March 10, 2020
This is a Veteran’s Day story. When I was a young guy just out of law school, I went to work as an assistant district attorney for Les Proctor here in Travis County, Texas.
One of the first cases I tried before a jury along with John Allen, first assistant, who became ill during the trial and had to be put to bed, resulted in a loss. Proctor was furious and called me into his office. He asked for an explanation, and I had none. He stated to me that the reason the case was lost was because, “You look funny.”
I had been shot up in Korea, and my facial countenance was not the best in the West.
“I want you to wear one of your medals as an explanation,” he said.
“No, sir,” said I, ready to resign.
Bob Smith, chief trial attorney, joined in: “Next case we’ll try it together and I’ll wear one of mine.”
Proctor ordered it, and after a lot of discussion, I agreed. So, Bob and I wearing a medal button in our suit lapels, tried an enhanced theft case before a jury, and we promptly lost. Proctor, being a veteran Marine, Smith being veteran Air Force, and I were then in agreement that medals were not the answer and I went on looking funny… probably should have become a personal injury lawyer.
March 19, 2020
Another story about the sleepy town-city Austin, Texas, in the late 1950s. Mostly university, government, and stores along Congress Ave. and East 6th St. But with three whore houses nestled in the South Congress area – one of them run by herself, the great Mrs. Hattie Valdez. The population of Austin as time moved forward increased as did its moral and religious awareness and pressure was brought through various grand juries to do justice and padlock them. Proctor, the DA, assigned this to me, and I promptly did justice through injunctive action, closing them down. During this operation, I learned that Hattie operated several houses throughout the state and treated her girls who rode the circuit as her daughters. When I later became an assistant attorney general, public pressure, then at its zenith, demanded the attorney general take action and close down the whore houses throughout the state. This really fell within the jurisdiction of the various district and county Attorneys, but for some reason most of them were reluctant to do so. So, armed with the Texas Rangers in the various venues, I charged. Reenter Hattie Valdez. On the day I was to appear in district court in one of the east central counties, to padlock one of her houses, I received a phone call from Hattie asking if she could bum a ride with me to the county since she was to appear in court. She said that we would only have to make one stop to pick up the linens in the house to be padlocked, and that is another story…
March 20, 2020
The Criminal Bar of Austin Travis County in the middle ‘50s was relatively small – Paul Holt, Perry Jones, Roy Martin, Bill Yelderman Vic Rogers, John Brady, Wright Stubbs, Arthur Mitchel, Jack Darrouzette, and a few others. The civil lawyers, with rare exception, seldom ventured into the criminal courts. There were only three district courts: 53rd, 98th, and126th. Judge Jack Roberts, a prior DA, presided over the 126th. Charles Betts the 98th and J. Harris Gardner the 53rd. The defense lawyer seldom won a jury case. The great Warren Court decisions Miranda, Escobedo, Mapp, Malloy v. Hogan, Murphy v. Waterfront, and Massiah had yet to be decided. The poor defense lawyer went into battle blind, no discovery, not entitled to see his client’s confession or rap sheet. Such was the case when Roy Martin, one of the better lawyers in the system, appeared before Judge Roberts and a jury defending some poor devil charged with the inglorious offense of theft of edible meat (a chicken) carrying a possible punishment of two years to life if convicted.
Now, Roy was not known for his quiet demeanor nor his acceptance of what he considered to be an out-and-out deception by others. When he talked to you in what he considered a normal voice, he could be heard for at least 200 feet around him. Thus was the case when a police officer was testifying for the state. Roy’s client had insisted and again told Roy that he had no prior police arrest record except for minor traffic cases. A defendant’s prior arrest record, unless he took the stand and testified or put his character in issue, was not admissible before the jury. Roy, when it was time for cross examination, said, “Now, Officer, you know my client has no criminal record. You have the police report on that. Read it if you will.”
The officer looked astounded, and putting on his glasses began reading, “Theft, theft, burglary, theft, burglary.”
Roy turned to his client and said in what he assumed was a whisper, but could be heard in the next courtroom, “You son of a bitch.”
March 24, 2020
Just before the 1900s, there were more Sheltons in Travis and Williamson Counties than most large families. Born to that clan were Polk, Emmett, and Earl Shelton who, according to Emmet, became lawyers for their own protection. Practicing law in the 1950’s, Polk was known for his success in the criminal and domestic Courts, Emmet was a leader in Texas politics, and Earl was the scholar. In 1956, the district attorney’s office along with the grand jury room, the jury dormitory, and the court library were on the fifth floor of the Travis County Courthouse. The courthouse, built in the 1930’s, was crowded, and my office (cubicle) was open and abutted the library where Earl kind of lived, researching the law and regaling me with the most interesting stories of the practice of law by the Shelton family in early Texas. Being a Yankee, and new to Texas – having been here for only the last seven years – I could not get enough of his colorful and educational stories. I remember him saying, “Back in the old days , when the Sheltons were so numerous you couldn’t count them and some you weren’t even sure you were related to, one was falsely accused and convicted in Williamson County of some type of offense despite the efforts of a distant Shelton lawyer. On the day of the hanging, about 50 well-armed Shelton men arrived on horseback and presented themselves before the gallows outside the Williamson County Courthouse. The hanging was called off, the defendant was freed, and justice was done. I told Earl he should write a book, but he never did. Emmet, however, presented me with about 10 tapes recording much of his experiences in Texas politics, particularly those involving the state and county conventions during the Shivers and Daniel years, but that is another Texas lawyer story…
March 25, 2020
There were not any woman lawyers in the district attorney’s office until very late in the 20th century. In fact, there were very few woman lawyers in Travis County. I recall that in one of our courts in 1960, a woman lawyer appeared at docket call wearing long pants and was summarily ordered by the judge to leave the court until she properly dressed. However, this did not mean that women did not have influence or make substantial contributions to the running of the Travis County District Attorney’s Office. In 1956, there were four male Assistant DAs and one woman secretary. All of the lawyers worked weekends and late hours. Proctor, the DA, was a bachelor, the rest of us had families and it was hard to be absent husbands and parents. This was particularly true on change-of-venue cases since we had jurisdiction to prosecute state officers and were called upon to try cases in counties far away from Austin. Finally, in 1958, we went from four assistants to six and four woman secretaries.
I say secretaries but the first to be hired was an Austin debutant member of the Junior League, beautiful and single and very proper. She had much influence on the selection of the other three ladies Proctor hired. All debutants, all Junior League, all UT graduates with varying degrees from art to history, all beautiful and proper and, as it became evident, all dedicated to the success of the Office of District Attorney. They were in effect better at running the office than we were. But this was not to last. One of them became a successful lawyer, married an astrophysicist, and traveled all over the world where he lectured in various colleges on mathematics. One married a renowned Hollywood actor who excelled in his profession and is still doing so. One married a lawyer who played a great part in changing world affairs in Washington, and one married a young man who with her became an outstanding entrepreneur. All four of them at different times effected the decisional process of the DA’s office, but that’ another lawyer story….
