TCDLA’s Broken Election Process

You get something like this in the mail, addressed to you:

You know you’ve got no business with the accountancy that sent it. You’re a criminal-defense lawyer, and have no business with accountants as a general rule. Do you:

a) Figure it’s junk mail, and roundfile it; or
b) Figure it’s important, and open it immediately?

I figured it was junk mail, but opened it out of curiosity. What it turned out to be was the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association’s ballot for president-elect. Gary Trichter of Houston is running for president-elect against Keith Hampton of Austin.

TCDLA has directors and officers. They are, by bylaw, selected each year by a committed of the Board of Directors. So the old board chooses the new board. Houston DWI lawyer Paul Kennedy writes about the process (without naming the organization) in Why Fear Democracy?

(Congratulations to Paul, by the way, for being elected to the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association’s Board of Directors, along with Staci Biggar, Sean Buckley, Eric Davis, Danny Easterling, Randall Kallinen, Jani Maselli, Mark Thiessen, and Rob Tuthill. HCCLA does not do things the TCDLA way; there was no committee anointing board members, and there were people who ran and lost.)

Keith Hampton was TCDLA Secretary, then Treasurer, then Second VP and so forth. I’m sure he expected to be President by operation of the system as it has always worked—the “chain” of positions that lead inexorably to the presidency.

This year, for the first time in recent memory, TCDLA’s members are not content, sheeplike, to allow the Board of Directors to choose the organization’s officers. Gary Trichter tossed his hat into the ring. The bylaws somehow allowed it. So, for the first time in recent memory, TCDLA had to get ballots out to its members so that they could vote for one of the two candidates for President-Elect.

So naturally they had the ballots sent out under the cover of an envelope from an Austin accounting firm with no indication that it came from the organization.

HCCLA knows how to run elections. (Actually, Troy McKinney knows how to run HCCLA elections; the rest of us will be SOL if he ever gets tired of it.) We send out ballots to all members via fax and email, and members can return the ballots via fax, email, or U.S. mail, and can vote in person at the courthouse.

I’ve been saying it for years: TCDLA’s process for electing officers is hidebound and archaic. TCDLA has had a string of disasters in recent years, including defalcation by an employee and money dumped into various ill-advised social-media schemes, that might have been avoided had the election process been more flexible.

The online discussion among TCDLA members of the contested election has been as passionate and vocal as you would expect. The listservs have lit up; TCDLA Past-President has used TCDLA’s email list to send a one-sided and error-laden email promoting his favored candidate.

The organization does a lot of good, but it’s much less than it could be. Gary’s run for president-elect is a good start, but TCDLA needs to revamp its election process to allow the membership meaningfully to choose all of the board members and officers. It’s time, in other words, for TCDLA to step into the 20th Century.

The problem, though, is this: how do we change the process when TCDLA’s directors and officers are beholden to it for their positions?

13 responses to “TCDLA’s Broken Election Process”

  1. I had the same reaction when I got my ballot.

    I think the reason things are being done this way is because the last time Keith Hampton put an issue to a vote of the membership, he lost. Keith and Cynthia Hampton were against the new criminal appellate specialization proposed by TBLS, et al. So when the membership voted in support of the criminal appellate specialization, Mr. Hampton and Mr. Jett decided they knew better than the membership, through some committee process that took place afterward, and opposed the criminal appellate specialization anyway on behalf of TCDLA. A couple of the reasons they gave for doing this were that they knew better than the members who voted, or that not enough of the members had voted.

    I am sure if only 5% of members turned in their ballots and Keith won the president-elect slot, we would not be hearing that argument again. If he loses, well, you people were just too stupid to know who to vote for — which is why Craig could not risk letting you make up your own minds based upon your own experience.

  2. I almost forgot: Keith lied when he told everybody he had no idea why Gary Trichter was running. Keith was offered a chance to switch places in the officer chain so that he could run for the CCA — running for any office, much less a state-wide office, is already a full-time job — and then be president a different year. Keith refused.

  3. It is not true to say that the TCDLA members were not content … etc. etc. A small number of members is all that it takes to get a ballot petition signed.

