TCDLA: Reflections on the Early Years

Frank Maloney called me one day in early 1971 about forming what he proposed to call the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association (TCDLA) and asked me to join, which I readily did. Thus, TCDLA was born! Frank Maloney was our first President and William (Bill) Reid our first Executive Director. Thanks, Frank and Bill. As I recall, there were 250 charter members. Prior to that the only voice we criminal defense lawyers had in Texas was the Criminal Law Section of the State Bar. However, that section alternated the chairmanship each year between prosecutors, criminal defense lawyers, and judges. In 1966 Judge Archie Brown and I were on the nominating committee of the section, Judge Anees A. Semaan was Chairman.

Frank Maloney, David Evans, Charlie McDonald, George Luquette, Weldon Holcomb, Tony Friloux, Charlie Tessmer, Harry Nass, Emmett Colvin, “V” Perini, Warren Burnett, Scrappy Holmes, Tom Sharpe, George Gilkerson, Phil Burleson, Travis Shelton, Clifford Brown, Jack Beech, Harry Hudspeth, Joe Goodwin, Bob Jones, Stuart Kinard, Jack Rawitscher, Bill Reid, Richard Thornton, Doug Tinker, several others, and I rolled up our sleeves and went to work at our own expense, going to various cities—including Fort Worth, Dallas, El Paso, Houston, Austin, San Antonio, and Corpus Christi—signing up new members and drumming up support for our fledgling organization.

It was great fun going from city to city, and I especially remember David Evans. He would saunter into an unsuspecting lawyer’s office, give his pitch, flip his hand palm up, and forcefully demand, “Okay. Gimme your check.” Almost invariably David got the check and recruited another new member! If that didn’t work Charlie McDonald and/or George Luquette would step in and usually “hit pay dirt.”

Our first Board meeting was at the old Holiday Inn off Mockingbird Lane near the entrance to Love Field in Dallas. I vividly remember Warren Burnett at that first meeting. Someone suggested that we have several special categories of members such as Regular Member, Special Member, and/or Distinguished Member, etc. Warren vigorously opposed all such suggestions and took the position that we all were and should be just plain Criminal Defense Lawyer Members.

We organized what we called “Criminal Defense Skills Courses” and presented them in San Antonio, Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Midland, Odessa, Houston, and elsewhere. They were plain vanilla, simple, and basic short courses about defending criminal cases and were well accepted by the members.

One time I was scheduled to conduct such a course in San Antonio on a Saturday morning at the Big Red courthouse and had obtained prior permission to use the large courtroom. I had several speakers lined up, some from out of town, papers had been mimeographed, and so on. Alas, to my chagrin I got a phone call around 2:00 pm on Friday from a county commissioner who deemed himself the Keeper of the Courthouse Keys. He informed me that we could not use the courthouse on Saturday for what he chose to call security reasons.

In desperation I managed to get hold of Brussi Reeves, our great friend the county judge. After I frantically explained my problem Brussi said, “Sit tight, Charlie and I will call you back.” In about 20 minutes he called and told me to go ahead, that he had taken care of the matter. Shortly thereafter the Keeper of the Keys called me and told me he had thought it over and had decided to allow us to have our seminar anyway. I thanked him profusely, knowing full well why he had changed his mind . . . “Brussi” Reeves! That early seminar was a great success, as were others that followed.

Several years later I was defending a deputy sheriff in a jury case before Judge Tom Rickhoff. During the prosecutor’s opening statement, Judge Rickhoff asked me to approach the bench and politely said: “Mr. Butts, please stop rattling your keys.” When I apologized, saying I didn’t realize I was doing so, the good judge laughed and said: “Well, okay, but you probably have forgotten that I attended that ‘skills course’ when you illustrated various ways to distract the opposition!”

During those early years we didn’t have much money. We did, however, manage to publish several paperback practice manuals containing forms of various sorts, sample pretrial motions, other motions, and articles on the practice of criminal law. Eureka! Along about 1975, we received our first big break—the birth of our Criminal Defense Lawyers Project!

