Executive Officer’s Perspective: 2021-2022 TCDLA Committee Highlights Thank You


“No one who achieves success does so without acknowledging the help of others. The wise and confident acknowledge this help with gratitude.”

—Alfred North Whitehead

TCDLA has more than 40 committees and 200 committee members. Committee members meet via zoom and in person to create resources, support our members, and serve in the front line of defense! If you are passionate in a particular area and want to join a committee, visit the website for a full list of possibilities. Committee‑interest forms can be found online—or just email me. Thank you to our members who contribute their time and talents.

Affiliate | Co-Chairs Laurie Key & Susan Anderson: The Affiliate Committee has kept communication open with local bars and assisted with training and recruitment. They have also reached out to local bars who are not affiliates to help or to convince them to join TCDLA.

Amicus (Brief) Curiae | Chair Niles Illich & Vice Chair Kyle Therrian: The committee was consulted on ten cases of statewide significance. Most recently they have been looking to provide amicus support for attorneys representing individuals affected and detained under Operation Lone Star. The Committee is looking to expand its efforts by the addition of attorneys willing to volunteer and write one brief per year as a committee member.

Awards Committee | Co-Chairs David Botsford & Betty Blackwell: The Awards Committee, which meets every March, selected the Hall of Fame inductees (subject to Board approval), the Percy Foreman Lawyer of the Year, and the Charles Butts Pro Bono Lawyer of the Year. The committee did not bestow the Rodney Ellis Award in 2022.

Budget and Financial Development | Chair Nicole DeBorde & Vice Chair Clay Steadman: The Budget and Financial Development Committee put together a successful budget. Committee members met throughout the year to review the income and expenses for accuracy and to ensure TCDLA stays on budget. Over 2,500 checks are signed by the treasurer and check signers.

By-Laws | Chair Adam Kobs: The By‑ Laws Committee was tasked with clarifying two items: qualifications to run for the officer chain and length of time a termed‑out board member must wait before once again applying to be a director. Both amendments were approved by the membership.

Cannabis | Chair Don Flanary: In November of 2021, the Texas Attorney General’s Office (AG) requested that TCDLA provide an Opinion regarding the legality of Delta‑8 THC. The TCDLA Cannabis Committee drafted an Opinion in response which was adopted by the TCDLA Board and send to the AG. TCDLA concluded that concentrated or synthesized Delta‑8 THC is currently illegal under sections 481.103, 481.113, 481.116 as well as section 481.106 (c) of the Texas Health and Safety Code. The exclusion set out in section 481.002(5) for “tetrahydrocannabinols in hemp” is limited to the minute quantities of delta‑8 THC which are naturally occurring in hemp plants. Essentially, Delta‑8 THC is illegal to possess in Texas, however given the exclusions in section 481.002(5), viable defenses to possession do still exist.

Capital Assistance | Chair Greg Westfall & Vice Chair Scott Pawgan: The Capital Assistance Committee assisted in selecting speakers and topics for three seminars throughout Texas.

Client Mental Health | Chair Alyse Ferguson & Vice Chair Melissa Shearer: The Client Mental Health Committee put together three mental health seminars along with a monthly virtual Mental Monday CLE. In addition, the committee met to brainstorm on resources to provide members and clients. The committee also produced several free cheat sheets and sundry mental health resources.

Corrections & Parole | Chairs Bill Habern & David O’Neil: This year the co‑chairs served as course directors for the Post‑Conviction Seminar in Austin. The committee has also continued work on legislative proposals to create an independent board to supervise SCFO. The committee began work on a draft bill that would permit a pardon for individuals granted clemency, filling a gap in current law. At the invitation of its director, the co‑chairs met and provided input on how the TDCJ Parole Division could streamline the blue warrant process. Throughout the year, committee members have provided updates on TDCJ and Parolee Board matters of interest, while also fielding listserv questions on parole and corrections.

Criminal Defense Lawyers Project | Chair Adam Kobs & Vice Chair Monique Sparks: This past year, the CDLP committee saw some 325 speakers travel to over 40 seminars throughout Texas, training more than 5,000 criminal defense lawyers. Operating with the theme “Getting Game Day Ready,” the team went undefeated!

Diversity, Justice & Inclusion | Chairs Thuy Le & Monique Sparks: The Diversity, Justice & Inclusion Committee spread the word with statements highlighting various holidays and underrepresented groups. In addition, the committee reviewed suggested changes to the SBOT Lawyers Creed. Thuy and Monique served as course directors for the third annual Race Seminar.

DWI Resource | Chairs Mark Thiessen & Frank Sellers: The DWI Resource Committee continued to fight the good fight against the State and bad law. DWI 2nds acquittals are now eligible for expunction thanks to excellent appellate lawyering. DWI Committee also updated the rules flash card and created a checklist that will be available for purchase soon.

