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Shout Outs

Shout Outs

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Kudos to Jason Cassel, who helped dismiss the murder charge against his client, Deborah Smiley McFadden, for the death of her then‑boyfriend, Edward George, Jr. McFadden was accused of the murder in 2003. On Feb. 17, 2017, she was found guilty and sentenced to 40 years in prison. Cassel contended that the prosecuting attorney suppressed evidence that would have been beneficial for McFadden. Congratulations, Jason!

Kudos to Brent Mayr, who is representing a Eddy, Texas, man who is among those indicted for the January 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol. In a February 11 court filing, Mayr argued that his client “is anything but insurrectionary” and that cell phone footage proves this. It may seem a daunting case to take on, but Brent is handling it with the same ethical professionalism that he uses when assisting lawyers who call the Ethics Hotline. Best of luck, Brent, and kudos for taking the case!

Congratulations to Jason Niehaus and TCDLA’s Amicus Curiae Committee for the work and win in Watkins v. State, PD‑1015‑18 (Tex. Crim. App. 3/3/21).

Congratulations to Josh Zientek, who handled an appeal before the 9th Court of Appeals and was able to get stacked sentences removed from his client’s conviction. Excellent work, Josh!

Congratulations to Eric Torberson, who saved a dog from the death penalty. The dog in question was out for a walk with his owner and was frightened by a jogger coming up behind, and the dog pawed at the jogger but didn’t even break her skin. Paws in the air for Eric!

Congratulations to Nnamdi Ekeh, whose client was no billed on a aggravated sexual assault charge and whose charge for felony assault of breathing impediment was dismissed!

To be featured in our shout outs, email details to Melissa Schank at

Shout Outs

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Congratulations to Amber Vazquez, who freed her client, James, after 17 months in jail awaiting sentencing. James is a felon who was arrested while possessing drugs and a gun. He was facing five to 10 years in prison. Judge Albright granted James probation on Feb. 3. Congratulations, Amber!

Congratulations to Stephanie Gonzales and Jeff Daniel Clark, who appealed and won on behalf of their client in Wheeler v. State. Stephanie’s cross-examination of the police officer at the MTS hearing has been called “brilliant” and “tremendous.” Awesome work!

Congratulations to the A Team – that is, TCDLA’s Ethics Committee for their continued hard work in aiding lawyers caught in ethical quandaries. The Ethics Committee includes Robert Pelton, Joe Connors, Keith Hampton, John Wright, Betty Blackwell, Laura Popps, Jack Zimmermann, Chuck Lanehart, Joe Pelton, Robyn Harlin, Stephen Doggett, Audrie Lawton, and Greg Velasquez.

Shout Outs

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Congratulations to John. F Shrode on his appointment to the 358th Judicial District Court in Ector County by Gov. Greg Abbott!

Congratulations to Susan Kelly for her appointment to the 54th State District Court in McClennan County by Gov. Greg Abbott!

Congratulations  to Keith Hampton, Marjorie Bachman, and investigator Caitlin Meredith, all of whom contributed to the exoneration of an individual falsely accused and convicted of misdemeanor assault. Accused of shooting a school monitor in a parking lot with a BB gun, the actual assailant admitted his guilt and the eyewitness recanted his identification of the defendant. The defense wishes also to give kudos to the Travis County Attorney’s Office, as well as Corby Holcomb and Judge John Lipscombe. Congratulations!

Congratulations to Gerald Goldstein and Cynthia Orr, who saved Geronimo Gutierrez from the death penalty. Gerald and Cynthia received notice from the Court of Criminal Appeals that Geronimo’s death sentence had been overturned. The defense wishes to give thanks to David Weiss and the Center for Death Penalty Litigation. Excellent work!

Congratulations to all the law firms associated with defending Arkema, Inc., against environmental crime charges during Hurricane Harvey in 2017. The trial began in February 2020, went on a six-month break due to the pandemic, and resumed in October. Now the State has officially dismissed one charge against Arkema and three executives, and the judge has granted a directed verdict on the remaining charges. The four defendants were represented at trial by Rusty Hardin (Rusty Hardin & Associates), Letitia Quinones (Quinones and Associates), Derek Hollingsworth (Drumheller, Hollingsworth, & Monthy), Dan Cogdell (Cogdell Law Firm), Cordt Akers (The Akers Firm, PLLC), Paul Nugent and Heather Peterson (Nugent & Peterson), and Tim Johnson and Nick Dickerson (Locke Lord LLP).

