Executive Officer’s Perspective: When I Met the Honorable Frank Maloney

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“Unexpected Friendship: We don’t meet people by accident. They are meant to cross our path for a reason.”

—Unknown

Since the day I stared with TCDLA I have learned so much about the history of TCDLA. I remember the first year I started I had the opportunity to sit with Judge Frank Maloney, the first President of TCDLA, to work on a PowerPoint project. We spent hours together over a period of a week. During that week, he told me so many stories about criminal defense and its checkered history that have stuck with me to this day. Over the years I’ve had the opportunity to sit and listen to the stories of many of our gentle giants, who gracefully and humbly shared with me their struggles and successes in the fight for criminal defense.

As time went on, I kept in contact with Judge Maloney; he attended board meetings, shared his institutional knowledge and the history of the Organization. Often, we want to move forward and try something new, leave a legacy; we don’t take the time to appreciate the past or those that helped us get to where we are now. However, Judge Maloney made me realize that I needed to take the time appreciate the history of TCDLA. One time he came to the office with a box of the minutes from the first couple of years’ meetings and photos. I was overwhelmed with nostalgia as I looked through the memories of our gentle giants who started this Organization, one of the largest criminal state organizations in the country. Sadly, despite our continued interactions, once COVID came, Judge Maloney wasn’t able to come around as much. He kept in contact and he’d let me know, in his charming way, that he wanted to attend meetings but didn’t feel safe. Thankfully Facebook kept us connected, and I was glad to see him in posts with his family over the last few years. Like many of the giants that I have come to know in my work here, Judge Maloney will be missed, and I thank him for always staying engaged with me and TCDLA. I recently attended the NACDL Past President dinner, where Judge Maloney was honored as a recently fallen past president. It made me so proud that one of our own TCDLA Presidents, along with the other Texas Past Presidents, were held in such high regard.

Many of those giants are not with us today, but who can forget their contributions; Kelly Pace’s smile and energetic pep talks bright and early; Scrappy Holmes’ late‑night stories; and I’ll always cherish Weldon Holcomb coming into the office, signing a book, and explaining to me what it was like to be a defense attorney decades ago. To this day we have Weldon’s first gavel memorialized in a shadow box hanging in the office. Similarly, many other pictures of the charter members who first met in Dallas in 1971 to found TCDLA grace the TCDLA home office, if you ever have the opportunity to come and visit.

To honor our leaders, we also began taking an annual Presidents’ picture at Rusty, which we hang in the office to celebrate anew those who sacrificed not just one year but six to work on the officer chain. These now join the more than 50 presidents adorning our wall. Each day I walk by and look at these people, some I’ve gotten to know very well as they helped me grow professionally and mentoring me over the years. The institutional knowledge of our past Presidents and Board members helps us all in so many ways that one can only understand when you yourself serve as an active leader in the association.

Once a small organization of some 60 attorneys, today we number close to 3,800, training more than 5,000 attorneys each year. With our grants, we continue to expand our out‑ reach to develop experienced criminal defense lawyers. Our efforts in the legislature have also grown, assuming more importance every year. But the continued success of our association comes from relying not only on our leaders but also on our members—who contribute by serving on a committee, writing a Voice article, testifying about legislation, helping a listserv colleague, giving a referral, or assisting with all the tools at their disposal at seminars.

In my years witnessing the growth of our organization, I myself have been given so many opportunities, been exposed to truths I would never have otherwise experienced—such as understanding what actual innocence means and what it means to represent somebody who needs a fair defense. Most of all, I’ve been given a chance to be part of the friendship bond. I have made some truly amazing friends in this organization.

When I looked at the video put together of all of our pictures collected over the last 50 years, I was struck by the heartfelt camaraderie: it was simply overwhelming. I am so proud to be part of an organization with people who not only care about one another but who will also fight alongside each other. The Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association is a singular organization, one we all should be proud to belong to. I look forward to celebrating another decade—no! 50 years!—and making it to the centennial celebration. Cheers to all our members and criminal defense attorneys who are part of the Organization’s past, present, and future.

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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