Current Issue: December 2021

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Features

12 | Blue Dot Marks the Spot? Questioning Location Service Data in Legal Cases – By Steve Watson & Lance Sloves
16 | A Great Criminal Defense Attorney is a Zealot, Despite its Negative Connotations – By Lara Bazelon
24 | The Law of Jury Selection Qualification & Disqualification in the Art of Voir Dire – By Clifford Duke
30 | Pre‑Trial Investigations – By Jeremy Rosenthal

Columns

5 | President’s Message
6 | Executive Officer’s Perspective
7 | Editor’s Comment
8 | Ethics and the Law
10 | Federal Corner
23 | Shout-Outs

Departments

4 | CLE Seminars and Meetings
33 | Significant Decisions Report

President’s Message: Happy Holidays!

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“We are so grateful for all the sacrifices that you have made this year to support and serve others. May this Holiday season be a time for you to rest and recover, and to reflect on all that you have achieved.”

‑Anonymous

I do not know about all of you, but everything seems to be so much more difficult in our law practice these days. What was once easy to obtain in discovery or in witness interviews or trial preparation now seems so much harder. It sometimes feels like we are in quicksand. Add to these difficulties the strange emergence of jury trials during the pandemic. Masks and plexiglass and Zoom permeate the courtroom. In 2019 and earlier, a court coordinator could accurately tell us whether or not our case was going to trial the following week. No more. Everything seems to be in flux. These stressors may lead some to feel that our service to our clients and others is not appreciated. Ours is not an easy profession. It is not easy, for example, to enter a courtroom filled with 80 venirepersons and conduct voir dire on a murder case or other difficult case. These many stressors can sometimes be overwhelming. We have attempted to survive the pandemic and countless Zoom settings. We have maintained our law practices in spite of the difficulties resulting from the pandemic. We should remember, however, that we have adapted and overcome these stressors and should not allow them to dampen our holiday season. We are a TCDLA family and know that we may rely upon each other to get through these difficult times.

As we enter this holiday season and prepare for New Years, I hope each of us takes a moment to reflect on how our sacrifices this past year have helped and supported not only our families and friends but also our clients, their families, and their friends. My hope is that each of us may take a moment this holiday season and enjoy our families and rest up for this coming year. We need this time to recover and reflect on all that we have achieved. I wish the best for you and yours this holiday season and in 2022.

Happy Holidays!

Executive Officer’s Perspective: Setbacks

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“Turn your setbacks into comebacks.”

—Anonymous

The holiday season is here! It’s been too long since I’ve traveled or taken a vacation due to the pandemic, so I’m excited to be going to see my out-of-state relatives. It seems like years! We will be taking a trip out west, reuniting with cousins and getting together with our extended family.

But excitement over our plans was tempered when my daughter hurt herself—tearing her ACL and meniscus and straining the FCL and MCL. She was devastated that her basketball season was over before it even started. It broke my heart to see her work so hard this summer to prepare, only to be let down. This was to be her year. Now she is relegated to physical therapy for six weeks to allow the FCL and MCL to regain mobility and flexibility, then surgery.

The operation is scheduled a few days after we return from our holiday trip. The recovery process itself will require six to nine months, due to two tears in her meniscus. When the doctor explained the surgery process, it was surreal, sounding like something from a sci-fi movie.

As a parent, I wish I could shield her from sickness, or pain, or whatever plagues her. In a way, I feel the same about our staff and our members. Those moments when we’re excited over new developments then face some terrible setback. Those life-impacting hardships force us to figure a way to move forward. To strive to be stronger or better. None of these things can—or should—be done alone.

While we can’t control what befalls us, we can challenge ourselves to conduct the way we respond. We have the power to marshal our resources and overcome adversity. Strength comes from what you thought you couldn’t do! Similarly, we also can provide the support to help each other along our journeys. In either case, reaching the end, successful goal is so rewarding.

For my daughter, the saying “walk before you run, crawl if you have to” rings so true. In youth, in particular, we want to get there without undergoing any trials or tribulations. Persistence, not giving up, will be key. As the holiday approaches, we will add in a bit of patience.