March 27, 2020
As a Massachusetts Yankee, Korean War transplant, then a University of Texas undergraduate and law school alumnus exposed to quiet sophisticated beautiful Austin in the 1950’s, I soon learned that there was a strong belief in Austin that Sam Houston was right that Texas should not have seceded from the union in the 1860s. Most of the people who lived in Austin in the ‘50s were born there or at least in Texas and had a strong pride in the fact that they were Americans, and most certainly Texans. The strength of that pride was evident in how they lived, governed, and interacted with each other…which brings me to the law of the west or maybe of East Texas as it existed in some counties in the 1960s. Texas was governed by the 1925 Penal Code. This was not to change until the Supreme Court decisions, the amendments to the procedural code in the ‘60s, and the enactment of a completely new penal code in 1974. In 1962, the Billy Sol Estes Case was tried on-change-of venue from Pecos County several hundred miles away to Smith County (Tyler).
The prosecutors were R.B. McGowan, district attorney of Pecos, and Weldon Holcomb, district attorney of Smith County. I was there as chief of law enforcement division assistant attorney general assisting them. John and Hume Cofer of Austin were defending. The case ultimately became the seminal case before the U.S. Supreme Court on television in the courtroom. Estes was charged in a three-count indictment under the 1925 Penal Code with various types of theft involving anhydrous ammonium tanks and financial institutions, a simple and boring prosecution complicated by the intrusion of multiple television cameras, coaxial cables, and shotgun mikes in the Smith County courtroom, which of course brought forth numerous objections by the defense. John Cofer: “Your Honor, we object. These cameras along with their created pre-trial publicity violate the defendant’s rights to a fair trial guaranteed to him by the Sixth and Fourteenth amendments to the Constitution of the United States.”
The judge: “Overruled….We are trying this case under the Texas Constitution, not the United States Constitution.”
Whoops, the Supreme Court of the United State agreed of course with the Cofers. And the law of the west (or east) did not prevail. I should have agreed with the Cofers, but when asked by the judge what the state’s position was, I said cowardly, “Whatever the court desires” – words of infamy to be regretted throughout my lawyer career but that’ s another Texas lawyer story…
March 28, 2019
I wish that I could say, like many of my friends, that I had since childhood always wanted to be a lawyer. Fact is, my wish was to be a soldier but my service in the Korean War made this impossible, and when the Army kicked me out, I began searching for another profession. The doctors at Brooke Army Hospital advised me against becoming a doctor, saying that if I lost the remaining eye, I would not be able to even diagnose measles. They suggested the law.
“There’re plenty of blind lawyers.”
At that time, although I was a captain and close to five years in the Army, I was still only a high school graduate. The lawyers I knew about in Worcester were highly respected and well-educated people. While on leave in Worcester, waiting for severance, I told my dad I didn’t think I was smart enough to be a lawyer. He suggested I visit with Judge Meagher, a newly appointed superior court judge and a family friend. The judge was very kind and invited me to sit in and watch one of the great Boston lawyers, Paul Smith, defend three armed-robbery defendants to be tried in his court the following day.
This was in 1951 supposedly in advanced Massachusetts. I arrived, and after sitting at the back of this very large majestic courtroom, saw the three defendants – young 17-year-olds – handcuffed sitting in a cage in the middle of the courtroom. The jury had previously been picked, the opening statements were made, and the district attorney began questioning his first witness, a big police sergeant. sitting in the witness chair. At some point during the cross examination of the officer, things got hot, and before anyone knew what was happening, Mr. Smith picked up a chair and threw it at the witness. The courtroom was cleared, and I found out later that all three defendants were acquitted. This obviously had some effect on my decision to become a lawyer and to be licensed not only in Texas but also in Massachusetts.
Years later, Paul and I became good friends through our association in NACDL and in trying a case in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts but that’s another lawyer story…
March 28, 2020
One of the great things about Texas is its politics, particularly as it relates to prosecutorial or judicial office. You don’t need the permission of any political machine or appointive authority, you just announce, pay the filing fee, and run in the primary of one of the two political parties. You of course have to have the legal qualifications to do so. In 1961, Les Proctor decided not to seek re-election as District Attorney of Travis County but instead to run for attorney general. Tom Blackwell, then county attorney, immediately announced for the office of district attorney, leaving the office of county attorney up for grabs.
I had been prosecuting and doing the so-called Lord’s work, away from home, all over the state and now I felt it was time to reap the harvest. But should I leave this cushiony $13,000-a-year job with the attorney general? Two hours before the deadline, I filed in the Democratic Party primary for the office of county attorney. Three others had already filed: CJ Taylor, a highly respected Austin assistant city attorney, Frank Hoagland, a wealthy well-known private lawyer, and Wally Shropshire, ex-FBI now a lawyer in private practice. Two of us ended in a runoff, Wally and myself. It was obvious from the start that I was the underdog, an outsider. All of the liberal coalitions endorsed Wally. I had the newspaper endorsement and some of West Austin. Wally’s slogan was, “We don’t need anybody from Boston telling us who to prosecute in Austin.” He had two other powers going for him: his lovely wife Doris Shropshire, a true hard-working campaigner, who several years later was elected to the office of county clerk; and his beautiful 10-year-old son who appeared on TV with his dad, saying, “I want to help,” and playing his guitar singing, “Oh where have all the flowers gone.” The election was over before it began. “Where have all the votes gone?” For every two votes that I got, Wally got three. So began Frank Maloney, Attorney at Law – $50 a month office on the sixth floor of the Capital National Bank Building in Austin. I did not know it then but losing that election was the best thing that could have happened to me . Here I was, in 1962, the Warren Supreme Court, and a broke lawyer, but that’s another lawyer story…
PS: Proctor, having made his reputation by prosecuting many state officials, was beaten by past speaker of the house Waggoner Carr and Austin lawyer Tom Reaveley. Carr won in the runoff and Reaveley later became a 5th Circuit federal judge. Proctor became a member of the new Austin law firm of Proctor, Maloney, and Fullerton.
March 29, 2020
It is embarrassing and hurtful remembering those times when super ego controlled your life.
Such was the time when I appeared as an assistant DA against a classmate who did not practice criminal law and who was appointed to defend a man charged with theft of an auto enhanced in the charge with two prior felony theft convictions, making a life sentence mandatory if convicted. I will not name my classmate as he wants to forget that he ever appeared as a defense lawyer in a criminal case. He was one of the cleverest men I ever knew and became a great Texas philanthropist, leaving millions to a Texas town and to the college in that area many years later. This was his first trial in any court and about my 10th as a prosecutor. During the voir dire of the jury panel, he told them about the defendant’s two prior convictions. This was a surprise, because the jury was not allowed to know about those priors unless the defendant was convicted by them of the primary offense and only then at the punishment phase of the trial. Both the judge and I thought my classmate had made a terrible mistake and the judge cautioned him and asked if he wanted a mistrial. No, he wanted to continue. After selection of the jury during recess, I immediately offered a plea deal of 10 years waiving the enhancement count. I was afraid any conviction would be overturned on Sixth Amendment grounds, inadequate counsel. No deal, he said.
The evidence produced by me clearly and without question showed that the defendant stole the 1960 Ford in a wealthy neighborhood in north Austin and wrapped it around a tree near the courthouse where he was then arrested. Adding insult to injury, he testified that the reason he stole the car was that he was late reporting to his parole officer on the day of his arrest. There was no evidence to support this assertion by the defense, other than the fact that he was late for his appointment by a month. After the case was received by the jury, my classmate and I left the court and went downstairs to Nellies for a cup of coffee. Before she could take our order, the court bailiff appeared and advised that the jury had reached a verdict and the judge was waiting for us. I felt sorry for my classmate and tried to comfort him, telling him he should not take this to heart.
