The Best Criminal Defense Lawyer in Houston


There’s sometimes talk about who the best criminal-defense lawyer in Houston is, as though we are show dogs or golfers.

The truth, of course, is that there is no “best” overall. The lawyer who is best for one case might not be best for another; nobody can say that the thousand-dollar lawyer who gets a case dismissed was not the best lawyer for that case, nor that the six-figure lawyer whose client gets maxed out was the best lawyer for that case.

There are a few lawyers in Houston who would make most “best” lists. Some of them belong there; a few don’t (but appear to because, in the 21st century, exposure is equated with competence) There are more who the criminal bar (both sides) know belong on the list who keep their heads down and never get named publicly. Lawyers in the know wouldn’t have much trouble finding enough great Houston criminal-defense lawyers to fill out the Top 25; we would not be able to agree on which one is better than what one or what one is better than who. In 1994 the Chronicle polled judges and prosecutors on who they would choose to represent them, and published the results. (This was before I started practicing.) Judges and prosecutors voted for six defense lawyers each. The top choice, Dick DeGuerin (who I suspect is one of those on the 1994 list who would still do very well in such a poll) was named by only 28 of the 69 respondents. So not even a majority of the judges and prosecutors put the top votegetter in their top six.

Even though we’re unlikely to agree on how to fill the top six slots, when the press does a legit story (that is, not paid advertising) on “the best”, the criminal defense bar pays attention. We like to see how the outside world sees our community, and congratulate (or razz) those among us who getting the good pub.

When the free weekly Houston Press tabloid newsletter published its annual “Best Of” issue this month, and named the best criminal defense attorney in Houston, it wasn’t one of my high-dollar brethren or sistren. It was Danalynn Recer of the Gulf Regional Advocacy Center (GRACe).

Danalynn came to the Houston Press’s attention for (along with David Lane of Denver) saving the life of Juan Quintero (and in the process driving Houston’s booboisie of so-called conservatives batshit insane with rage). Danalyn is in the business of keeping the government from executing people — in the most execution-happy county in the United States. She’s representing people who don’t have the money to hire competent counsel. She’s doing it for next to nothing — no six-figure biglaw salaries here. And she’s very, very good at it — I’m pretty sure she’s never had a client sentenced to death at trial.

It’s hard for an outsider to know that a lawyer who makes a good living defending people is doing it for reasons other than money. Not so with Danalynn. It’s understandable that those who would trust the government to decide who lives and who dies are outraged by the fact that she’s able to do what she does, and perplexed by the fact that she’s not doing it for lucre. So in my view there’s nobody better to represent the Houston criminal defense bar — not only what we are, but also what we should be and aspire to be — in the public view.


0 responses to “The Best Criminal Defense Lawyer in Houston”

  1. I know this comment isn’t timely – but I’ve been meaning to comment some things you said since I read your post about Danalynn and Recer. She is a very passionate advocate and deserves respect for her principles and passion in defending them. But, I think you’ve painted not a misleading pciture, but consider this:

    About the 6 figrues – Harris County paid GRACE $221,145 in the 07-08 fiscal year. And I am pretty sure she hasn’t had a client sentenced to death at trial too – mostly because in testimony in Quintero’s trial, it came out that she had never defended a client in a death case at trial before.

  2. On the one hand, GRACE is not just DLR; on the other hand, GRACE has funding sources other than Harris County.

    So we don’t know for sure what DLR makes.

    It surprises me that this was her first capital trial. How did that come out in testimony?

  3. Nope. There was no testimony at trial about me or my caseloads. And, nope, Quintero was not my first capital trial. I’ve done nothing but capital work for 17 years (as a mitigator first and then as a lawyer) and most of that has been at the trial level since 1995. I have been involved in over fifty capital cases at the trial level. Quintero was the twelfth that went to a jury. I’ve had one client sentenced to die. Maybe that’s what Qeenie is thinking about. Or maybe [s]he meant to say I’ve done just one NON-capital trial. And, no, I don’t make six figures. I’ve always worked for low-budget charities and never made more than $38K per year. GRACE is a charity with a staff of 12 employees and four volunteers working on lots of cases and hiring lots of experts and incurring lots of reimburseable expenses. Most of the vouchers we submit are for fees billed to us by someone else. I’ve resisted the temptation to respond to this sort of thing, assuming that either it would go away or someone would look up the facts or ask me directly. But, it doesn’t seem to work like that. So, there it is.

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