And as the season winds down, we tend to reflect on the past year. I challenge all to take a moment during the holidays and enjoy time with family and friends. Give the best gift you can, your presence and undivided attention. Go above and beyond—connect with friends, loved ones, fill your heart. Spread some joy to someone and show them you care. Together we can lessen each other’s burdens, so sprinkle some kindness, plant some love. Make these holidays extraordinary and share it with someone close. Cheers to hope, overindulgence in food, and reenergizing (worry about getting back into shape next year—a small setback!). Happy holidays to you, and wishing you a peaceful, healthy, and prosperous year!

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.

Ethics and the Law: Between a Rock & a Hard Place

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Several teenagers from a Houston community became interested in satanic rituals. This was unexpected because this group was raised in a middle-class, law-abiding environment. However, one night the group was together and the subject of what it would look like to watch someone die came up. There was a young male who was not well-liked, and his name was mentioned as a possible victim of a satanic-like sacrificial killing. The teens made plans to lure him to a cemetery at night and then strangle him to death.

Sadly, the plan was executed. Two of the group were young girls who watched but did not participate in the planning or the actual ritual killing. However, they made no effort to stop it.

An investigation began once the body was discovered. When interest in Sharon became known, her parents realized she needed representation as the police were calling it a murder. Heavy stuff. We agreed to represent her. Not long after, the father informed us he had found a suitcase that may have contained items from the scene of the crime. We told him not to destroy it or its contents, and to bring it to our office for safekeeping until we determined if it might contain evidence, and if so, what to do with it.

So, the suitcase was delivered to our office and placed under lock and key. It was not going anywhere until we knew who owned it and what it contained. Meanwhile, our 16-year-old client was taken into custody and placed in a juvenile detention facility.

We began to investigate and interview witnesses. We knew the other girl in the group at the scene was Brittany1. We asked her for an interview. Our investigator, Gene Boyd, and I conducted a thorough interview of Brittany and determined neither she nor our client had participated in the deadly satanic ritual, but knew of it and were present at the time of the attack.

Meanwhile, the D.A.’s investigator had taken a statement from Brittany. Brittany agreed with them to wear a hidden recorder when she talked to us. We did not trust her, and we did not know she had a recorder when she came to our office. We brought out the suitcase, and she said it belonged to her. She identified a pair of tennis shoes as hers – and that Sharon was wearing them on the night in question.

I said, “Really, I didn’t even know they were in there” because we had not yet inventoried the suitcase and I was surprised they were even there. Meanwhile the D.A.’s investigator was parked down the street, recording the conversation.

We realized stains on the shoes could possibly be blood. We excused her for a short break, and I called my partner Jim Lavine to discuss the situation. We determined we did not know if the shoes really belonged to Brittany, if Sharon had really had them on that night, or if they were evidence. So, we decided we could not keep the shoes in our office, and Brittany owned them but could not keep them. We told her (and the attentive investigator parked down the street) that they may be evidence, and because they belonged to her, she needed to call the D.A.’s investigator and take them to him right away. We then prepared a receipt for the shoes and suitcase which she signed, and we sent her on her way.

The case against Sharon and the boys resulted in murder charges being filed and a motion to transfer Sharon to district court from juvenile court. In addition, the D.A.’s office decided to subpoena me as a witness to prove up the chain of custody of the shoes, possibly putting her at the scene.

However, we did not like the feeling we got by being placed in the chain of custody, especially if those spots turned out to be blood from the killing of the young man, linking the shoes to our client. We knew we were not going to testify willingly against our client.

We remembered hearing about the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association Strike Force, which had been created not too long before this case occurred, to represent members who needed counsel in a legal dilemma like this. By good luck, the Strike Force Chair at the time was a long-time good friend of mine from San Antonio, Gerry Goldstein. When we called him, he could not believe the D.A. wanted to call me as a witness against my own client in a murder case – especially in one transferred from juvenile court.