A verdict after 10 minutes. Unheard of. They couldn’t have even selected a foreman in that time. We arrived back in court, the sheriff brought the defendant in, and the jury was seated and asked by the court if they had reached a verdict. “We have, Your Honor,” and handed the verdict form to the bailiff to be delivered to the judge. After the judge had studied the verdict form, he handed it to the bailiff to be redelivered to the foreman. “The defendant will please rise. The foreman will read the verdict.”
The foreman stood and with a commanding voice read: “We the jury find the defendant… NOT GUILTY.”
March 30, 2020
The general public of Texas and elsewhere, those who consider themselves in the know, feel that the Attorney General of Texas is in control of all of the district attorneys, the prosecutors, and has criminal jurisdiction throughout the state, i.e., a super, super DA. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the AG has no criminal jurisdiction, and absolutely no control of the district attorneys. Why this is a belief is explained by perhaps a comparison with the federal AG office and its control over the United States attorneys. The fact is that the people of Texas have a strong belief in local government, without any interference or control by Austin. Enter Will Wilson, a powerful, courageous, successful prior district attorney of Dallas County in the late ‘40s, a Supreme Court of Texas Justice in the ‘50s, and soon to be Attorney General of Texas in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s. Seeking the office of attorney general, he ran on the platform that he could curb crime and punish criminals severely. He was elected overwhelmingly. The situation involving crime in Texas had changed, effected by the Vietnam War, the use of drugs by young people, the sexual revolution, and other forces, all of which brought about a change of living and views of many Texans and the rest of the country. Wilson headed an AG office of over 100 lawyers but few were trained in the field of criminal law.
His office was organized to advise and represent the various divisions of state government and take on the massive job of condemnation for highway growth. The condemnation lawyers comprised most of his office. Without criminal jurisdiction, all he could do was offer assistance to the various district attorneys around the state but with what? He had a division which he inherited from his predecessor euphemistically called the criminal division. It had one chief, Riley Fletcher, a competent prior district attorney who had in his division seven lawyers, none of whom had ever been in criminal court and all of who had worked as house counsel in various state offices like game and fish, liquor control, comptroller’s office, etc.
Wilson’s first assistant strongly disagreed with his boss on the duties of the attorney general, Leonard Passmore, a remarkable lawyer in all phases of law, politically knowledgeable, savvy about the ways of Texans, a rural Texan along with Byron Fullerton, the number-two man in the AG’s office and another rural Texan, both with uncommon good sense, placated their boss and convinced him to relieve poor overworked Riley Fletcher and assign him elsewhere, thus allowing the office to do its job as the legal representative of state agencies. For a short time at least. But too much was happening and Wilson felt he was needed rightly or wrongly to get involved. Billy Saul Estes, deviational drilling in the East Texas field, gambling and the slot machine, Maceo Brothers in Galveston, removal of the sheriff and prosecution in Jefferson County, investigation of the District Attorney of Bexar County. Enter Frank Maloney from the Travis County District Attorney’s Office, newly appointed assistant attorney general and now super new chief of the law enforcement division. But..that’s another story, or many other stories, about lawyers in Texas…
March 30, 2020
There existed some highly respected lawyers in Austin in the ‘50s. The law firms were small and excelled in the various fields of civil law. Perhaps the most powerful politically was the Clark Thomas firm. Mr. Ed, as he was referred to, was Lyndon B. Johnson’s mentor and lawyer from the time L.B.J. was elected representative of the 10th Congressional District in the ‘40s all the way through L.B.J.’s presidency. There were other law firms in Austin, excellent ones representing clients from all over the world, but none of the big law firms from Houston. Rumor had it that Mr. Ed just wouldn’t allow it, but that was the civil law bar.
The criminal bar was another animal altogether, barely getting by in some instances, but independent – one or two small firms, but usually in competition with each other for the few clients who needed representation in the courts. Paul Holt and Perry Jones had the majority of cases, half of them non-paying clients. You might say they were, along with the other criminal bar members, the unofficial public defenders long before Gideon v. Wainwright. In the ‘50s, only the poor were prosecuted for the property crimes and the drug offenses, i.e., “only the poor, the minorities, committed crimes.”
The Vietnam War, university student disruptions, youthful drug use, LSD, speed, marihuana, the sexual revolution – all of this changed the practice of criminal law. The criminal lawyer became a desirable commodity, the better ones sought after by disappointed parents of their offspring.
And the court system changed, too. Additional courts were created throughout the state; Travis County received a new criminal district court, relieving the three district courts of their criminal jurisdiction . The judge, his Honor Mace B. Thurman.
As crime increased, the criminal bar exponentially increased. The new firm of Proctor, Maloney, and Fullerton always ready to “inherit the wind,” reaped the harvest primarily because of its “vast experience.” Ah, that is another lawyer story…
March 31, 2020
There were some great district attorneys of Travis County over the years, all different from each other, influenced by the law of the time, the assets they had, the people they served, and the political desires of the community. Some were more effective or less effective than others in different requirements of the office. The ones most familiar to me are people I had dealings with during my practice. Governor Dan Moody, who as district attorney of both Travis and Williamson Counties, convicted and cleared the state of the Ku Klux Klan, is probably the most famous. My dealings with him came long after when I was third chair as assistant DA and he was defending the son of a person who had been of great help to him as a young lawyer. This was a rare thing for him at an advanced time in his career as a prominent civil lawyer. He was impressive even then in the courtroom.
Jack Roberts, later a district judge and then a federal district judge, gave me hell every time he could while I was working for Proctor and then again when I was in private practice before him in federal court. Proctor respected him and valued his advice. There is a story about him that when he was the district attorney prosecuting in the old two-story-high ceiling 126th District Courtroom on the west side of the courthouse, he timed his closing arguments before the jury to be at around three p.m. just as the sun came through the upper window, spotlighting him. He would intone, “Give this jury a sign, oh Lord.” Both he and Paul Holt served together as Army investigators arresting deserters and draft dodgers during the war.
I really know very little about Bob Long. Les Proctor defeated him in a hotly contested race. I do know that Sam Kimberlain, an ex-Marine and fine lawyer, was one of his assistants and thought very highly of him.
I suspect that I probably am prejudiced about Proctor. He hired me right out of law school and taught me how to practice law ethically and correctly. His belief was that each case depended on fact and law and its disposition should be governed by that and not personality. He believed that if a prosecutor followed the law, he could not be correctly criticized. He tolerated no infraction of the law by his people; if that occurred, it brought about immediate dismissal, no excuse. He was highly respected and often honored by the district attorneys around the state. In my 60 years of practice, I know of very few who could approach his excellence as a lawyer.
Robert O Smith. What can I say. I cut my teeth as a defense lawyer against him, defending numerous kids, drug cases, killings, defendants charged with multiple student killings, politicians, Muslims, and numerous others. He was a Proctor clone, honest, efficient, and fair…one of the best.