Congratulations to past TCDLA President Betty Blackwell, who received the Distinguished Lawyer Award from the Austin Bar Association on January 28. The award recognizes the dedication and hard work of attorneys who have practiced for 30 years or more and have significantly contributed to the legal profession and the greater community. You deserve it, Betty!

Congratulations to Mark Thiessen and Nicole DeBorde Hochglaube of the Strike Force, who were instrumental in getting a continuance for one of Paul Looney’s cases. Looney feared contempt of court due to his expert witness being unavailable and his co-counsel being asthmatic and not participating in the trial until a COVID-190 vaccine was available. Thanks to the Strike Force, Paul’s case was continued until April 2021. Excellent work!

Congratulations to Alyse Ferguson for her appointment as a commissioner to the Texas Judicial Commission on Mental Health!

Shout Outs

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Michael Heiskell was recently awarded Tarrant County Bar Association’s annual Blackstone award, their highest honor. The award is given to lawyers who have been in practice for 65 years or more and who demonstrate outstanding courage in the pursuit of justice. Mr. Heiskell was the first African-American selected to be “Mr. Navarro College” and his 50-year commemoration recently occurred in Corsicana. Past TCDLA President Mark Daniel said, “Mike Heiskell is a 40-year friend. Such an outstanding lawyer. He has the ability to adjust his style to fit the case. Mike can take on and win the most complicated white-collar federal matter or a straightforward state homicide or felony case. His preparation is only exceeded by his incredible courtroom delivery. Always humble. Always gracious. Always relentless. Always a professional. A lawyer’s lawyer.

Congratulations to Clint Snare, who represented a client in the Beaumont Court of Appeals. The client had been sentenced to 99 years for one count, 19 of a maximum of 20 on another, and the maximum 10 years on the five remaining charges, combined with $10,000 fines in each case ($70,000 total). Thanks to Mr. Snare’s advocacy, the Beaumont Court of Appeals reversed all the punishments and remanded. Awesome work, Clint!

Brian Wice and Dan Cogdell, who have faced off against each other in the never-ending saga of the State of Texas v. Ken Paxton since the Jimmy Carter administration, teamed up to win a 9-0 decision in the Court of Criminal Appeals, setting aside a judgment of direct criminal contempt entered against their client, Wayne Dolcefino, former ABC-TV investigative reporter and owner of Dolcefino Consulting, by Darrell Jordan, presiding judge in Harris County Criminal Court. The client approached Jordan while he was on the bench but not while conducting any official judicial proceeding to ask why the two young, inexperienced, and indolent special prosecutors Jordan had appointed to investigate the client’s four criminal complaints alleging violations of the TPIA had done nothing after 18 months. Jordan took exception to the client asking him questions he had every right to ask in a courtroom where he had every right to be, held him in direct contempt and put the 64-year old asthmatic, MS-suffering client in the COVID-ridden Harris County jail for two days before he made bond. Unbeknownst to Jordan, the client recorded the entire encounter with a video spy pen. The Dallas County DA’s Office, acting as attorneys pro tems appointed, agreed relief was warranted and CCA agreed.

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Mitch Adams was appointed to represent a client in Cherokee County on a second-degree aggravated assault with a deadly weapon case. After visiting with the client and reading the deputy’s report, Mitch figured that no one involved in the case had clean hands (read: drug deal), and that the alleged victim would probably not be a very cooperative witness. Mitch filed a motion for an examining trial to find out for sure. At the hearing on the motion (2nd District Court, Cherokee County, Texas), the prosecutor announced that he’d subpoenaed two sheriff’s deputies (who were present) and two civilian witnesses, including the alleged victim, neither of whom showed up. After a brief recess during which the prosecutor tried unsuccessfully to contact his witnesses by telephone, he announced that the State would have to file a motion to dismiss the case. Mitch decided not to object. Mitch called the State’s bluff, and he was right. Congratulations!

Scott Medlock, an attorney at Edwards Law in Austin, and the lawyers at Winston & Strawn won a permanent injunction against the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s Executive Director Bryan Collier on behalf of their clients, Laddy Curtis Valentine and Richard Elvin King. The plaintiffs are incarcerated in the Wallace Pack Unit in between College Station and Houston. The injunction alleges the defendant, TDCJ, “failed to properly protect (the plaintiffs) and other similarly situated Pack Unit inmates from the COVID-19 pandemic.” Congratulations to Medlock and the team at Winston & Strawn.

