From the archives: This article by TCDLA’s first president appeared in the March 1988 issue of Voice for the Defense.
The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) was founded in 1958 to serve as a professional association of persons actively engaged in the defense of criminal cases. Until 1972 the Association was composed of and led by a small group of many of the best trial lawyers in the country. Their cooperation with each other was significant in the development of a powerful and effective trial bar in criminal law. It was open only to those who wanted the Association to be a select group, an exclusive organization of lawyers striving to help each other, but without any form of structure that would encourage education, legislative action, or benefit to the practitioner not yet recognized.
In 1972 all of that changed. The change was brought about by the fusion of ideas predominately originating in Texas by way of a then little-known organization called the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, which had been organized the previous year to combat prosecutorially oriented groups that were endeavoring to enlarge police powers in the State of Texas.
The issue in 1972 in Monterey, California, at the annual meeting of NACDL was whether the Association was to be a closed group, or whether it should be an organization of those trying to improve the practice of criminal law by striving to help each other in the courts and in the legislature through education and communication.
In August 1972, I had just completed my year as the first president of TCDLA with Charlie Tessmer, Bill Walsh, Joe Goodwin, and Percy Foreman, who were on the first Board of Directors of TCDLA and also on the Board of Directors of NACDL, and it was thought that we should inject into the NACDL Annual Meeting our TCDLA experiences of the past year. With the blessings of the leadership of NACDL, and after a call to Tony Friloux of Houston, who was president of TCDLA (later to become president of NACDL in 1978), it was decided that Bill Ried, general counsel of TCDLA, be transported from Austin to Monterey at National’s expense, to show the Association TCDLA’s method of operation. Ried did an excellent job of convincing the Association that it needed to administer the Association in a way to develop future programs, including a quarterly publication. Motions were made and passed at that time to adopt the Texas system and to hire Ried on a part-time interim basis as the executive secretary of National. Ried was to remain as general counsel of TCDLA. NACDL was to share office space with TCDLA in Austin, which it did until it moved to Houston.
NACDL’s mandate adopted in Monterey in 1972 and published in the first edition of the then embryonic Champion provided as follows:
1. Provide a national organization representing lawyers actively engaged in the defense of criminal cases;
2. Protect the rights of an accused to a fair and impartial trial;
3. Improve the administration of justice through legislation or rules of court;
4. Reject proposed legislation that derogates constitutional rights in criminal cases;
5. Establish a school to improve the skills and knowledge of criminal defense lawyers;
6. Urge the selection and appointment to the bench of well-qualified and experienced lawyers;
7. Improve correctional institutions and provide opportunity for rehabilitation of those convicted of crimes;
8. Provide a forum for mutual exchange of information regarding the administration of justice.
In 1972, NACDL had 333 people on its membership rolls; TCDLA had 500 people on its rolls. At the present time, NACDL is approaching 6,000 members and has over 25 affiliate membership groups. It is officed in Washington, D.C., with a full-time staff of 7 individuals, including 2 lawyers, and operates on a budget of something close to one million dollars a year. Many of TCDLA’s members have been and are members of NACDL’s Board of Directors. Four of our TCDLA founding members have been presidents of NACDL: Percy Foreman in 1963, Charlie Tessmer in 1972, Tony Friloux in 1978, and yours truly in 1987.
After establishing its office in Austin and hiring part-time clerical help to work with Ried, NACDL, in its very first year, was able to establish a college for criminal lawyers in Houston, the National College for Criminal Defense Lawyers, contributing some $12,000 and obtaining from the American Bar Association a similar amount.
The Association also formed the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers Foundation to foster a tax-exempt fund of the Association in order to provide scholarships to the National Criminal Defense Lawyers College and to undertake other activities. NACDL publishes 10 editions of the Champion magazine each year and the Washington Digest every other month, holds continuous legal education seminars at quarterly board and membership meetings, maintains over 40 committees on various legal and administrative subjects (including a lawyers’ assistance strike force and an amicus curiae committee), lobbies on important criminal defense and individual rights issues, and provides a variety of other services.
As mentioned above, one of our staff lawyers, Scott Wallace, employed on a full-time basis in the national office, monitors all proposed legislation on criminal matters emanating from the Congress and provides able staff assistance to the Senate and House Judiciary Committees in drafting and communicating NACDL’s views on legislation proposed in the Congress. The legislative committee of NACDL working with Wallace provides testimony and lobby activity not only in the Congress, but also before the Attorney General of the United States and other federal administrative and executive authorities.
The question has been asked, why should we in TCDLA join either individually or as an affiliate of NACDL? NACDL and TCDLA pretty much fostered the growth of each other in a cooperative effort resulting in much of both associations’ accomplishments.
When TCDLA was established, it was thought that at least one-third of its budget each year would be programmed into legislative activity, one-third into CLE and amicus work, and the remaining one-third into administration.
Although TCDLA is uniquely suited to do the above, it is apparent that NACDL is not. NACDL cannot and should not be appearing before state legislatures, conducting seminars on state substantive and procedural law, and handling state amicus problems.
On the other hand, TCDLA has no business expending sums of money in Washington. NACDL’s views are regularly solicited by congressional committees on their own initiative on criminal defense issues. Committee staff and members have frequently commented very favorably on the high level of expertise and the practicality and usefulness of the comments and suggestions of NACDL witnesses. Recent example: The Sentencing Act of 1987 was being rushed through the Congress without hearing, but democrats in both houses refused to let it proceed until the views of NACDL had been solicited and considered. NACDL was successful in striking several (certainly not all) of the most objectionable provisions of the legislation.
Other concerns of NACDL in Washington: Congressional legislation on government department cooperative efforts on information sharing, reporting of legal fees received—including sources and identity of clients concerning these monies—to the government immediately upon receipt of these monies, and subpoenaing of attorney’s records and attorneys by the Department of Justice before grand juries around the country. Some 400 attorneys have been subpoenaed in the last few years before grand juries at the behest of the various United States Attorneys. Through its strike force and its dialogue with the Attorney General in Washington each month, NACDL has been successful in the representation of many of these lawyers. We are also greatly concerned with legislation that would allow forfeiture of assets, particularly those assets that are not connected with the facilitation of or as a result of crime.
NACDL held its first Strength and Numbers educational program in October 1986 to assist state and local criminal defense organizations to build their associations. Strength and Numbers II is planned for May 1988 in Austin, Texas. NACDL officers and members have repeatedly offered to use NACDL’s resources in a variety of ways that would benefit state and local organizations, and in fact, because of Strength and Numbers I, many new state organizations have come into existence to carry out programs in the field of criminal law in their own jurisdictions.
When NACDL appears before the various congressional committees or before the executive branch of the government in Washington and elsewhere to speak for all of our interests, it needs to speak from strength; it needs to be able to tell the people with authority that NACDL does in fact represent the views of the practitioner in the field of criminal law. In order to do this it needs to have the backing of each individual lawyer and each individual criminal law association. In other words, we need you and you need us.