Tom Blackwell was the last of the full time in-court prosecutors. He was tough and had some pretty good assistant DAs – people like Phill Nelson and others. Ronnie Earl, Emile Limberg, the first woman district attorney, and Margaret Moore each presented Travis County with new and different directions. The office became metropolitan in size. Victims’ rights became a serious factor, and more emphasis on office administration rather than court room ability, but that is another lawyer story…
March 31, 2020
I graduated from law school in 1956. I was not a great student but passed the bar exam along with two of my friends taking it as a preparation for the future exam, thinking we would not come close to passing since we still had a semester left in law school. Because of this fortunate event, I was able to volunteer time to the Travis County District Attorney’s Office during my senior year, which ultimately led to my being hired at graduation. Which brings me to the question, “What happened to a law school graduate in the ‘50s? How did he start off and try to become successful?”
First, not all graduates of law schools want to become lawyers; my classmate Chauncey Depew Leake was one person who had come to law school from Wall Street and wanted to return there, which he did, making his millions in venture capital. Secondly, those who did become lawyers, if their grades were in the top 10 percent, went to the large law firms and if they put in enough billable hours, made partner and ultimately retired rich like several of my classmates. Some of my classmates went to work for the state and never left. Some, like another classmate Harry McPherson, went to Washington, became a senior adviser to the president, wrote a book, and ultimately became successful in a Washington practice. But the majority of us in 1956 went home and hoped for the best as sole practitioners or with another lawyer in some type of law.
I think it was as it is today. Unfortunately law school graduates, even after passing the bar, are not really capable to act as lawyers. We learn from casebooks and texts how to think like lawyers and some have some experience, but are we ready? Some states like New Jersey require a one-year internship before you can do lawyering on your own.
It was not until 1977, in Bates v. St Bar of Arizona that the Supreme Court of the United States held the prohibition against advertising by lawyers was unconstitutional. So, in 1950, how did the sole practitioner in criminal law get proficient and attract clients?
There was never any type of law that I wanted to practice except criminal law. I was told that in order to learn, I should become a prosecutor; make my mistakes on the state’s time, not while defending some poor devil. I learned that a legitimate way to advertise was to run in an election for a lawyer’s job. Charlie Tessmer, a successful criminal lawyer in Dallas, told me to lecture on law wherever and whenever I could and to write papers and a book, which I did. The best thing though was teaching at the University of Texas as an adjunct professor from 1962 to l980, the required 4-hour course initially until my practice would not allow me the time and then a seminar every other semester on state or federal criminal law. This was really fortuitous, because in the early ‘60s, the Earl Warren Supreme Court began a new era in the field of constitutional criminal law with its decisions on the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments a subject that had to be taught in the law schools and was very important in the defense of criminal cases, particularly in search and seizure and confession cases. Soon, I was overwhelmed with new cases since I was teaching the subject.
An additional method of getting known was difficult and time-consuming – becoming active in state, local, or specialized bar work, interacting with your fellow lawyers. This I did by reluctantly becoming president of the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association in 1971 and happily becoming president of the National Association of Criminal Lawyers in the late ‘80s. Referrals from other lawyers is an important source of clients.
Of course, this was all good, but to put food on the table, you had to try cases and have some type of success in the courtroom. Some of my classmates became great trial lawyers, also some of the great trial lawyers in Texas – Percy Foreman, Warren Burnett, Richard Racehorse Haynes, Emmet Colvin were all sole practitioners. But that is another lawyer story…hopefully about someone else…
PS: No one gets to be successful in this field without a hell of a lot of help from others and sometimes we hog the credit…
April 1, 2020
It seems like I should be driving my 1993 Jeep out of my garage at Cape Cod today as I did last year. My sailboat Defiance is already back in the water at its mooring ready to sail the seas of Nantucket Sound. At age 92 I can have these happy-day thoughts, hoping that there will be more soon, yet realizing that we are now experiencing a different world presenting severe challenges and heartbreaking events.
There was a minister, Carl Marney, in Austin who had a TV show in the ‘60s called These Things Too Will Soon Pass. He often lectured to the police during their training; some believed him, some were not too happy and more cynical about the future.
Those were happy times in Austin in the ‘50s; before the turmoils of the ‘60s; before the horrors of the Vietnam War, the riots and marches of students, the strong counter measures against them by the police and authorities, the War on Drugs, and young people being caught up in all of this.
The City of Austin, with more pedestrians than automobiles parading along the “drag,” presented kind of an undisturbed laconic atmosphere with a kind and considerate people a happy place to practice law. On the downside, there were underlying race problems, but they had yet to be exposed. The Civil Rights movements, Jack and Bobby Kennedy, Martin Luther King, were to bring us to new horizons in the ‘60s. But in the ‘50s, the Korean War, the Cold War seemed to be problems not of too much concern and like Miss Scarlet , “We’ll think about that tomorrow.”
In the district attorney’s office, outside of a few murders on the east side, some small pot possessions, and a few misdirected politicians, our biggest problems seemed to be out-of-wedlock pregnancies and child support complaints. The out-of-wedlock pregnancy seduction complaints usually were solved by grand jury marriages where the grieving mother of her pregnant daughter complained to the district attorney, who then presented the matter to the grand jury who subpoenaed the miscreant offender, gave him a choice of prosecution for seduction or marriage, and then marched him and the new bride-to-be to the justice of the peace, who waived the license and performed the short version marriage ceremony (free of charge). Being very Catholic about this, because I was the designee to present these cases to the grand jury, the secretaries in the office soon dubbed me “Marrying Sam.” Child Support was a different matter and because the law at that time put jurisdiction enforcement of failure to pay crimes in the various district attorneys’ offices along with maintaining the collection trust fund, it consumed much of the time and efforts of the office. It was a political nightmare, but that’s another lawyer story…
April 1, 2020
“Yesterday is dead and gone and tomorrow’s out of sight, and it’s sad to be alone. Help me make it through the night.” Kris Kristopher’s wonderful song, “Help Me Make It Through the Night.”
I am not necessarily a gregarious person, and I enjoy being alone…sometimes. This period of hibernation is presenting me with a lot of time to be alone and in order to get through it, I have decided to drag up some of my memories of old lawyer friends or stories about them, with the hope that neither they nor their estates will bring suit against me.
Percy Foreman: One of the best with national stature, impressive. In a crowded room, all 6’4” of him, with his huge head, would command the attention of all. Proctor and I were retained by the wife and the brothers of a cardiovascular surgeon from Boston who was in Austin to become a partner in the practice of surgery with an Austin surgeon. Apparently, the Boston doctor became violent and suffered a nervous breakdown upon arriving in Austin.
I arranged to have him arrested on a sheriff’s warrant and conveyed to the Austin State Hospital for examination. Under the law at that time, if two psychiatrists certified he was mentally ill and a danger to himself or others, he could be detained for treatment. However, absent consent he was entitled to a jury trial in county court within seven days. On the day of trial, in walked Percy Foreman with two beautiful women, one on each arm. The case went on for three weeks before a jury and County Judge Watson, who was not a lawyer. That produced a strange situation: The lawyers would make evidentiary objections and then decide between themselves how to rule. The jury found that the doctor was mentally ill but not dangerous to himself or others. The case produced national press and a picture of Percy and myself in the New York Times, where Percy is calling me the dumbest lawyer in the country. A week after the trial, Percy called me on the phone asking me to please get the good doctor out of his office where he had been camped since his release. Percy and I tried several cases after that on referrals to and from each other. I was always impressed by his abilities.