    The accounting firm was selected to remove any taint from the counting/balloting process. The Prez of TCDLA, a Trichter supporter, was part of that decision.

    Craig Jett’s support of Keith was factual and spot-on. Gary Trichter, if judged by past performance as a TCDLA board member, cannot be expected to show up even half the time if elected. Does not sound like a sound choice to me.

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      1. The accounting firm was chosen because of the inherent conflict that existed due to the assistant executive director and general counsel being married to Keith. In my view, just another reason Keith should not become TCDLA President.

      2. This election process, the joke that it is, was designed and-or approved by Bill Harris, the current president-elect and a Keith supporter — not by the current president of TCDLA. Frankly, anyone who thinks this election process is an effective way to encourage member involvement and voting has little business being in charge of anything. This would be the way to design a process that ensured the lowest possible response. Then again, maybe some do not want to make it easy for members to vote. I wonder why?

      3. If Keith was offered an opportunity to switch places in the officer chain, It sure sounds like he could have prevented many of the current problems by accepting the offer and not placing the organization’s interests above his own. If such an offer was made and if he declined it, it would be my opinion that he put his personal interests above the interests of the organization — a pretty compiling reason not to vote for him.

  4. One more thing: the HCCLA elections are seriously open to fraud. A person could enter twenty ballots if they chose to. Considering that “how to run elections” seems seriously suspect to me.

    • The “Keith vs. Gary” discussion ends here. This post is about the process. I don’t have an opinion on who will be a better president than Keith, but improving the process is important, and electing Gary will improve the process.

      The accounting firm was selected to remove any taint from the counting/balloting process.

      And it wasn’t possible to print “TCDLA Ballot” on the outside of the envelope?

      Call me newfangled, but I think directors are going to put more thought into the job they are doing for the organization’s members when those members (rather than the BoD) put them into office.

      A person could enter twenty ballots if they chose to.

      In fact no, they couldn’t. Or they could, but it would be readily detected and wouldn’t affect the election. Members sign their ballots.

        • And no one could ever mail in someone else’s numbered ballot — the exclusive method TCDLA ultimately chose to allow voting (cough, gag, choke with dripping sarcasm intended). Have you been involved in any such fraud? Have you even voted? Can you even spell BS. This sure sounds like a lot for fearful people trying to protect their closed-circuit turf.

          Clay: I challenge you find one single instance of even double voting by any HCCLA member, much less fraud, in the way HCCLA allows voting, much less counts ballots. The reality is you cannot because your claims are nothing more than meaningless rhetoric You make these grand theoretical claims, but have no evidence to support even the theory, much less reality.

          You sound like little more than an apologist for a system designed to protect the chosen few….


  5. You claim electing Trichter will somehow “improve the process.”

    Let’s then, for the sake of argument, assume Gary is the lesser of the two candidates; that’s certainly not too much of a stretch as you claim to have no opinion on that question.

    How will electing the worst of the two candidates “improve the process?”

    • Clay,

      Electing Gary will improve the process in the same way that electing Maria Jackson improved the process in Harris County.

      Sure, there will always be ways for fraud to sneak into an election. An organization has to strike a balance between encouraging voter participation and preventing fraud. HCCLA’s process, which requires voters to write and sign their name to their ballots, strikes a balance that works for this organization.

      It is also considerably less susceptible to fraud than TCDLA’s process, under which those wanting to cheat just need to write a number in the upper-right-hand corner of each ballot.

      I think your emotional investment in the outcome of the election might be clouding your thinking.

  6. Mark:

    TCDLA’s process also requires the ballots to be returned in the envelopes provided by the accountant. Sure, someone COULD go to a printer and have some of those envelopes printed up… not likely to happen.

    Electing Maria Jackson did not improve the process in Harris County. It didn’t even change it.

    Clay S. Conrad

    • The last TCDLA President elected outside of the nominating process was David Botsford. Not exactly an indictment of choosing someone outside the exclusivity process. Please explain how this result harmed TCDLA — if you can.


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