites or for business card templates. Craig does so many more things, detailed weekly on our Board Loop reports. He is essential to our success. Send Craig articles to print in the Voice.

Cristina Abascal, your Accounts Payable Clerk, has also been with TCDLA for more than ten years. She is responsible for writing some 2,500-plus checks a year—and securing two signatures for every single one. She promptly deals with all reimbursements, bills, and payroll. If you have any questions about your reimbursements, she is always happy to help.

Mari Flores has served TCDLA as our Controller for more than six years, mastering the intricate aspects of TCDLA, CDLP, and TCDLEI finances. All our audits during her years have received clean audit reports with no negative findings. She is invaluable to all our organizations. Mari is available to answer any questions you may have regarding our budget, income, or expenses.

Rick Wardroup, a veteran of six years with TCDLA, continues to work endless hours as our Capital Assistance Attorney. He is passionate and dedicated to his work on Capital Defense and Mental Health. He updates and/or edits our publications, as well as putting together an overwhelming number of our course agen­das and materials. On the forefront of capital defense, he is always available to assist members with any legal questions.

Amanda Rivera (formerly Martinez), our Program Coordinator, has been with TCDLA five years total. Shreika Madison, our other Program Coordinator, has been with us more than a year. Amanda and Shreika are essential to our TCDLA and CDLP organizations, responsible for staging more than 48 unique live seminars a year. They work with over 470 speakers and 90 course directors each year to ensure agendas are up-to-date and papers turned in, sending out marketing ma­te­rials and doing the little things like making PowerPoints work. The efforts they put in make the seminars run seamlessly.

Keri Steen, your Seminar Clerk for two years, has mastered all aspects involving seminars and membership. Some of her key responsibilities include the Tim Evans Texas Criminal Trial College and Roundtop, besides applying for CLE and managing over 75 online CLE courses. She is one of the friendly voices that will greet you when you call for assistance.

Maxx Trejo, Seminar Clerk, processes all orders we receive, working quickly to make sure you have the latest publication in hand. Maxx markets all our events and merchandise on Facebook and Twitter. He also makes sure everything is processed correctly and helps pack the various bins we take to seminars.

We have three staff members who have joined us this year: Beth Richter, Elisa Jaramillo, and Talia Underwood. They are furiously working each day to take in and learn all the details the job entails while still answering phones with a smile. They have been working our seminars and getting to know our organization and members. All our staff members are essential to daily grind that makes TCDLA run efficiently. Please feel free to contact any of them. They are here to serve you.

I am grateful for the opportunity to work with the finest criminal defense lawyers and staff in Texas. I recognize the sacrifices and impact each of you makes daily. I am excited to continue this journey with all of you and be a part of the continued victories and achievements of TCDLA and TCDLEI. I anticipate a smooth transition because together we are one voice—and a mighty force to be reckoned with!

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