Executive | Chair Michael Gross & Vice Chair Heather Barbieri: The Executive Committee reviewed all business written and approved by committees, bringing items to the TCDLA Board for approval when required. This year the committee met in person quarterly and otherwise handled business virtually—altogether a productive and successful year.

Ethics | Chair Robert Pelton & Vice Chair Brent Mayr: The Ethics Committee monitored and responded to the dedicated Ethics Hotline via email, ethics@tcdla.com, and phone, (512) 646‑2734. The committee responds within 24 hours, responding to multiple inquires daily, and over 100 inquires per year. In addition, the committee members submit articles monthly for the standing ethics column in the Voice.

Health  &  Wellness | Chairs  Mark  Griffith & Savannah Gonzalez: The Health and Wellness Committee met to brainstorm on ways to support our members. The committee will implement and program to be held in the evening.

Indigent Client Defense | Chair Jani Maselli Wood & Vice Chair Allison Mathis: The Indigent Defense Committee reviewed and provide comment on several AG opinions. In addition, the committee created a Court Cost Workgroup Booklet.

Judicial Conduct | Chairs Ed Mallett & Philip Wischkaemper: The Judicial Conduct Committee reviewed the several cases where a former Midland Assistant D.A., Ralph Petty, received extra compensation from the County’s judicial budget for being a “law clerk” to the judges. In the central case where the Los Angeles California Federal Defenders, Capital Habeas Unit, discovered the double‑dipping and inherent conflict of interest, they sought a deposition and Petty claimed his Fifth Amendment rights. The death row defendant prevailed on his writ. TCDLA filed Complaints with the Commission on Judicial Conduct against the seven judges still in service who had participated in the scheme. A recent report from our sources in Midland has informed us that one of the judges, who was tangentially involved, received notice that his complaint had been dismissed. Also, during the year, the committee advised members on a variety of issues, including motions to recuse, for change of venue, for continuance when experts became unavailable, and similar, often confidential, matters.

Juvenile | Chair Kameron Johnson: The Juvenile Justice Committee worked on juvenile legislation by serving as experts and a resource for the legislature. This included juvenile‑specific trainings by the newest Juvenile Training Immersion Program (JTIP) specialist and a toolkit developed for certification cases with Lone Star Justice. The committee also held case staffing and reviews for attorneys throughout the state with complex juvenile cases, also creating juvenile cheat sheets and working on creating e‑filing for Texas attorneys (although not completed, we have laid the groundwork for jurisdictions and district clerks to start utilizing). The committee also has published juvenile related articles in the Voice.

Law School Students | Chair Anne Burnham: The Law School Students Committee organized and presented “Pathways to Criminal Defense Practice,” a pan‑ Texas law school virtual Interactive career day event; created a law school students public website page with student‑specific resources; hosted a law student reception at Rusty Duncan, in collaboration with the New Lawyers Committee; and facilitated TCDLA speaker presentations at individual law schools.

Legislative | Chair Bill Harris: The Legislative Committee met at least monthly this year and spent endless hours at the Capitol during the session. Often committee members and those testifying didn’t leave until after midnight. The committee continues to update members with the legislative cheat sheet, presentations, and materials with the latest laws (including Bail Reform), as well as traveling to affiliates’ local bars and maintaining the Legislative Update listserv and dedicated email().

Listserv | Chair Jeep Darnell & Vice Chair David Moore: The Listserv Committee has the incredibly endless job of reading over 20,000 posts annual on the TCDLA listserv (TCDLA offers more than 20 different specialty areas), spreading awareness of the rules when needed and fostering group respect. Staff are also notified immediately if members need assistance as well.

Long Range Planning | Chair Nicole DeBorde Hochglaube & Vice Chair Monique Sparks: Researching process and structure of the committee for an end of year working session. Including TCDLEI in the process to work towards complimenting mission statements and goals.

Media Relations | Chairs Lisa Greenberg & John Torrey Hunter: The Media Relations Committee is the first to respond to recent events following the Covid‑19 pandemic, Supreme Court decisions, and the recent appointment of a Supreme Court justice. Committee members throughout the state create press releases quickly, fostering relationships with their local media outlets and reporters to assist in getting our voice and perspectives heard when needed.

Membership Benefits | Chair Gene Anthes: The Membership Committee this year sponsored four quarterly members socials throughout the state, including the Cowboys stadium tour, a hockey game, a baseball game, and wine tours.

Memo Bank | Chair Tip Hargrove & Vice Chair Warren Wolf: The Memo Bank Committee was the brainchild of two old tech‑incompetent lawyers who didn’t know how to save a darn thing from the list‑ serv. Past President/Hall of Famer Vee Perini and Tip Hargrove wanted to preserve the best of the recurring posts of general interest to our membership. Committee members review all posts and flag items for inclusion on a section called “Listserve Saved—the good stuff.” This is in the members‑only section, which has expanded to also include the Voir Dire and Motions banks.