Recognizing the need for well-trained defense counsel in state and federal courts, Governor Dolph Briscoe approved funding for the Criminal Defense Lawyers Project, a joint project of the State Bar of Texas and the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association. Members of the Executive Committee were Phil Burleson (Chairman), Bob Jones, George Gilkerson, Weldon Holcomb, Jim Martin (Project Director), Scrappy Holmes (Project Consultant), and David Evans, President of TCDLA. This opened new horizons for TCDLA and broke ground for our renowned Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Educational Institute (TCDLEI).

Our first major project was the compiling and printing of a three-inch-thick loose-leaf Federal Criminal Practice Manual. I served on the Editorial Committee with Jimmy Gillespie and Gerry Goldstein; Scrappy Holmes was Editor. In conjunction with that first Federal Criminal Practice Manual, the Project presented that year six three-day courses on federal criminal practice—a milestone indeed.

It was my privilege to author and present numerous papers to our early seminars on various subjects, including Closing Argument, Jury Selection, Reasonable Doubt, Cross-Examination, New Offenses Under the 1974 Penal Code, Demonstrative Evidence, Opening Statements, Ethics, and several others.

1971 marked the year of the second printing of Criminal Trial Strategy, a most useful and valuable book by Charles W. (Charlie) Tessmer, Charter Member of TCDLA, former President of NACDLA, and distinguished member of our Hall of Fame. In early 2003 I asked Charlie where one might purchase another copy of his book. He said it was out of print but he had retained the copyright from publisher John R. Mara Law Books. He graciously offered to give the copyright to TCDLA and/or TCDLEI, which indeed he did.

I was asked and honored to edit Criminal Trial Strategy and bring it up to date, being respectfully careful not to change Charlie’s unmatched style. Charlie Tessmer passed away July 3, 2003. The second edition was printed in September 2003 by the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Educational Institute. It contains a memorable tribute to Charlie by former TCDLA President Ronald L. Goranson.

We must not forget that when TCDLA needed its own headquarters, Waco’s Charles M. (Charlie) McDonald, our 1981 President and Charter Member, signed and guaranteed the note for that first mortgage. Charlie stepped in at a most opportune time indeed. Thank you, Charlie!

Shirley Butts, Senior Justice, Fourth Court of Appeals, made significant contributions to the success of TCDLA as an active member and Super Fellow of TCDLEI prior to becoming the first woman on that court. She and I collaborated on a paper entitled “Reasonable Doubt,” which was published in the Voice and the Journal of the National Criminal Defense Lawyers Association (NACDLA). She authored several other articles for the Voice for the Defense at the request of the Honorable Kerry Fitzgerald, now a most respected Justice on the Dallas Court of Appeals, when he was Editor of the Voice.

During my administration as President, circa 1987–88, TCDLA was blessed with the formation by the women of TCDLA Friends, which included both members and wives of members. What a great and important addition they have been to the success of TCDLA. Thank you, good Friends.

These Reflections would be incomplete without acknowledging and thanking Joseph A. (Joe) Martinez, our most honored Executive Director, who has taken us to new heights. Thank you, Joseph.

Let us lend our full support to President Trichter’s programs so that future Reflections will further demonstrate the unique success of TCDLA and TCDLEI.

TCDLA
TCDLA
Charles D. Butts
Charles D. Butts
Charles D. Butts, a charter member of TCDLA and former president (1987–88) as well as a member of the TCDLA Hall of Fame, has also served as president of the San Antonio Bar Association (1979–80) and director of the State Bar of Texas (1981–83). Charles has been a member of the Editorial Board of San Antonio Lawyer magazine since 1999 and a frequent contributor. Charles’ many honors include listing in the Best Lawyers of America (1991–present). He received at BA in government and economics and his LLB from the University of Texas after serving in the 381st Bomb Group in England during World War II, for which he received a Bronze Star.

Charles D. Butts, a charter member of TCDLA and former president (1987–88) as well as a member of the TCDLA Hall of Fame, has also served as president of the San Antonio Bar Association (1979–80) and director of the State Bar of Texas (1981–83). Charles has been a member of the Editorial Board of San Antonio Lawyer magazine since 1999 and a frequent contributor. Charles’ many honors include listing in the Best Lawyers of America (1991–present). He received at BA in government and economics and his LLB from the University of Texas after serving in the 381st Bomb Group in England during World War II, for which he received a Bronze Star.

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