Other great lawyers: Richard Racehorse Haynes, Warren Burnett, and many more who I tried cases with, but that’s another lawyer story…
April 2, 2020
The poor prosecutors in Texas and elsewhere during the ‘60s and early ‘70s had it tough. Not only did the Supreme Court unload on them with the decisions of Mapp, Miranda, Escobedo, et al, but the Fred Erisman State Bar committee successfully got the legislature to enact a new code of criminal procedure, which encompassed all of the case law of the Supreme Court and more. In the late ‘60s, they had had enough. The Keaton Committee was eagerly preparing a penal code based on the very liberal MPC of the American Law Institute as Florida, Indiana, New York, and California had already enacted, and that coupled with drug use and the rise in crime throughout the state, brought forth a cry of pain and injury by the various district attorneys and their need for help.
The district and county attorneys association, the sheriffs association, and other state and local law enforcement groups massed together to form a powerful lobby and as a thunderous herd descended upon an already citizen-plagued legislature swamping them with draconian-type law enforcement legislation. Enter the about-to-be-newly-formed Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, organized in Dallas during the State Bar Association Convention in 1971 through the efforts of Tony Friloux of Houston and Phil Burleson of Dallas, both of whom had a large group of followers at this hastily called organizational meeting at the Dallas Petroleum Club and both of whom felt rightly that he should be president. Since most of the outstanding criminal law lawyers of the state were there, you could say the place was overloaded with egos all with their own ideas and strongly backing either Friloux of Houston or Burleson of Dallas. Soon both came to the realization that neither could be president at that time and they wanted the association to exist, so they agreed that they should elect an interim president now, Friloux becoming president the next year in Houston, and Burleson assuming the presidency the following year at the bar convention in Dallas. But who should we vote in as president now? We all looked about the room in search of the most innocuous person….Ah, Frank Maloney. No, said I. I was already saddled with too much. The trial of a state senator scheduled next month, the trial of the speaker of the house the following month, and other trials piling up. Yes, you will, said Emmet Colvin, Tony Friloux, and Phil Burleson, and my overwhelming ego said yes. Wow, to be a president of something. I went back to Austin, expecting the association dues to start, hired a young Harvard Law graduate Bill Reed to be executive director, rented an office in the Brown Building for him, and I resumed practicing law. The association became a great success with over 300 dues-paying highly selected lawyers in the first year. More about this later and the hard-working lawyer presidents who followed…
PS: The association was not meant to be a good-old-boys’ group as NACDL was at that time, nor was its purpose just to protect against draconian enactments. This was part of it, but its purpose was also education through seminars, helping each other in practice, amicus assistance, and interaction with each other throughout the state. Its first board drafted bylaws and the corporate charter to be filed with the secretary of state. The board membership was composed of a who’s who of predominant lawyers throughout the state: Foreman, Haynes, Colvin, Tessmer, Semaan, Burleson, and Friloux just to name a few.
April 2, 2020
There are times when it is complete agony in the trial of a case because of the counsel representing a co-defendant, but there are also times when it is a joy, not only because of their astute handling of the matter at hand, but because of their affability. Several lawyers whose personality provided that joy and who I tried cases with come to mind, but the one who stands out above all the rest is Richard “Racehorse” Haynes. I say this because I was forced to share the same motel suite with him in Abilene for a month defending the speaker of the house and two others on an accusation of conspiracy to accept a bribe, which had been transferred on change-of-venue motion by the state from Austin (the so called “Sharps Town Case”).
The case resulted in convictions, but probation and subsequently dismissals. The case was highly publicized both before during and after the trial. The state’s theory was that Frank Sharp had arranged for loans to the speaker, the lieutenant governor, and the governor from the Sharps Town Bank (loans that were not to be repaid), so that they could buy stock in National Bankers Life Insurance Co. at a low rate, a corporation he owned, and he did this in order to get legislation increasing the amount of the insured capacity of his bank. Neither the governor nor the lieutenant governor were indicted, there was never any legislation introduced in the senate, and the governor never agreed to the purchase of the stock. Had the case been tried in Travis County, and if a fair jury was acquired, it might have resulted in an acquittal, but not in Abilene.
The real issue was whether there was an agreement that the loans were not to be repaid. There was no credible proof offered of this or whether Sharp convinced them that the value of stock would increase as it was doing and that the legislation was sound. (In later years, the legislation sought was enacted and became law.) The case required the lawyers being in close contact. One morning at breakfast, I was disturbed by a suggestion of tactics by counsel of one of the co-defendants and proceeded to criticize him. This prompted Richard to say, “Kindly old professor, you take yourself too seriously.” Words and advice I try but seldom am successful in remembering. Haynes was memorable. He kept me laughing each morning and night and probably sane. After the trial, we spent a couple of days crying over the conviction, sailing on my boat and getting drunk. Richard and I shared the lead in the case. This was a mistake. It should have been Haynes all the way. But I had just won the Senator Bates case before a jury in Corpus Christi and had convinced myself that I was “hot stuff.”
PS: We lawyers could tell numerous laughable stories about “Race.” He was one of the most successful trial lawyers of his day and until his recent death…
April 3, 2020
Warren Burnett was the epitome of a defiant tiger, a smart one at that. Emmett Colvin, who knew him well, said the guy was born with a book and always had one in his hand thereafter. He was born and raised in Virginia, moved to Texas where he became rich in Midland-Odessa practicing primarily personal injury law, but – and here is what made him the lawyer to go to – he never turned away from a just cause regardless of the money, the strength of the opposition, or the belief that it just couldn’t be won. The problems of the ‘60s and ‘70s, the underdog student activists, the Vietnam War, the fight against what he believed to be a top-heavy state bar unfair and uninterested in activist endeavors of the bar for improvements in the law for the poor, the under privileged, this is what made him famous. Where there was a rebellious meeting to correct a wrong, Warren would be there. He never took a note during trial but was totally ready for his cross examination of witnesses, which was always brilliant.
My first but not last contact with Warren was at the San Antonio Bar Convention or rather outside of the building where it was being held where Warren, at about age 40, was leading a riotously large group of law students who were demonstrating against the state bar on the commons before the Alamo. It was quite a show reminiscent of the great Texas struggle for independence. In the ‘70s I had tried to get him to be more active in the TCDLA production of the new penal code but he said he was too busy in his practice and would probably dislike it anyway. He was right in some ways because, among other things, the 1974 code did away with the requirement of strict construction of its meaning. The legislature in 1970 had rejected the Keaton Committee Code, thus allowing more participation by the prosecutors in the new version enacted as the 1974 Code. Warren never forgave me for this, blaming that “academic Maloney” for this grievous error.
Tony Friloux referred a case to me that he felt needed multiple counsel, finally convincing Burnett to join the defense, allowing Friloux to withdraw. Trying a case with Warren was an experience, a surprise every minute. Warren and I, together with Gerry Goldstein, a well-known San Antonio attorney who represented one of the conspirators, were together for several weeks in federal court before newly appointed federal Judge William Sessions. The case involved several murders in Mexico, fraud, and a so-called “soldier of fortune,” a government witnesses. The jury had a strange but attractive woman as one of its members and she kept pulling her skirt above her knees during the time Warren was cross examining the “soldier of fortune.” This and other conduct by her caused the foreman to seek audience with Judge William Sessions who, with our consent, offered to excuse her. Warren objected and so she was retained, fortunately or unfortunately depending on how you looked at it. During their deliberations, EMS appeared: Apparently, she had broken the foreman’s finger. The jury convicted Goldstein’s client but hung on our client 11 to 1 for conviction. We were told it was the attractive woman who was the holdout for acquittal all because she could never convict a client of that “handsome Warren Burnett.” Sessions was furious with us and ordered the case to the Waco division to be retried the following Monday…
PS: I was then fired by the wife of the defendant for reasons left unsaid, but Sessions would not release me until Warren, who was intentionally late, finally appeared, having flown in his own piper cub through a snowstorm, and resumed the defense. The case after a one-day trial resulted in a conviction and a sentence of what amounted to life.
