Executive Officer’s Perspective: Welcome to the Family

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“One thing I know for sure is that family is not defined by blood.”

—Jessica Scott

TCDLA is proud to celebrate the 35th Annual Rusty Duncan Advanced Criminal Law Course, scheduled for June 16‑18, 2022, in San Antonio. Named for the late Honorable M. P. “Rusty” Duncan III of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, this course is designed to cover state law and scholarly topics as well as cases from the past year that impact your practice today. Who is Rusty Duncan? you ask.

Honorable Maurice Palmer “Rusty” Duncan III celebrated life between 1945 and 1990. He ended his career as a judge on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, 1987–1990. Before becoming a judge, Rusty was Board Certified in Criminal Law and practiced criminal defense out of Denton, Texas. He volunteered in a number of ways: chair, State Bar’s Committee on the Study of the Insanity Defense in Texas, 1982–1983; co‑chair, State Bar’s Penal Code and Criminal Procedure Committee, 1982–1984; member, Senate Committee on Development of a Criminal Code of Evidence, 1983–1984; and editor, Voice for the Defense, 1984–1987. For a more exciting and detailed story about Rusty, go to TCDLA’s website → Voice → archives → June 2019 article.

At the end of Rusty Duncan, our current don of TCDLA, Michael Gross, will pass on the TCDLA legacy to incoming President Heather Barbieri. It has been a pleasure working with Michael this year. During the Board meeting we will swear into the TCDLA family the new slate of officers, seven renewing board members, and 13 new board members. Afterward, everyone will head to Rosario’s for a time‑honored traditional lunch. Together TCDLA will continue becoming stronger as we unite, supporting and protecting each other.

Under President Michael Gross’s leadership, the Executive Committee, TCDLA Board, and committees have continued to meet and work hard despite the craziness of everyone having to go back to court all at once. It has been wonderful to work with each group this year. Read next month’s article to see highlights of our committees’ efforts this year. If you want to become more involved as a TCDLA member, we are accepting Committee Interest forms for 2022‑2023, due July 1, 2022. We have more than 25 committees to consider! The form can be found on the website—or email ksteen@tcdla.com.

A huge thanks to TCDLEI Chair Laurie Key and the TCDLEI Board Members for providing more than $50,000 in scholarships for attorneys enduring hardships, travel stipends, and a 3L scholarship. We will have a silent auction at Rusty Duncan to raise funds for next year. It is YOU who can make this happen!

April showers brought exceptional CLE blooms. For two days in Austin we presented Women in the Law and Their Male Allies—with course directors Betty Blackwell, Jessica Canter, Julie Hasdorff, Michelle Ochoa, and Cynthia Orr—and Race in Criminal Justice—with course directors Thuy Le and Monique Sparks. The interactive events presented outstanding speakers, resulting in stellar evaluations. We thank the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals for funding this event and allowing travel stipends for many who had not been to these events (or any) in a long time. It was a great group to be with—very empowering.

Another special event in April featured our third cohort of Future Indigent Defense Leaders (FIDL). TIDC,  HCPDO, and TCDLA  joined to present FIDL 3.0. After four years, the partners were able to bring Gideon’s Promise to Texas. The class, meeting April 22 to May 3 in San Antonio, consisted of 30 Texas attorneys who all practice in a public defender office or whose practice consists primarily of indigent defense. Gideon’s Promise involved an intense two‑week training in teaching new attorneys a client‑centered holistic approach.

Each session began with entrants at breakfast together and ended with dinner and evening activities. There were no breaks during the day to maximize all available hours. Faculty planned each night for an hour or two after group events and returned bright and early to prepare their rooms. I had the opportunity to participate, and I was amazed by how close everyone became by the second day. The presentations and group activities were inspiring— leaving me wanting to get out into the world and make a difference.

Our 16 faculty members, led by Jon Rapping, Sean Mayer, and Zanele Ngubeni, came from all across the country, including several from Texas. Staff members Kathleen Casey Gamez, Sarah Grace, Rick Wardroup, and Keri Steen worked endless hours behind the scenes to make sure the first‑ever Texas Gideon’s Promise was a success. We are now working towards TCDLA hosting a Texas program. Thank you to the faculty who traveled from far and wide, as well as to our Texas TCDLA members, staying a week or better for these intense sessions!

Our May DWI Defense Project seminar also proved its usual resounding success. Course directors Larry Boyd, David Burrows, and Frank Sellers and their speakers elaborated on the Yellowstone seminar theme: “The whole world’s a test, son.”

Also, on tap was the May 13 SBOT induction, featuring over 1,000 attorneys. TCDLA staff attended and welcomed each of those new attorneys interested in criminal defense.

Want to get to know the TCDLA family better? Join us in South Padre Island July 13 for Trainer of Trainers. The new format this year will be interactive (and did I mention fun?). Come if youwant to become a speaker or pick up new skills from veteran speakers. Each year the Trainer of Trainers program plays an essential role in providing the best quality speakers! The event also includes two additional days of Fun‑in‑the Sun CLE, with speakers from all over the State. Besides training, relationships are renewed or built, and families get to know each other and make plans for the next Padre gathering. There are many opportunities for you to participate if you want, or you can just take some “me” time. On the last day, we host a TCDLA, TCDLEI, and CDLP orientation. If you are not already on one of the boards or committees, you are still welcome to attend and learn more about them.

Finally, I look forward to working this year with Heather Barbieri as she takes over the presidential responsibilities in June. Under her leadership, we will continue developing and maintaining solid bonds, supporting Texas criminal defense attorneys and, most importantly, our TCDLA family! Always remember: The TCDLA staff members are here to assist. If it’s information you need or a service we can provide, don’t hesitate to contact us.

TCDLA
TCDLA
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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