Gerry filed a motion to quash with a brilliantly written memo in support. Fortunately, the law was clear in cases like this and we followed it: seeing to it that the evidence was delivered to authorities (immediately after leaving our office building, as it turned out) not altered in any way, and was available for use by the State if necessary.

But the State thought it was going to have to call the defendant’s attorney to prove how the evidence was delivered un-tampered to law enforcement. A hearing was scheduled before the criminal district court judge who had been assigned the case after transfer.

The prosecutor almost came to blows with Mr. Goldstein, but we prevailed. The subpoena was quashed  and the TCDLA Strike Force added luster to its already shining reputation.

Ethical Issues

  1. Can a criminal defense lawyer be subpoenaed and forced to testify against a client at trial? No.
  2. Can a criminal defense lawyer keep potential evidence from the prosecution in a criminal case in Texas? No.
  3. How does the defense lawyer explain this procedure to the client? See the discussion below.
  4. What is the defense lawyer’s obligation to the court in such a situation. See the discussion below.
  5. Was it prudent for defense counsel to enlist the assistance of the TCDLA Strike Force? Yes.

Discussion

  1. In 1987, the law was not settled in Texas. A resolution was adopted unanimously by the Board of Directors of the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyer Association, that the Texas Supreme Court and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals adopt a rule of ethics that it is unprofessional conduct for a prosecutor to subpoena an attorney at a grand jury without prior judicial approval where the prosecutor seeks to compel the attorney/witness. The then-president of the TCDLA cited authority from the states of Tennessee and Massachusetts, the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. The trial court granted a motion to quash and a motion in limine. Note that the evidence was brought to us by a third-party agent of the client (father), not just a third party. This preserved the attorney-client privilege. See Rules 1.05, confidentiality of information, 1.06, conflict of interest, 1.14, safekeeping property, Texas Disciplinary Rules of Conduct, as of Sept 2021.
  2. A lawyer cannot keep, destroy, or prevent the discovery of incriminating physical evidence in a criminal case, or counsel the client to destroy or prevent discovery of such evidence. See Rule 8.04, Texas Disciplinary Rules of Conduct.
  3. The lawyer in this situation should advise that the lawyer cannot destroy or keep evidence, but that the lawyer cannot be subpoenaed to testify against the client about such evidence. See Rules 1.05 and 8.04, Texas Disciplinary Rules of Conduct.
  4. The lawyer’s obligation to the Court under these circumstances is to file a motion to quash the subpoena and a motion in limine to prevent the prosecutor from bringing such information to the attention of a jury. See Rule 1.05, Texas Disciplinary Rules of Conduct.
  5. Under the state law at that time, it was absolutely the proper thing to bring the matter to the attention of the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, especially the TCDLA Strike Force. The Strike Force chair at the time personally appeared at a hearing for us and we prevailed on a motion to quash and a motion in limine. Strategic conclusion of an author.

Post-Script

Of the five teenagers tried and convicted as adults, two males received life sentences, one male pleaded guilty and received a 60-year sentence, and the fourth male traded his testimony for a 20-year sentence. Sharon, the only female tried, went to the jury after being convicted on a parties theory. The prosecutor forcefully demanded of the jury a sentence of 60 years for Sharon and finding that she personally used or exhibited a deadly weapon, which would affect the timing of her parole.

We asked for a 10-year sentence, probated, and a finding that she did not use or exhibit a deadly weapon. The jury almost hung, but finally assessed a 15-year sentence and found that she did not use or exhibit a deadly weapon. The court released her immediately on an appeal bond. Ultimately, her appeal was unsuccessful, and she was paroled after serving five years. She went on to become a wife and mother. When compared to what could have happened, this outcome was definitely a defense victory.