April 4, 2020
Several months ago, I attended the funeral of one of the better judges who had served on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, our Supreme Court for criminal matters. Although we had never been close colleagues on the court, I respected him not only for his keen mind but for his ability to be correct in his decisions. Many of the people who spoke at his funeral remembered him as a strong law enforcement attorney in the prosecutorial division of the attorney general’s office helping various district attorneys around the state. He had been a district attorney before going to the attorney general’s office and before being elected to the court some 12 years before. I was struck by these comments and, in my feelings for him, wanted to correct the impression that was being, what I thought, erroneously given but I didn’t speak and I am thankful I did not disturb those thoughts of the people who spoke as they did. I think they would have misunderstood how hard it is for a judge, as it was for Judge Charles Campbell, to do what all judges have to do, and some never do, and that is put their disciplines of the past on a shelf in order to become impartial and this is particularly true of discretionary review judges, the judges on all supreme courts of each state, and the Supreme Court of the United States.
Judges wrestle with this problem on most of the review cases that come before them because in those cases they are forced to choose between conflicting case law or no case law at all. Judge Campbell and I were from different recent disciplines, and I valued his views and quite often he convinced me to change my view as I caused him to change his. This made us both better in what we did. An example of my respect for him is evidenced by his authorship of Kelly v. State, a case that changed the whole law on the admissibility or lack thereof of so-called expert testimony. True, it was fostered by two Supreme Court decisions, but there was need to also reinterpret a Texas statute and enlarge on the Supreme Court mandates. Judge Campbell showed by that opinion and other opinions by him what a true judge is. He was impartial and correct. I have other stories about judges, but that’s for the future…
PS: President Nixon coined the phrase, “We want judges who will follow the law, not make it.” If every certiorari Judge, every discretionary review judge followed that mandate, few if any reviews would be granted, and there would be no interpretation of conflict or of non-existent law, every issue needed to be decided would remain undecided or sent back to the executive branch, or legislative (congress) branch, contrary to Marbury v. Maddison or McCullough v. Md., leading to the destruction of the separation of powers doctrine. It would be an interesting question of which would grasp the power first; a tug of war between the legislative and executive branches of government…
April 4, 2020
Every Friday night at a local bistro in Dallas County, two famous lawyers would hold court and entertain an enraptured audience of lawyers eager to soak up the wisdom of these two while imbibing in a touch of the bitters. Charlie Tessmer and Emmet Colvin were the two and deserving of this admiration would be an understatement of their abilities and successes both in state and federal Court. (As an aside, in my opinion, if either had defended Jack Ruby, Ruby probably would have been acquitted.) Emmet, from Arkansas, first came in contact with Charlie when Emmet was an assistant district attorney for Henry Wade of Dallas County. Wade set the paradigm for zealous prosecution throughout the State of Texas. His office had promulgated several rules for successful prosecution that were removed because they violated every rule of due process you could think of, particularly in jury selection. Although Emmet and Wade remained friends, he soon realized that heavy prosecution was not his bag and that he should resume defending in federal court. Charlie and Emmet formed a partnership with Charlie handling state defense, and Emmet federal, and were soon accomplishing outstanding professional and ethical work that was recognized by others. After several years though, the partnership dissolved in a friendly way with each continuing their successful practice – in state for Charlie and federal court for Emmett. He felt he was overly successful, until, he said, “The Feds discovered the law of conspiracy.”
In the ‘60s and early ‘70s, Emmet and I and our families developed a strong relationship that would go on until his death in Fairfax, Virgnia, where he had retired. He should have received more recognition for helping TCDLA get going because he was instrumental in helping Phil Burleson in its organization in Dallas. It was there that we began our association in helping each other in the trial of several federal cases including the first RICO conspiracy case tried in Texas. That case involved a kickback scheme with purchases of IBM equipment by Southwestern Bell. Along with employees of Bell, several lawyers and two ex-FBI agents were indicted and all tried in one gigantic trial before Sarah Hughes, the famous judge who had sworn in L.B.J. as president directly after Jack Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas. Judge Hughes was not a happy camper and treated the defense lawyers, her clerk, and the jury harshly, at one point holding a juror in contempt for being late. At the time of trial, a young lawyer, David Botsford, was in the employ of Emmet and played an important part in the trial. We represented a lawyer who previously had been a law student of mine who had unwittingly been caught up in the scheme. Suffice it to say our client, primarily due to the efforts of Emmet and David, was acquitted. Several side events: Besides the heavy drinking at the Playboy Club, which kept us sane, there was an event which involved the good Judge Sarah who, along with Emmett (between marriages), was a bachelor. One morning, halfway during the trial, Judge Hughes scheduled an in-chambers conference for the following day at eight a.m. At the conference, she announced with a twinkle in her eye, “Emmet, today is bachelor’s day.” The conference then ended without any other business as does this story but with many to follow about the great Emmet Colvin…
April 5, 2020
In 1982, a jury in Washington, D.C., under D.C. law as opposed to federal law, found John Hinckley not guilty by reason of insanity of the attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan. The District of Columbia law contained a volitional incapacity test as opposed to a pure right and wrong test on the issue. The verdict of the jury created a national outrage resulting in hearings before the United States Senate Judiciary Committee where the jurors in that case were subpoenaed to testify and various so-called experts on the insanity law and me also testified on some 10 bills offered to modify or do away with the insanity defense, I guess because I had tried several insanity defense cases or because I had published as an adjunct professor on the issue, or because NACDL asked me to, but probably because my ego insisted that I do so. I appeared representing NACDL. At any rate, having written out my opening statement, I traveled to Washington at my own expense, I testified before Senators Spector, Heflin, and Thurmond. During my testimony, I was interrupted by a quorum call, asked if I should wait, was told by Senator Heflin, “Sure if you want to flap your lips some more?” The only positive thing that I liked about my testimony was that I gave them hell for subpoenaing the jurors and questioning them on their verdict. What a waste of time.
Jerry Gold of Cleveland, Ohio, a past president of NACDL, and an attorney of national repute, a guy who I traveled with all over Europe in the ‘80s, along with some great lawyers on a people-to-people tour, was the legal hero in a book written about the “Mad Murderess of Shaker Heights” by one William L. Tabac because Jerry successfully defended her on an insanity defense. The case was in 1965 and Ohio law was much like the D.C. law was in 1982, but different from Texas law. All three laws encompassed a test dealing with right or wrong but D.C. and Ohio had the volitional incapacity test also. The book was not published until 2018, but Jerry’s accomplishments were widely known. He rather than I should have been the guy testifying. I considered myself an expert on the insanity defense, being the designated authority in the DA’s office in the ‘50s, and having never lost a case involving that defense. The reason was that all defendants who were considered insane by the state psychiatrist were by agreement found insane. No Texas lawyer including myself knew how to try an insanity defense case at that time.
