Ethics and the Law: Shine a Light

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We are getting an excellent response to the ethics hotline. Please be assured that no matter where you are in the great State of Texas, the ethics committee is here to help you. For those of you who practice in Houston, Austin, San Antonio, Dallas, and Fort Worth, there is a whole different legal world in some of the other 254 counties. Growing up in West Texas, I saw many injustices done to the underdogs in our society. It still happens. Once many years ago, one of my Houston clients had a son in trouble in Palo Pinto County and hired me to defend him. I got Ron Goranson and Norman Maples to help me. The judge in Palo Pinto County was a snuff-dipping judge who asked me what all those books on the counsel table were. I told him, “Judge, it’s the code of Criminal Procedure,” and he said, “I don’t care what it is, get it off the jury table.” I did what he told me because I did not want to spend the night in Palo Pinto. Norman Maples was cross-examining the officer straight out of a TCDLA book. The judge was not impressed. He revoked our client’s probation and gave our client 4 years. Ron and I were happy just to leave town. This was before any strike force, hotline, or anything of the sort. Now there are 3,193 people to help. Do not be afraid to ask for help. You are not alone.

In the nature of law practice, conflicting responsibilities are encountered. Virtually all difficult ethical problems arise from apparent conflict between a lawyer’s responsibilities to clients, to the legal system, and to the lawyer’s own interest. The Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct prescribe terms for resolving such tensions. They do so by stating minimum standards of conduct below which no lawyer can fall without being subject to disciplinary action. Within the framework of these Rules many difficult issues of professional discretion can arise. The Rules and their Comments constitute a body of principles upon which the lawyer can rely for guidance in resolving such issues through the exercise of sensitive professional and moral judgment. 

Under Rule 3.09 of the Texas Rules of Professional Conduct, if you see unethical behavior, report it. If a prosecutor is unethical, report it. Last year in Houston alone, three jurists were convicted and two went to jail. Even as this article is being written, several judges in the Houston area are under investigation. A lawyer is under indictment for taking money for allegedly telling clients he could fix their case, and two Houston prosecutors are in danger of being held in contempt of court. In Shelby County, the district attorney is being looked at for taking money instead of prosecuting.

We all want to be on the six o’clock news, but be careful when you have a high-publicity case. Read Rule 3.07 of the Texas Rules of Professional Conduct on trial publicity. This is especially true in small towns where the case will be tried. If it is a case where there is no doubt of your client’s guilt, or if it is a close call, get your client to express remorse publicly as long as you do it according to Rule 3.07. Potential jurors will see this on television or in the newspaper. Even if your client does not testify, viewers will remember what your client said, not what you said. Remember, the famous Russian philosopher Robb Fickman said, “Don’t let your alligator mouth overload your hummingbird ass.”

Remember, wherever you can get help (Rule 1.01—Competent & Diligent Representation) to make sure your client is getting a fair deal, use it. To keep myself out of trouble, I will not mention some of those counties where to see the district attorney, you have to wait hours and then watch him swat flies while talking to you. The judge does what the district attorney wants because he was the district attorney before he ascended to the bench. To read the Motion to Disqualify the District Attorney by Lawyer William “Dangerfield” McCoy, please click on the link below. He is a man of courage and is taking his oath seriously, the way we all should.

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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