Federal Corner: Fifth Circuit Provides a Tool to Contest Firearm Enhancements

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Experienced federal practitioners are conditioned to wince upon the mention of a gun in proximity to a drug deal or even just near a stash of drugs intended for sale. Those combinations can produce a two-level enhancement under USSG §2D1.1(b)(1), the drug Guideline, for possession of a firearm in connection with a drug offense; a four-level enhancement under USSG §2K2.1(b)(6), the firearm Guideline for use of a firearm in connection with another felony; a cross reference from the firearm Guideline to the drug Guideline under USSG §2K2.1(c)(1); or, worse, a 5-year mandatory minimum under 18 U.S.C. §924(c). Sometimes, it’s tempting not to fight the Guideline enhancements,1 even when the evidence seems to show nothing more than the mere presence of guns and drugs. The courts have hammered into us that firearms are “tools of the trade”2 when it comes to drug dealing, and the Application Notes to both USSG §2D1.1(b)(1)3 and USSG §2K2.1(b)(6)4 rather strongly encourage their application when guns and drugs are together. But, a recent Fifth Circuit opinion reminds us not to concede the issue too readily.

In United States v. Sincleair, __ F.4th __, No. 20-10495, 2021 WL 5001783 (5th Cir. Oct. 28, 2021), a drug defendant suffered arrest at the home of a downstream customer, that is, a man who bought drugs from the defendant’s own buyer. In fact, these two customers of the defendant were transacting two ounces of methamphetamine when police arrived. The police also found a gun in close proximity to all concerned. Although police ultimately found that the gun was registered to one of the customers (the resident), the district court nonetheless imposed a two-level enhancement for possessing a firearm in connection with the drug offense.

A divided panel of the Fifth Circuit vacated the sentence and remanded. The panel majority did not think the district court was sufficiently clear about the reason for the adjustment. That is, the district court did not clearly say whether the defendant had personally possessed the firearm, or whether, instead, he was vicariously responsible for another’s possession through principles of relevant conduct. The panel said:

It is not clear whether the district court determined that Sincleair personally possessed the firearm or that one of Sincleair’s “unindicted co-conspirators” possessed it during the commission of an offense. The PSR addendum presents both of these options as possibilities, and the district court did not explain which form of possession it attributed to Sincleair. In such a situation, our circuit precedent supports vacating the sentence and remand for the district court to make the appropriate findings.

Id. at *3. Sincleair thus confirms Fifth Circuit precedent. See United States v. Zapata-Lara, 615 F.3d 388 (5th Cir. 2010) (requiring district courts to make explicit findings in support of their Guideline calculations, including those underlying the gun enhancement to USSG §2D1.1).

Perhaps more significantly, the panel found insufficient evidence to support either a theory of personal possession or of vicarious sentencing liability through relevant conduct. It said:

Moreover, there is not enough in the record to support the firearm enhancement based on Sincleair’s personal possession of the firearm because the PSR did not include sufficient facts establishing a temporal and spatial relationship between the gun, the drug trafficking activity, and Sincleair. The Government (and the probation officer) did not provide any evidence establishing that Sincleair owned the weapon, brought the weapon with him to [downstream buyer]’s house, or had any other connection to it. Neither the PSR nor any other evidence supports a finding of temporal proximity between Sincleair’s drug trafficking activity and the weapon found in [downstream buyer]’s house. The only relevant facts in the PSR are that Sincleair was [direct customer]’s source for methamphetamine, and Sincleair and [direct customer] and their girlfriends were present at [downstream buyer]’s home for a social gathering around the time that [direct customer] sold an ounce of methamphetamine to [downstream buyer]. Thus, the only drug transaction that is documented in the PSR occurred in [downstream buyer]’s home between [direct customer] and [downstream buyer]. Even if it may be inferred that Sincleair sold the methamphetamine to [direct customer], there is no evidence of any temporal proximity between Sincleair’s sale and the presence of the weapon; there is no evidence that the sale occurred on the same day, same week, or even same month as [direct customer]’s sale to [downstream buyer]. There is also no evidence that Sincleair promoted or assisted in the sale in any way. The temporal connection between the firearm and any drug trafficking by Sincleair was thus tenuous at best.

Sincleair, __ F.4th at *4.