However, when I became a defense lawyer and having observed others in the ‘60s, I utilized the insanity defense in every case I could, in all capital cases, and even in a federal conspiracy-to-kidnap case and several others. I can say that unfortunately none of my defendants were found insane , but none of them were executed all because the evidence offered on the insanity issue explained what made them tick and as my good friend Racehorse Haynes would teach, “You gotta humanize the defendant.”
April 6, 2020
Every middle-size town has at least one or more lawyers who are so universally liked, politically active, and extremely able , that they can occasionally push the envelope in their desire to help their clients, with conduct not particularly important or necessary, or which does not matter anyway..or is just plain laughable. To be this kind of lawyer , and have a successful practice, you’ve got to be loved and respected, but more importantly, you have to be just damn good. Such was Roy Q. Minton of Austin. A fighter pilot during the Korean War, he attended and graduated from the University of Texas Law School in 1961, spent a year with his friend Charlie Burton as an assistant DA in the Travis County District Attorney’s Office, working for Tom Blackwell, and ultimately was recognized as having outstanding abilities by Perry Jones , leading to the formation of the Austin firm of Jones Minton and Burton in 1963.
Anyone who is charged with a crime wants a lawyer who believes in them , a lawyer who will fight for them and win. Perry Jones was that type of lawyer, as were Minton and Burton . Together they had a large and successful practice representing people from all environs charged with every type of crime, creating a very large following. As the years went by, the young lawyers involved in criminal law, anxious to emulate them in the practice, would gather in “the little red brick school house,” as their office at 1000 Guadalupe was called, for a beer or two on Friday evenings after court to gather pearls of wisdom from Roy and Charlie. Since the firm of Proctor Maloney and Fullerton was also engaged in the practice of law at that time , Roy and I became vocal competitors. As Roy would much later say, we had a love-hate relationship. I think, and I am sure Roy would agree , it probably was more hate than love. I knew Roy was a fighter and we sometimes ended up with each other’s clients fostering the belief that the two firms were at each other’s throats. It is also true that each time Roy had a speaking engagement, he would spend an inordinate amount of time saying something about Frank Maloney, but what was not known was that there was some cooperation and one or two referrals between us. There are a lot of stories that are told about Roy; he was the type of lawyer by his actions or imagined actions stories followed and were memorialized. But here is one true story.
He could pick a jury and convince them about as well as any lawyer I ever knew.
PS: Roy is at home today with his lovely wife Barbara, having taken early retirement. His firm with Sam Bassett and Perry and David Minton along with others are there in the “little red brick schoolhouse “at 1000 Guadalupe still as active and productive as though Roy was still at the helm…
April 8, 2020
This is a difficult time for families, a season usually culminating in the happiness of Easter Sunday, and without the fear of this Easter week. I am reminded of how the military celebrates all of the various religious holidays for those who are on post or in combat areas and of how conscientious the military is in protecting and fostering those religious beliefs. This is a soldier story about a 23-year-old lieutenant who graduated West Point in 1948 and also of a Catholic chaplin, and their friend, another lieutenant…all of whom had been in Japan in the 1st Cavalry for a year just preceding the invasion of South Korea, and who were then sent to Korea in June of 1950 to defend at the Nactong River defense line.
Just before that, in April or May at Camp Drake, Japan, the Easter and Passover season was celebrated by each company of the Regiment, 7th Cavalary, with Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish services, followed by wonderful feasts in greatly decorated mess halls. The young lieutenant and the chaplin had, for several months, been carrying on a dialogue about religion, the lieutenant not necessarily being convinced and seriously doubting his own faith. This doubt was to change two months after being in Korea. But the young lieutenant, wanting to believe, was killed while leading his unit during an assault. His body had to be abandoned, leaving him the only casualty there. The chaplin insisted that the lieutenant’s body be recovered. Three volunteers and the lieutenant’s friend went up into the hills and recovered his body. The chaplin and friend then took the lieutenant to grave registration a few miles away in Teague. At that time in Teague, at the top of a hill was a beautiful and serene-looking Catholic church whose pastor was Korean and could only converse with the chaplin in Latin. They agreed and the church bells rang, the people came, and Charles Frederick McGee, class of 1948, on that afternoon, had his Catholic mass.
April 9, 2020
When as now I have an inordinate amount of time to sit at my favorite place and think back on the events that channeled the direction of my life in the legal world, my thoughts are of the people who I owe so much to. Lawyers, nonlawyers, assistants, and others. The people I worked with in my profession. In the district attorney’s office, Les Proctor, Bob Smith, Bob Towery, David McAngus, Phil Sanders, Jo Betsy Llewallen, Carol Corley, Ann Swenson. Neilyn Griggs Maloney. In the attorney general’s office, Will Wilson, Lenorad Passmore, Harry Nass, and Byron Fullerton. In private practice, Mary Ann Barton, Gwen Montgomery, Rose Snyder ,Ken Houp, David Botsford, Phil Nelson, David Reynolds, John Yaeger, Belinda Wright, Mary Golder Robinson, Sarah Wolk, Tom Black, Doug Hearne, Jack Stayton, Charlie Babb, Neilyn Griggs Maloney, Phil Joseph. At the Court of Criminal Appeals, Judges Sam Clinton, Charles Campbell, Marvin Teague, John Onion, Leon Douglas, Charlie Baird, Morris Overstreet, Truman Roberts, Mike Mc Cormick. Assistants there Carolyn Denero, Belinda Wright, and of course Valarie Strauss. (The research attorneys of all the judges) At the law school, Dean Page Keaton, Professors George Stumberg, Fred Cohen, Corwin Johnson, Millard Rudd, Joe Witherspoon, T.J. Gibson, Bob Dawson, Dean Charlotte. In professional organizations, TCDLA: Bill Reed, Phil Burleson, Tony Friloux, Jo Keagan, Richard Haynes, Warren Burnett, Emmet Colvin; NACDL: Paul Smith, Morris Schenka, Al Kriger, Mike Bender, Terry McCarthy, Bruce Lyons, Emmett Colvin(help in everything I did). There most certainly were others but these fill my thoughts when I venture in to my legal world activities. There are stories that could fill several books about them and help I received from each one of them..
April 12, 2020
I want to say something about judges. First of all, not all judges have the same job. Some are “trial judges”and some are “appellate” or “ Supreme Court Justices (discretionary review)”. Secondly, not all are elected in either partisan or nonpartisan elections; most in this country are appointed by various methods by the governors or in the federal system by the president confirmed by the Senate.
Thirdly, being a judge does not mean that we are fungible. Fourthly, a basic tenant of any judiciary is its independence from political pressures. Is there a problem in Texas? Are we getting the best judges? Are elections the best method of selection? With the exception of municipal judges, Texas elects all of its judges statewide and locally but with obvious problems. This long history has produced the factual ammunition mandating change. Over the years, several state bar committees headed by the various chief justices of this state , composed not only of lawyers but including journalists , business people, academicians, and members of other professions, have recommended a different method of selection.
Bills have been introduced in the legislature but all have been defeated primarily because of special interest groups. A common belief is that it would not be democratic if we didn’t elect our judiciary. But most, including lawyers who should know, do not have the slightest idea who they are voting for either in the primary or the general election. How many of us can name one judge of the nine-member Supreme Court or the nine-member Court of Criminal Appeals or of the 14 Courts of Appeals , or of any of the trial courts, county or district ? Campaigns cost money, TV, communication media, traveling in this huge state; where does it come from?
