The TCDLA Politburo at Work

We recently had a contested election for the office of President Elect in our association. Both candidates were gracious and treated each other with respect; however, some of us were not so gracious. Statements were placed in emails and blogs that did not reflect well on us or our association. One member published a blog in which he called one candidate a liar based in part on a misstatement of events at a meeting the blogger did not attend. I know they were misstatements because I was at the meeting. The comments constituted a reckless disregard for the truth. More to the point, they were unnecessary to the more issue-focused statements the blogger was attempting to make. They may have created a “rah rah” reaction among those who agreed with the writer, but they also probably created enemies the writer does not know of who will treat the writer with distrust in the future.

That’s the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association’s new President, Bill Harris, in his inaugural President’s Message in the organization’s Voice for the Defense magazine.

Harris came to the presidency the old-fashioned way: he asked to join the Board of Directors, was allowed to, and worked his way up through the chain of positions that traditionally lead to the presidency, with the  imprimatur of the Nominating Committee, and therefore of the Board of Directors, at each step of the way.

In the contested election to which Harris refers, Gary Trichter made an end-run around the old-fashioned way, getting on the ballot and forcing a general election for the position of president-elect. (I wrote about it here.) At the time, Harris was the chair of the Nominating Committee. He designed the election process. And he supported Gary Trichter’s opponent in the election.

Feelings were hurt; since Trichter won the election, most of those hurt feelings belonged to members of the entrenched TCDLA establishment.

Criminal defense lawyers are generally a pretty thick-skinned bunch of scoundrels. People are mean to us? We get over it; in fact, often we celebrate it because it means we’re on the right track. Members of TCDLA’s “leadership,” however, had trouble getting over their hurt feelings. Cynthia Hampton—Keith Hampton’s wife and TCDLA’s Assistant Executive Director—tried to pull rank, accusing people of “venomous attacks” and threatening to remove them from the listserv for not treating her hubbie with kid gloves.

Being one of a small handful of blogging TCDLA members, I wondered which of these bloggers had called one of the candidates a liar. I did a few searches and, as far as I can tell, there was no such blog post; Grits and I were the only people to blog about the TCDLA election, and I didn’t take the side of either candidate. Two possibilities emerged: 1) Harris is making stuff up to make his point; or 2) Harris  doesn’t know what a “blogger” is.

I did find this comment by Austin criminal-defense lawyer Karyl Krug. Pettily, Cynthia Hampton later scrutinized Karyl’s posts to the listserv for violations of listserv rules that Hampton fans break with impunity.

This is the way of the petty bureaucrat and, apparently, the way of TCDLA leadership: if you have a problem with someone, whisper to your friends about it; use your bully pulpit—two pages near the front of the official magazine of one of the largest criminal-defense lawyers’ organizations—to whine about your friends not being treated gently enough, to moralize about the Golden Rule, and to make sure the miscreants know that they will be punished—”they also probably created enemies the writer does not know of who will treat the writer with distrust in the future.” (Brilliant—a TCDLA enemies list.)

There’s nothing wrong with civility, but often those with a vested interest in the wrong side of an argument mistake criticism for personal attack.

Several members of TCDLA leadership, in the runup to and aftermath of the contested election, made mistakes; they used TCDLA’s resources to try to get Hampton elected, rather than to assure the integrity of the process. So what? People make mistakes when their sense of order is challenged and they think their friends are being attacked. As nominal representatives of the membership, they should not have expected their actions to go unquestioned.

What Harris and his pals saw as “venomous attacks” were passionate responses to their missteps. It is not members’ critical responses, but rather the conduct of TCDLA’s “leaders” that discredited the association. Harris’s dedication of his President’s Message to the correction of those who don’t agree with him for lack of civility shows that they still don’t get it.

17 responses to “The TCDLA Politburo at Work”

  1. What is bizarre is that the threat extends to bloggers — I have to believe Bill is smart enough to know what those are — thus threatening the exercise of 1st Amendment rights by TCDLA members in places other than the listserve — sure, we like the 4th,5th, 6th, 8th and 14th Amendments — sometimes even the 2nd — but that annoying 1st Amendment has got to go. Clearly, what Bill petulantly threatens extends well beyond reasonable measures to “police” a listserve — when the president becomes a “bad cop,” what then?