Though the opinion doesn’t say as much explicitly, it does seem to bolster a defendant’s argument against personal possession of a firearm – notwithstanding its proximity to both the defendant and the drugs – whether it might just as plausibly have been possessed by another person. It also supplies a good argument against the application of the gun enhancement based on possession by co-defendants. Specifically, it seems to hold that a co-defendant’s possession of a gun in connection with drugs will not justify the adjustment unless the defendant is involved in the particular transaction where the gun is present. Remarkably, this may be so even if he or she previously delivered the very quantity at issue.

Shout Outs

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Shout Out to Emily Miller who received a NOT GUILTY verdict after a three day trial in Mills county on retaliation against a Peace Officer. Emily referenced information found on the listserv. Way to be resourceful! Amazing work, Emily!

Kudos to Steven Green, who celebrated two NOT GUILTY verdicts on a sexual assault of a child case in Van Zandt county. Way to go, Steven!

Great work to Srav Muralindhar, who received a NOT GUILTY in Van Zandt County on an atypical felony stalking case. The alleged victim was the county court at law judge,  and involved facts that included a randy bull and the judge’s harlot cow, cutting barbed wire fences, and courthouse confrontations. And all of this while Srav coped with a hostile visiting judge who denied his request for a jury shuffle and gave the incorrect information to the jury. Congratulations Srav!

Congratulations to Will Vaughn! He received a NOT GUILTY verdict on a continuous family violence felony case, plus three lesser misdemeanors in Washington county. Great job, Will!

Current Issue: November 2021

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DOWNLOAD PDF VERSION

Features

12 | Operation Lone Star – By Philip Wischkaemper
22 | HIPAA in the age of COVID – By Clifford Duke
26 | Texas Forensic Science Commission Update – By Rick Wardroup

Columns

5 | President’s Message
6 | Executive Officer’s Perspective
7 | Editor’s Comment
8 | Ethics and the Law
10 | Chapter & Verse
14 | Federal Corner
18 | From the Front Porch
20 | Shout-Outs

Departments

4 | CLE Seminars and Meetings
33 | Significant Decisions Report

President’s Message: Happy Veterans Day

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Happy Veterans Day to all my fellow veterans and those who support them. We remember those who went before us, those with whom we served, and those who came after us defending our great country. In 1918, on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, World War I realized a temporary cessation of hostilities – an armistice – between Allied forces and Germany. In the following year, November 11, 1918, came to be known as Armistice Day as proclaimed by President Wilson: “To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations…” After World War II and Korea, the 83rd Congress decided to change “Armistice” to “Veterans” resulting in November 11th becoming a day to honor American veterans of all wars.

I am in awe of my fellow veterans – past, present, and future. My fellow United States Marines have distinguished themselves for the last 246 years in Tripoli, Chapultepec, Belleau Wood, Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, Inchon, Chosin Reservoir, Khe Sanh, Hue City, and Fallujah. My brothers and sisters in the United States Army have distinguished themselves in the Battle of the Bulge, Normandy, Saint-Mihiel, D-Day, Naktong Bulge, Baghdad, Basra, and Haditha. My brothers and sisters in the United States Navy have distinguished themselves in the Coral Sea, Java Sea, Midway, Bismark Sea, and the China Sea. My brothers and sisters in the United States Air Force have distinguished themselves in the Berlin Airlift, MiG Alley in Korea, Operation Bolo, and Desert Storm. My brothers and sisters in the United States Coast Guard have distinguished themselves as America’s maritime first responder and protects our economic, national, and border security. Approximately 1.4 million people serve in the U.S. armed forces. That means that approximately 0.4% of the American population is active military personnel, and only about 7.3% of living Americans have ever served in the military. Id. Such an awesome responsibility on so few.

I am also proud to have served with many past and present judge advocates in all our services. Over the years, Military judge advocates have provided sage advice for commanders in all aspects of the military from courts-martial to civil affairs to rules of engagement. After military service, many of these judge advocates continue to distinguish themselves in their legal careers in the civilian sector.