Mostly from lawyers. The public is shaken as they should be by this. It almost sounds like bribery. In the general election, people vote for judges by their party. History shows us that by this method, we have elected some terrible judges and it takes four or six years to get rid of them if we ever do. What is the solution? At the very least, take us out of partisan elections. If we have to be elected, let us run as independents. We cannot endorse a party platform, we have no business saying we can. The justices of the Supreme Court, the Court of Criminal Appeals, and the intermediate appellate courts should be appointed by the governor from a council recommended number of the best, confirmed by the Senate, who will then run against themselves after six years, i.e., “Should X be retained”
The trial judges, since they would be running in county local elections and therefore screened and known, could run as independents and, if elected, after four years run against themselves, i.e., “Should X be retained?” If no, then a new election is held. The above is the recommended solution of the various research committees and is utilized by many states.It is not a perfect solution, but it is better than what we have.
I ran for an open seat on the nine-member Court of Criminal Appeals in the Democratic primary, runoff, and against a Republican judge from Dallas in the the general election in 1989. I was elected to a six-year term. At that time, Texas was a Democrat-oriented state as it had been since theCivil War. This changed so that in 1996 when I ran, against my better judgment and the advice of others including my friend Ann Richards, for re-election and as the only in-office statewide Democrat, I along with most Democrats suffered ignominious defeat by the Republican takeover of the state. (I was endorsed by every newspaper in the state except the Lubbock Avalanche Journal, had a 10-to-1 vote in the bar poll, and even some Republican help. I campaigned all over the state. My Republican opponent never left his office, did not campaign, did nothing except announce as a Republican.)
PS: I have to admit that after my defeat, I was not too unhappy. I sat as a visiting Judge in most of the 14 Courts of Appeals for a couple of years by assignment of the Supreme Court, and then by assignment to the various trial courts in Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, El Paso, Austin, etc., all very enjoyable. During this time I continued to teach at the law school and was of-counsel to a great Houston-Dallas-Austin law firm that allowed me to do this, retiring in 2012. The Republican Party during those years captured the judiciary. If you wanted to be a judge, you ran against a Democrat. The Republicans elected several people who became embarrassments to them and fought hard to get rid of them with partial success in the next election cycle. Conversely in some Democrat areas where appointments were made of excellent Republican judges , they were defeated in the next election cycle because they were Republicans. I wish that I could add a little humor to this, but there is nothing funny about an inadequate method of selecting the third branch of government .
April 12, 2020
Another story about Percy Foreman. When oil controlled rough and tough Houston, and the authorities were trying, in some instances illegally, to put a lid on the crime rate, the best lawyer in the state was Percy Foreman and he ruled the roost.
Recognized throughout the country for his flamboyant behavior and success before juries, he was literally hated by every law enforcement agency within the state including the Texas Rangers. Particularly the Texas Rangers. And he had a mutual feeling for them and did everything he could to defeat their efforts. Houston was a boom town in the ‘50s and ‘60s and geographically was spreading out all over the place. The newly built Glen McCarthy Shamrock Hotel seemed to attract celebrities and Percy quite often was seen having breakfast in its beautiful dining room because at that time he held possession of a suite of rooms there.
The rangers during one of their important statewide investigations suspected Percy of having secreted evidence of one of his clients, who was the subject of their investigation, in his suite of rooms. Three of the rangers went to his suite, pounded on his door, and tried to gain entrance.
“No search warrant, entrance denied!” roared Percy.
This was before Mapp v. Ohio and the rangers were not accustomed to being denied. In fact the sound of their boots brought fear to the hearts of their suspects. The rangers stood in the doorway perplexed. Percy turned his back to them, dropped his pants, and mooned them, whereupon one of the rangers hit Percy, breaking his nose. The press took pictures of Percy with an exaggerated splint and bandaged nose with captions: “Foreman fights rangers on illegal search.”
A million dollars’ worth of publicity on the fight against tyranny, claimed Percy to his acquaintances..
April 14, 2020
Another story about Racehorse Haynes. Although I have no empirical proof, most of the lawyers in the field of criminal law do not like to appear in federal court as opposed to appearing in state court. The reasons vary: The federal system is too hard, too formal, too complex in law and procedure, too nonnegotiable. The overriding reasons: too powerful and not controllable.
The American Bar Association has as one of its stated purposes the job of educating its members in the field of federal practice, no easy job. The ABA, at one of its annual meetings, created a program where four different lawyers out of the presence of each other conducted a live cros-examination of a federal tax agent in a mock federal tax-evasion case , Agent Tadowitz from Baltimore. The judge presiding over the seminar was Judge James Nowlin, Western District of Texas. The U.S. attorney from Chicago representing the government. The four attorneys cross- examining individually: one from Washington, one from San Francisco, Bob Richie from Tennessee, and Albert Krieger from New York and Miami. I was the moderator. Richie and Krieger were outstanding , the other two were adequate but not stars. It was then that I realized I should have invited the greatest cross-examiner of all time to participate: Richard Racehorse Haynes..
Sometime in the ‘70s, Race was defending some poor citizen charged with a federal crime in Judge John Singleton’s federal district court in Houston. He had agreed to defend this person at the request of Jim Kronzer, one of the leading trial lawyers in Houston and a close personal friend of both Judge Singleton and Race. The case ended in a rare conviction for Race and he requested that I handle the appeal, so I got to read the record and from Kronzer got the rest of the story. Each successful cross-examiner has his or her own method of emphasis in cross-examination depending on a myriad of factors.
Race’s method was detail, detail, and detail regardless of the case. He was usually successful in getting what he wanted from the witness, particularly in state court, but this case was before a jury in Judge Singleton’s federal court. During his cross of the principle government witness, an FBI agent, concerning the agent’s entry into the defendant’s home , the agent having testified on direct that there was a key in the door, the following occurred:
Race: You say you had a key.
Race: What did you do with the key?
Agent: I put it into the keyhole in the lock.
Race: Where was keyhole?
Agent: In the door.
Race: Was there a knob on the door?
Race: Was the keyhole above the knob?
Agent: How do I know? I don’t know.
Race: Was the keyhole below the knob?
At which point, without objection from the government–
Judge Singleton: Stop, enough is enough. Move on.
Race: Where was the keyhole?
Judge Singleton excused the jury, held Race in contempt, and stated he would assess the proper punishment at the end of the day.The jury was then brought back and Race resumed his cross examination.
Race: Where was the keyhole?
The judge excused the jury, ordered the marshall to take Race into custody, and instructed Race that trial would resume the following day and that a night in jail would do him good. The following morning, resuming his cross-examination–
Race: Where was the keyhole?
The trial somehow went to verdict with Race spending three nights in jail and with Kronzer appealing to Judge Singleton to release Race at the end of the trial, which the judge agreed to do, providing Race apologize to the court. Race never did apologize until a chance meeting in front of the Rice Hotel months later. There were other ramifications, but Race’s view was he didn’t like federal court anyway. The fact of the matter is that Race was very, very successful in federal court and always victorious. He and Judge Singleton much later became fast friends and were honored together as leading law octogenarians…
To be continued.