Ethics and the Law: Raise Your Right Hand


The past month has been busy with calls to the ethics hotline. Many calls have been regarding actions of judges and prosecutors and a few about fellow lawyers. Anytime you feel improper action is being taken by a judge or prosecutor, you are welcome to call the hotline. Lawyers are bad about just complaining and not taking any action. There are members of this organization who will help you take action. As I have mentioned before, no matter where you are, unless you do something besides talk about it, the bad behavior continues. The power given to judges and prosecutors will go unchallenged unless you take action. You may not win a popularity contest, but your client is the only one you need to be worried about. The “that’s the way we have always done it” or the “that’s the way it’s done here” won’t cut it. When you see improper behavior, report it. We have plenty of brave souls ready, willing, and able to help.

Robert Fickman, West Texas lawyer now in Houston, is one of the men who will stand up and help you. He is a real Don Quixote. He has filed and helped file several judicial complaints in the past few years. You don’t have to grin and bear it. Take action against these overbearing individuals. Call the hotline, and if we don’t have the answer, we will find someone who does. There are hard-working men and women all across the land who get up, go to work, take care of their family, and make one mistake that, depending on the severity, can change their lives forever. They get involved in the legal system, and our job is to make sure their rights are protected. Do not let them be abused because they may be poor or not the brightest light in the room. Spend time with your clients and their family. Find out what causes the misbehavior and help do something to correct it. NA or AA meetings are good places to start. One of my childhood friends has a daughter who was always making bad decisions that put her in the legal system. After years of legal problems, it was discovered she had an orange-size tumor in her brain. That went a long way to explaining the reason for the poor decisions. Get help for your clients. They are more than just dollar signs.

Some well-respected lawyers chose not to be concerned about what the judiciary thought. Warren Burnet, one of our greatest lawyers, once went to the funeral of a judge with whom he had many dealings. It was no secret there was no love lost between them. When asked why he went to the funeral, Lawyer Burnet replied, “I wanted to make sure the bastard was dead.”

The “why can’t we just get along” won’t cut it. We all can’t just get along when people ignore the Constitution. Do not sell yourself short. It takes a certain amount of intelligence to get a law degree and pass a bar exam. We can’t all be Richard “Racehorse” Haynes, but we can all do our best to represent our clients. Buck Files, one of our TCDLA members, is now President of the State Bar, and is a man with honor and integrity. He will make sure we are not like Rodney Dangerfield—not getting any respect. When you see fellow lawyers going off the deep end, don’t ignore them. The State Bar does have a few good things besides discounts on motel rooms and car rentals, one being the Lawyer Assistance Program (800-343-8527).

Reach for the brass ring and do all that you can for your client. Write an article for the bar journal, get involved in your local criminal bar association, and learn from experienced lawyers. If we work together, we can make positive changes, and the next time when we see the bar journal, we can give the 100,000 members of the bar something to read about other than obituaries and disciplinary actions. Remember, every time a judge or prosecutor ignores the Constitution, they are showing disrespect for all the men and women who served their country in the military. When you see people like Jack Zimmerman, Bobby Mims, or any other veteran, make a point of thanking them for their service to our great country.

Phone Numbers for the Hotlines:

Lawyer Assistance Program       1-800-343-8527
TCDLA Hotline                           512-646-2734
HCCLA Hotline                          713-518-1738
State Bar Lawyer’s Ethics Hotline     1-800-532-3947

The oath for lawyers is to the client and Constitution, while the oath for judges and elected/appointed officers is to the Constitution and laws. The military oath and oath for lawyers are very similar. A lawyer’s oath is to the client and Constitution, not the judge or prosecutor.

Lawyer’s Oath:


      I, ___________, do solemnly swear that I will support the Constitution of the United States, and of this State; that I will honestly demean myself in the practice of the law, and will discharge my duties to my clients to the best of my ability. So help me God.

Oath for Judges and elected/appointed officers:

      I, ____________, do solemnly swear (or affirm), that I will faithfully execute the duties of the office of ____________ of the State of Texas, and will to the best of my ability preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States and of this State, so help me God.

Military Oath:

                I, ____________, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”

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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