As 2013 closed and as 2014 began, it is time to review the state of the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association. In doing so it is informative to review 2013 and set out the challenges of 2014.
When 2013 began the TCDLA was faced with a multitude of proposed legislation that would greatly impact the practice of criminal defense and the people of the State of Texas. TCDLA lobbyists and leadership took on the challenge of advising the legislature and leaders about this legislation. Some proposed new laws were allowed to “die in committee” while others were passed signed by the governor. The Michael Morton Act was the most significant criminal justice legislation out of the last legislative session, and TCDLA had a great impact on its final language.
The TCDLA leadership has determined that one of the most important roles of this association was to be involved in the legislative process. A decision was made by the board in September to augment lobbying efforts and allocate additional resources. A decision was made to employ full-time personnel to assist the paid lobbyists and to have a permanent presence at the Capitol.
TCDLA began a participation with the Texas Indigent Defense Commission (“TIDC”) in a study of Indigent Defense programs in Texas. TCDLA and TIDC agreed to participate with Texas A&M Research Group and gather data on the practices of actual criminal defense lawyers in indigent cases. At the close of 2013 more than 200 TCDLA members had volunteered to participate in the study.
The American Bar Association Task Force reviewed the capital murder statutes in Texas and published its evaluation, making suggestions to improve the capital murder system. The TCDLA has called for a moratorium on executions until the legislature and the leaders have had an opportunity to decide whether to address these suggestions. Presently there does not appear to be an actual mechanism under the law to impose a moratorium unless the judiciary generally abates setting execution dates until action by the governor and the legislature in 2016.
As 2013 closed the association is on sound financial ground. The professional staff and comptroller have improved the accounting procedure, and audit exceptions are rare and have been corrected. The Board of Directors approved the employment of outside auditors Montemayor and Hill & Company to audit the association. The results of this audit will be made available to the TCDLA Budget Committee and available for review by members when it is completed in April 2014.
The Challenges and Opportunities for 2014
TCDLA along with the Criminal Defense Lawyers Project (“CDLP”) sponsors about 50 seminars a year to train criminal defense lawyers. Recently there have been indications that some seminars have seen a reduction in attendance. This may be attributable to seminar fatigue, the economy, or to the success of the past training. One of the concerns expressed by some is that the DWI seminars have saturated the market and more such seminars will diminish the established programs. Others hold that more DWI training is needed in areas of the state where members do not have access to the big seminars in New Orleans, Houston, San Antonio, and the DFW metroplex due to expense. There are some issues in our important partnership with other associations that need to be addressed. The leadership is actively working to resolve these issues. TCDLA and its members are fortunate that we have the best DWI lawyers in the country volunteering to train Texas lawyers.
The Board of Directors of TCDLA has hired an excellent lawyer to serve as General Counsel. This position has been vacant for three years, and the association has relied on outside counsel for legal advice. The new position will assist in publication revision, coordinate with capital counsel, provide legal advice to the Board and the professional staff, and will coordinate lobbying efforts with paid lobbyists. This is a significant organizational event for the association. This position will improve the functioning and efficiency of the organization. The General Counsel will assume duties on March 3, 2014.
TCDLA will call on its Capital Assistance Committee to work with the Legislative Committee to propose legislation seeking to address the issues that were raised by the ABA Task Force on capital murder. The challenge will be to draft proposed legislation that has a reasonable chance of enactment. TCDLA has an excellent cadre of experienced capital defenders as a resource and some of the most effective lobbyists who can advise on what legislation is likely to pass.
In December an ice storm required the Board of Directors meeting to be canceled. The leadership decided to reschedule and relocate the meeting to Lubbock in conjunction with the TCDLA and Lubbock Criminal Defense Lawyers Association’s “34th Annual Prairie Dog Advanced Criminal Law Seminar.” Also the TCDLA Nominations Committee met and nominated its slate of officers and board members for election by the membership for 2014–2015. An excellent slate of candidates has been nominated for these offices. TCDLA has a goal to enhance diversity in leadership positions, and the nominations committee slate advances toward this goal.
Looking out to 2016, it is likely that the President of TCDLA and the President of the NACDL will both be Texans, TCDLA members, and excellent criminal defense lawyers from Austin. TCDLA will work closely with NACDL on a seminar and other event planned for Austin to celebrate this significant event, which should enhance the relationship of the two sister associations.
There are other opportunities and challenges for 2014. The members of this association make up the largest state criminal defense association in the country. Our members are the best trained lawyers in the nation and provide the best possible legal representation for the accused. We are more than 3200 strong and growing. We are on sound financial ground and operate efficiently. Our professional staff is the best in the business and continually seeks for ways to improve service to the membership and to the public. Our relationship with our affiliate organizations is solid, and we have added several new affiliate organizations in important areas of Texas.
As 2014 begins, the state of the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association is “SOUND!”
Best wishes for all in 2014.