Letitia D. Quinones represented Arkema Inc. in Houston. Arkema, a chemical plant, was indicted on several charges, alleging the company endangered the lives of its employees and emergency personnel during Hurricane Harvey because the company had not properly moved or stored 350,000 gallons of organic peroxide, which is toxic once it reaches a certain temperature. Arkema executives argued they had real-time monitoring of all their chemicals. The trial was plagued with two instances of prosecutorial misconduct and ended with the DA’s Office dropping all criminal charges. Congratulations to Letitia on a hard-won case.

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Not many lawyers have mastered the art of spitting a razor blade from their mouth, but Megan Rue has. A rising star at Cofer & Connelly, PLLC, in Austin, Texas, Megan focuses on ferocious courtroom advocacy and complex motion practice. This month, Megan and partner Rick Cofer represented a young man accused of shooting a crack dealer in the thigh outside the downtown homeless shelter. The “victim” had started the altercation by pulling a razor blade from his mouth and slashing the client’s face in a fight. Megan researched the practices and habits of local crack dealers and discovered how many safely store a razor blade inside the cheek of the mouth. Megan was able to perform the demonstrative in front of the Court and the State to rave reviews. Ultimately, the case resolved on the day of trial, with the accused agreeing to a lesser included state jail felony deferred adjudication and back-time on an unrelated felony evading charge. Great result when he was looking at 30 years stacked! Megan’s willingness to risk bodily injury to represent her client is commendable, and her nickname henceforth shall be Megan “The Blade” Rue.

Kudos to Bryan Cantrell of Huntsville, Texas for his recent win in a Cruelty to Nonlivestock Animals case in Houston County.  The jury came back with a NOT GUILTY verdict in less than nine minutes!

Allen Place as lead counsel, with Shea Place as second chair, successfully obtained parole for Bobby Moore who was formerly on death row. Bobby Moore was originally sentenced to death in Harris County and his conviction was eventually commuted to life by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals,following two decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court focused on the issue of intellectual disability-586 U.S. (2019)/470 S.W.3d 481. In a reversal of roles, Shea Place was lead counsel and assisted by Allen Place in obtaining parole for Joe Bryan who was assessed a life sentence for a Central Texas murder conviction. Both men are now at home with their respective families.

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Congratulations to Kristin Brown, who got a reverse and render verdict of acquittal in Harper v. State, 05-19-00323-CR (Tex. App.—Dallas, July 16, 2020, no pet. h.). The case revolved around a tampering with evidence charge. Kristin argued there was insufficient evidence to show tampering or attempted tampering. Rather, the evidence showed her client was trying to dispossess himself of a single pill, alleged but not shown to be alprazolam.

Shoutout to Shana Stein, who received a reverse and remand for abuse of discretion in the Tenth Court of Appeals. Way to go!

Kudos to Charles Arnone, who was appointed to an appeal of an assault/family-violence case in which the client received a sentence of 15 years. The state confessed error adjudicating the case as a second-degree offense when it should have been third-degree, making the maximum sentence 10 years. Great work, Charlie!

Excellent work by Shea Place, who represented Joe Bryan before the Board of Pardons & Paroles. Mr. Bryan was wrongfully accused for the murder of his wife and spent more than 30 years in prison. Together with the Innocence Project of Texas and Allen Place, Shea successfully represented Mr. Bryan and got Mr. Bryan paroled. Awesome job!

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Shout out to David Hall and Ariel Payan, who were jointly awarded the Warren Burnett Award by the State Bar of Texas for extraordinary contributions to improving the quality of criminal legal representation to indigent Texans. TCDLA is proud to have you both as members!

Congratulations to Dr. Andrew Davies, who was awarded the Michael K. Moore Award for Excellence in Research or Writing in the Area of Indigent Criminal Defense by the Texas Bar Association. Dr. Davies is the director of research at SMU’s Dedman School of Law’s Deason Criminal Justice Reform Center. Thank you, Dr. Davies, for your contributions to the knowledge and practices of the bench, bar, and scholarly communities!

Kudos to the Rackspace Legal Team, which was awarded the W. Frank Newton Award from the Texas State Bar. The award recognizes the pro bono contributions of attorney groups whose members have made an outstanding contribution to the provision of, or access to, legal services to the poor. The Rackspace Legal Team launched a legal service called “Adopt a Non-Profit Legal Team,” the aim of which is to increase the team’s commitment to meet the CPBO Challenge initiative in which in-house legal teams across the country are challenged to perform pro-bono legal services. The Rackspace Legal Team, which is a branch of Rackspace Technology, “adopted” the in-house legal and compliance team at Haven for Hope of Bexar County, a San Antonio non-profit serving homeless individuals and families. The Rackspace Legal Team handled the legal and compliance issues for Haven of Hope. Thank you to the Rackspace Legal Team for setting an example of how corporate legal teams can contribute their expertise and resources to non-profits to benefit the poor and indigent. Congratulations!