    Bill is also conflating two separate debates — the election and the criminal appellate specialization — and misrepresenting what was said by whom yet again. But threat received — I just asked to be taken off the TCDLA listserve, because it is 2/5 of what is in my inbox given all the attaboys and whatnot, and it is dominated by about ten people. When there are alternatives like this blog and the TDL listserve, where grownups can congregate without controlling people making arbitrary value judgments and threats, who needs the aggravation? Sure I will miss Angela Moore’s insights, but I am too old to deal with threats by people who confuse being controlling in favor of their team with being good, or who cannot (or don’t want to) tell the difference between the truth and a self-serving lie. Onward through the fog.

  2. I sent in my application to serve on the TCDLA Board again yesterday. The Politburo has rejected me twice already. At first the rejection made me mad. Now I am kinna like ” Red” in
    “Shawshank”. The “Old Guard” never likes troublemakers. That is one crappy Presidential Message. If there is an enemies list I hope may name is at the top. An organization that suppresses dissent is hardly pro Constitution.

  3. Such a shame that individuals with such personal wealth (speaking of knowledge, experience, abilities), get into a childish playground fight. Reading the Speech, as well as what you have quoted, makes me doubt the integrity within the corps of lawyers out there on whole.

    Not being of the lawyering kind, the layman begs to wonder if ego itself drives some to be attorneys over car salesmen. I know used car salesmen, and this sort of behavior smacks of that profession.

  4. Fickman, I was so proud of you when I saw you in, “HCCLA Takes City Hall.” You were brilliant, funny, articulate . . . that upsets inarticulate, only moderately informed, uncool people. My favorite moment of total uncoolness (before this bizarre President’s Message) was the photos from a Lubbock seminar of our fearful leaders in The Voice with the caption, “Prairie Doggin’ It.” I showed it to my little boy and he said, “Is this supposed to be a joke?” It was not supposed to be, but it was. We both laughed. I suggest Metamucil.

    Glenn, you hit the nail on the head. Some of our biggest stars in the criminal bar are big frauds who use others and know little law, or claim to be experts in areas of law they know little about — I consider them the Bernie Madoffs of the legal profession. These traits, coupled with massive egos and piles of cash, make private practice pretty miserable at times. The controllers are trying desperately to keep this house of cards standing. I am plotting my escape ASAP.

    It is a shame because I remember Bill Harris from years ago, and he seemed like the nicest guy in the world. I just don’t get it.

  5. Okay, well I originally wanted to gain membership as I have learned a lot in the past from other listserves (such as the Connecticut Crim Defense Lawyer’s List) and knew that in moving to a new state I had much to learn. I took a look at the application and lo and behold, you kinda have to be a member before you can become a member, you have to practice (in Texas’ somewhat arcane criminal system) before you can learn to practice, and so forth.

    After reading some of the things I have read, I suppose I will not be working so hard to figure out how to gain membership. Thanks to those of you who put up the good fight – the small voice in the crowd isn’t always right. But we should keep it around and cherish it for those times that it is.

  6. Don’t give up yet, Mickey. We have our first democratically elected president-elect since the last one (who was outstanding), so there may be a sea change next year. What we’re talking about mainly has to do with our dissatisfaction with criminal defense lawyer organizations like ACDLA and TCDLA, who do not allow democratic elections, but rather appoint loyalists from within. Last time someone tried to run for the board at ACDLA, the board just decided through some loophole they were not going to allow the lawyer in question to run. It is this adorable Austin crowd, which has lectured the attorneys for the entire 17 years I have been here on “getting along” with prosecutors, and the local party’s picks for local benches, some of whom are beyond stupid or never show up for work. ACDLA has refused for years to sponsor a bar poll, leaving that to the civil attorney-dominated Austin Bar Association, who only know the people they are endorsing from social gatherings.