New Lawyers | Chair Thuy Le & Vice Chair Rick Flores: The New Lawyers Committee assisted in a Career Day virtual interactive event and hosted a New Lawyers meet‑and‑greet at Rusty Duncan.

Nominations | Chair Heather Barbieri & Vice Chair John Hunter Smith: The Nominations Committee met several times throughout the year to review the process, as well as to encourage members and districts to apply. The committee reviews applications and will meet to select the slate for 2022–23. This year the committee voted on twelve new members and seven renewals for the Board of Directors, ratified at the Annual Members meeting in June. The committee will prepare an analysis report for next year to ensure Texas‑wide representation.

Past Presidents | Chair Betty Blackwell: The Past Presidents Committee meets to keep former presidents abreast of TCDLA issues and to make use of their institutional knowledge for innovative solutions.

Prosecutorial | Chair Lance Evans & Vice Chair David Moore: The Prosecutorial Committee reviewed several grievances submitted by members and proceeded as necessary.

Public Defender | Chairs Jessica Canter & Clifford Duke: The Public Defender Committee focused this year on continuing to strengthen public‑defense ties around the state. Using our annual meeting in San Antonio, we were able to concentrate on networking our new and expanding Public Defender, Regional Defense, and MAC offices with the common goal of superior indigent defense. Our trainings addressed the nuts‑and‑bolts integral to daily defense, but also the growing need to recognize diversity and a holistic defense for indigent clients. We’re looking to TCDLA as the linking organization for these growing offices as we continue to help each other statewide.

Rural Practice | Co-Chairs John Hunter Smith & Clay Steadman: Meeting throughout the year, the Rural Practice Committee worked on a checklist, creating a format for a quarterly virtual roundtable and addressing member needs and monitoring the Rural Listserv.

Strike Force | Chair Nicole DeBorde: Strike Force receives calls and emails from TCDLA members almost weekly. We are proud to serve members under attack for their performance of the criminal defense function in their representation of the accused. Strike force has appeared in person and remotely throughout the state rep‑ resenting our members and has spent many hours brain‑ storming with criminal defense lawyers under attack.

Technology | Chair Jeremy Rosenthal: The Technology Committee this year focused on helping master old technology and finding new technology tools for members to use. Check out the TCDLA website for our bank of “How To” videos for daily tech tasks and their use. Also keep an eye out for new tools coming from TCDLA—one to keep track of Brady and another providing ammunition for cross‑examination—as we work to create a centralized statewide database for members.

Transcript Database | Chair Carmen Roe: The Transcript Database Committee met to strategize the collection and organization of transcripts.

Veterans Assistance | Chair Terri Zimmerman & Vice Chair John Convery: The Veterans Assistance Committee works to serve as a resource for TCDLA members on accurate information about legal issues in‑ volving active duty, reserve, retired, or former military members. Our biggest event of the year is the Annual Veterans Justice Clinic held in February. Speakers include experts discussing topics such as the physical and psychological effects of combat, the workings of the Veterans Administration, developments in military law, confusing military paperwork such as the discharge certificate (DD‑214), and the operations of the various Veterans Treatment Courts around the state.

Voice | Editor Jeep Darnell & Assistant Editors Anglica Cogliano, Amanda Hernandez, Sarah Roland, Jeremy Rosenthal & Clay Steadman: The Voice editorial committee reviews over 100 articles a year, edits content, and checks citations. After the articles are finalized, the committee goes through the proofing process on each of the ten, 46‑page Voice magazines annually. They also reach out to authors to offer assistance or request articles on current events or resources related to criminal defense.

Women’s Caucus | Co-Chairs Betty Blackwell, Julie Hasdorff & Cynthia Hujar Orr: The Women’s Caucus Committee put together a women‑specific seminar and hosted a Women’s Caucus at Rusty Duncan. The committee also kept members engaged on the listserv, and members submitted articles for the Voice. In addition, the Women’s Caucus had a round table discussion with other women practitioners and will launch zoom calls to move these discussions and mentorship opportunities forward.

Melissa J. Schank
Melissa J. Schank
Melissa J. Schank, Chief Executive Officer, has worked with nonprofit associations for over 20 years, and has been with the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association more than 15 years. She earned her master’s of human resources, business administration, bachelor’s of communication and mediation certificate from Saint Edwards University in Austin, Texas, and is a certified association executive. Her greatest strengths are overseeing the long-term planning, financial management, and strategy for legal educational programs, in addition to managing the organization’s seminars, membership, publication, and communication departments.

Melissa J. Schank, Chief Executive Officer, has worked with nonprofit associations for over 20 years, and has been with the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association more than 15 years. She earned her master’s of human resources, business administration, bachelor’s of communication and mediation certificate from Saint Edwards University in Austin, Texas, and is a certified association executive. Her greatest strengths are overseeing the long-term planning, financial management, and strategy for legal educational programs, in addition to managing the organization’s seminars, membership, publication, and communication departments.

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