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Congratulations to Sally Ring, whose client was granted a writ of habeas corpus! The client was charged with three felonies but the judge granted PR bonds, stating Governor Abbott’s Executive Order GA-13 was unconstitutional, violating the U.S. and Texas constitutions, due process, and separation of powers. Way to go, Sally!

Shout out to Mark Bennett for his win in the Supreme Court in Ex parte EH 18-0932. Expunction ordered to be granted when case was based on former penal code 33.021(b) online solicitation which had been held by the CCA to be unconstitutional. Nice job, Mark!

Huge kudos to Northern District of Texas Federal Public Defender Jason Hawkins, Assistant  Federal Public Defender Michael Kawi, and civil rights attorney Stephanie Inman! The chief judge chose to hold a trial, despite the FPD office’s efforts to show, through several motions to continue, an emergency appeal, and a writ of mandamus, that holding a trial at this time is dangerous. The FPD office’s client, Timothy Tanner, was charged with felon in possession of a firearm with three-to-four witnesses. His trial was scheduled for June 1 – the first federal criminal trial in the nation post-pandemic. Mr. Tanner was found not guilty and knelt with the trial team outside the courthouse right after the verdict was rendered. Way to go!

If you see Gus Saper around, be sure to congratulate him on his getting his client’s nine-year sentence reduced to time served, six months home confinement, and 250 hours of community service. The case was not easy and only succeeded after Gus filed a motion for reconsideration of federal Judge Marina Marmelejo’s second order denying motion to reduce sentence. Awesome job, Gus!

From left to right: Civil rights attorney Stephanie Inman; paralegal Monaleeza Montalvo; investigator Roen Serna; client Timothy Tanner; and Assistant Public Defender Michael Kawi.

Shout Outs

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Allison Clayton, Jeep Darnell, and Kyle Therrian have continued to step up to the plate during these challenging and uncertain times. They have given endless hours in supporting our members by reviewing and editing motions, writing a declaration in opposition of the governor’s Executive Order GA-13, and completed any task asked of them. They are truly our emerging leaders of the future.

Congratulations to Juan Ramon Flores, who received a motion to suppress the seizure of client. Client’s criminal history would have put him in criminal history category 4 or 5. Before the motion to suppress was granted, client thanked Juan for his efforts, saying he’d never had an attorney do so much and hadn’t expected much now. Needless to say the client was very happy. The motion was granted on Christmas Eve – the most wonderful Christmas gift imaginable. Awesome job, Juan!

Thank you to Jason Edward Neihaus of Denton! Early during the COVID-19 pandemic, Jason drafted an application for habeas corpus and CCP Article 17.151 motion seeking to release inmates in jails and detention centers and made these applications available to other defense lawyers. Jason distinguished himself in generating and sharing these pleadings when there was yet no consensus on the severity of the pandemic, let alone agreement regarding course of action by criminal law practitioners. Events since have demonstrated Jason’s instincts were on point. The selfless sharing of his work product distinguished him as possessing foresight and the sort of leadership that is often talked about but less often demonstrated. Thanks again, Jason!

Shout out to the Innocence Project of Texas, who helped get Joe Bryan, who had been incarcerated for more than three decades, released on parole! IPTX Staff Attorney Jessi Freud represented Joe, under the guidance and supervision of IPTX Board Member and Waco attorney Walter M. Reaves, Jr. TCDLA is proud to partner and co-sponsor numerous events with IPTX. Way to go!

Big CONGRATS to Mark Thiessen, who recently passed the NCDD exam and is now board certified in DUI defense by the National College for DUI Defense through the American Bar Association. Mark joins Troy McKinney, Gary Trichter, Mimi Coffey, and Doug Murphy in becoming so certified. Mark is now one of only three lawyers in Texas who are board certified in criminal law by TBLS and DUI Defense by NCDD. What a HUGE honor!

Congratulations to Shellie Stephens and Investigator Billy Meeks, who won their client a $300,000 cashier’s check from the Central District of California! The battle started in December and Shellie and Billy are now fighting for another $250,000 plus interest and treble damages for fraud. Good luck to you both!