Ethics and the Law: Just Keep on Pickin’

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My cousin, Joe Hood, recently died after living his entire life in Cooke County, Texas. Cooke County was, and remains to this day, a rough area for law breakers—or outsiders, for that matter. During the Civil War, Cooke County dealt with many a Union sympathizer by the end of a hangman’s noose.

Cousin Joe, who could play everything from a banjo to a piano and in between, had a band that played on weekends in and around Cooke County. The band performed at many functions and dances. Some functions were attended by teetotalers, and others were packed with those that were “known to have a social drink on occasion.” During one of the dances with beer bottles flying, gunfire erupting, and a stabbing thrown in for good measure, a band member asked Joe, “What are we going to do?” Without missing a beat, Joe replied, “JUST KEEP ON PICKIN’.”

When you feel the burdens of being railroaded or when government lawyers or hostile judges are about to do you in, “Just keep on pickin’.” Call for help from other TCDLA members. The practice of law has changed much in the past years since TCDLA was formed, but concepts have remained the same: Educate lawyers who practice criminal law, and form relationships with those who have common goals. Word of mouth is still the best way to get clients.

Advertising and tort reform changed the way many older lawyers practiced law. Some ads border on ads run by snake-oil salesmen. In Houston, lawyers send out mail outs to all persons arrested. The ads brag about winning cases, knowing the judges and prosecutors, payment plans, and more. Some let their alligator mouth overload their hummingbird ass.

It is election time for judges, and some have gotten carried away in their comments about being tough on crime. Those that do need to read the oath they took to be a judge. If you run into a judge who you believe needs to be recused, there is an example you can use that is included online in this article, along with a Motion for a PR Bond if the situation deteriorates to the point where a lawyer is held in contempt.

Remember, being a lawyer is a profession. It is a high calling, and there are many times where you can actually make a difference, and by your hard work change the path and future of your client. Encourage clients to go to church and to get involved in positive activities. Assess up front if you have a defense, and if so, start digging. If you believe you are only dealing with punishment, then start building a foundation to explain the conduct and try to mitigate the punishment. Get releases so you can get school records and medical records. Even the worst amongst us have generally done something positive in their lives. Get your client’s life history and letters of recommendation for your client. Always tell your clients to be up front with the people writing those letters so they know the client has a criminal accusation pending. NA/AA meetings or counseling are crucial. Document, document, document your file. If your case does not end well, you can have a record to show the grievance committee or have evidence to show if a writ is filed against you. When a client turns down a plea offer, get the client’s declination in writing. If he gets 40 years rather than the 5 he was offered, you will be able to show what happened.

If you have a “Cool Hand Luke” client, get another lawyer to help you discuss the case with your client. Sometimes it takes a village to effectively communicate with a client.

Reach out for help if you need it. Call Rick Waldroup in Lubbock if you need help on a capital case, or call the hotline if you need an ethics checkup.

After a recent investigation, I discovered the number of misdemeanor defendants who pled on the first setting in Harris County. There are only a few times an accused citizen should plead on the first setting: 1) If you know there is something bad the state will find out about if you wait; and 2) if you are 100 percent sure the state can make the case. Otherwise, do not plead a case on the first setting. Do not bow to the pressure of the rocket docket judges. Remember the oath you took when you were excited and became a lawyer. It is you, not the judge, fading the heat when you are on the receiving end of a writ and/or grievance because you pled the client out with no investigation. Sitting in the defendant chair in a malpractice case or before the disciplinary committee is worse than undergoing simultaneously an IRS audit and root canal with no anesthesia.

Tools of the Profession:

  1. Motion for PR Bond;
  2. Put the hotline number in your cell phone: (512)646-2734;
  3. Keep a copy of the criminal procedure and penal code in your briefcase;
  4. Get a summary sheet from TCDLA that shows a summary of offenses and lesser included offenses and objections;
  5. Present evidence to the grand jury when it is warranted;
  6. Always get copies of complaint, information, probable cause document, search warrant, and affidavit. Many times mistakes in the documents can help win a case;

Remember: No matter how bad it may look, “Just keep on pickin’.”

TCDLA
TCDLA
Robert Pelton
Robert Pelton
Robert Pelton is the former President of the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association (HCCLA), Associate Director for TCDLA, and Feature Articles Editor of the Voice, as well as serving as editor and assistant editor of Docket Call. Among his many honors, Robert was named by H Texas magazine as one of the top criminal lawyers in Harris County (2004–2010) and one of Houston’s Top Lawyers for the People in criminal law (2004–2010), and he is listed in the Martindale Hubbell Bar Register of Preeminent Lawyers. Robert has offices in Abilene and Houston.
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