What amazes me is how our veterans continue to serve their country after they leave the military – whether it be in government service or the civilian sector. I believe that the military training our veterans received enables them to overcome any obstacles placed in their way. We were all required to read and be familiar with reading lists while in the military. One book on the reading list was The Art of War by Sun Tzu who listed nine varieties of ground: (1) dispersive ground; (2) facile ground; (3) contentious ground; (4) open ground; (5) ground of intersecting highways; (6) serious ground; (7) difficult ground; (8) hemmed-in ground; and (9) desperate ground. Sun Tzu defined desperate ground as, “Ground on which we can only be saved from destruction by fighting without delay, is desperate ground.”

I think all of us, veterans or not, have been on desperate ground be it in our lives, in court, dealing with the government or our clients and their families, or elsewhere. I think of the criminal defense attorney battling an extremely difficult trial – be it a DWI or a capital murder death case – while dealing with the prosecution, judge, jury, or others. We can all have a sense, in this way, of what our veterans have been through during their military service. To better understand the sacrifice our veterans have given to this country and to better understand Veterans Day, I would suggest reading an outstanding non-fiction book, On Desperate Ground by Hampton Sides. This book provides you with a glimpse of our armed forces at the Chosin Reservoir during the Korean War. This book also informs you about how our military forces have overcome extreme difficulties in the defense of our country and why we should, indeed, observe Veterans Day.

Executive Officer’s Perspective: Do you love what you do?

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“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life,
and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work.
And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.”

– Steve Jobs

As everyone starts going back in to work, we notice a seismic shift between working from home and in the office. The previous year held many challenges for working parents, juggling their full-time jobs and taking care of children (and, if you were like me, taking on the role of warden and teacher). This past year’s social isolation totally unsettled me. A people person, I surprised myself by all too easily becoming something of an unsocial couch potato. The anxiety built as we let our guard down in the spring, thinking things were getting better, then boom—a new strain crept in.

Still, many of our staff returned to the office immediately after Austin’s mandatory shutdown lapsed. As things opened up more, I too returned to face the new challenges: from traveling, to ever-changing COVID rules, to dealing with children thinking themselves free of virtual school (since “the warden” no longer occupied a home office). I am so glad they are back to in-person school, though I do feel sad for our COVID puppies, now alone at home. Did anyone else‘s children beg for a pet that has now become your responsibility?

Through all the disruption, the workforce has changed too: In association/events and hotel industries, for instance, many employees have moved on, some working remotely—if at all. Several companies have given up or reduced their office space, maybe rotating shifts to adjust. With courts not yet 100% operational, we still face zoom court and may well into the future. Some say that zoom and team rotations are the way of the future. Really? Sure, many jobs can be managed remotely or on a rotating basis, but if you work in an industry that provides service to people, how can you do this from home? You need to interact, serve, provide resources.

More than a year in, service industries like restaurants struggle to maintain a staff. One person now does the job of three. To this, we can all relate. The bottom line, at the end of the day, is can you provide your customer the best service. This new reality faces a challenge as everyone opens up to in-person events, social gatherings, vacations. In Austin, for one, employers must deal with the daunting prospect of a job market that’s become ultra-competitive, each company trying to offer more than the next (a boon to service employees, of course).

But when you’re running a small business, whether with one or more employees, each person has a job. And when you’re understaffed, struggling to fill positions, you will ultimately have to spend time training any new hires, assimilating them in your way of doing things. What sets your work culture apart from the next? Do you mentor your team? The job is not always about pay. Don‘t get me wrong; everyone loves a hefty paycheck. What makes a job desirable, though, may lie in the extras—the atmosphere—you offer. Is there a passion for the industry? A job may be stressful, but at the end of the day, is it rewarding? Can you believe in what you do? I hear all too often how people dread going to work. What things do you do to ensure your team doesn‘t feel this way? There are so many things you can do that are not financially prohibitive. Sometimes that just means thinking outside the box.

With TCDLA, what makes our staff special is their motivation to provide the best service. If an issue arises, we want to resolve it immediately. Our members are our extended family we’ve grown to know and care about. I attended several seminars recently and listened closely to what the speakers and attendees had to say. For me, this sort of continuing education is invaluable. Networking with peers assists me in keeping up with the newest trends, technology—but most important, in finding ways we can better serve our members.

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