    Members of the ACDLA group came to dominate TCDLA, including Betty Blackwell, Keith Hampton, and Cynthia Hampton, and their personal picks. Betty’s father was the local D.A. and a district judge. Another D.A.’s daughter currently sits on a bench. This pack crushes anybody they don’t like. Here are is one example:

    Adam Reposa, local wild man and trial attorney, who can be a real pain, got crosswise with Betty Blackwell because a friend of his did a parody of Betty’s TV commercial in a local rag distributed in bars, featuring a character called “Butty Butthole,” which was a derriere answering a phone. Well, nobody messes with the queen. Shortly thereafter, Adam made a “masturbatory hand gesture” in an almost empty courtroom at our most despised prosecutor. Walter Pink of Houston once gave the finger to a prosecutor in the middle of a trial and said, “Well then, sir, give that to your mother.” So this is not something new in the criminal courthouse. However, this occurred in front of Judge Jan Breland, whose husband had been defeated for election to a different bench by a defense lawyer two days earlier. Jan not only held Adam in contempt; she also issued a memo to the other judges not to grant Adam a personal bond, to which he was entitled by law. Judge Baird signed the personal bond letting him out of jail hours later.

    ACDLA had a meeting to discuss the situation. Nobody cared that an attorney had been illegally detained and denied a bond. Instead, ACDLA issued a statement, a sort of anti-amicus, saying the did not condone Adam’s actions (obviously never having glanced at the Pink line of cases), but that he was well-represented by ACDLA members (me and my office mate Todd Dudley) after the trial de novo. Neither of us are members any more.

    The trial de novo was a circus designed to give Betty a record she could take to the grievance committee, which she did immediately after the trial. A civil judge was brought in to preside. It was a total circus — it was an indictment of this lawyer as a person, and everything misstep he had ever taken in his life, including satirical cartoons drawn by friends, was brought into evidence. On of the co-conspirators (who has a baby practice but was president of ACDLA because she knows everything) could not keep her lip zipped, so we heard about discussions between Betty and the First Assistant to get Adam.

    When the sentence of 90 days was read, everybody gasped. Only one former ACDLA president was smiling and giggling. My office mate convinced me that the ACDLA crowd had gone beyond the pale, so I got Adam a personal bond out of the CCA pending the writ, which upset the people who wanted him to lose his liberty and his bar card. Because he was despised by these pompous lawyers, I was put in the position of acting as a one-woman strike force.

    Then Keith Hampton, who was just defeated for President-Elect, used $1500 of TCDLA money to put on a CLE in conjunction with ACDLA, the topic of which was that only Keith or someone on the District 9 strike force was qualified to do what I just did. The judges who attended were pissed because they learned nothing as, indeed, it seemed to me that Keith had no idea what he was talking about. Association funds were used to promote Keith’s ego — he was not gracious enough to congratulate me on doing something unheard of — instead he need to tell everybody I was just not the right person to call. Despite the fact that I am Chair of the Criminal Law Exam Commission for Texas, serving second year as Chair and my fourth year as a member; and Co-Chair of the ABA Criminal Justice Section’s Appellate and Habeas Committee; Chair of the Habeas Reform Committee; as well as having served on the ABA Postconviction Task Force, meeting quarterly in DC for two years to put together recommendations for revising Postconviction Remedies Standards for the first time in 28 years. One of our members is the adorable Professor Ira Robbins, who appeared on the Colbert Report recently because of his great paper “Digitus Impudicus: The Finger and the Law.” Who am I to handle an original writ of habeas corpus to the CCA as compared to Keith. I am surprised he didn’t throw a show at me.

    Then we got a horrible opinion from the CCA (Womack), which said the rules of evidence did not apply because this was a direct contempt, even though the trial de novo was, in fact, an indirect contempt. The assertion that this was nothing like the Walter Pink episode was totally disingenuous; Stan Schneider got Pink off in that case. Meyers and Holcomb dissented when my motion for rehearing was denied. I did hear, however, that the law clerk who wrote this crap was recently hired by our local D.A. Isn’t incest fun?

    Then Keith published another rather thin paper on criminal contempt law in The Voice, which fails to discuss any of the glaring errors in Ex parte Womack. Since I am a non-person as far as he is concerned, there is no reason why he would have asked me about that. Keith, for years, has literally pretended that I am invisible when he sees me. Even when he was talking to my co-counsel at a death penalty trial this past fall. Tom Weber and I laughed so hard the tears were rolling down our cheeks.

    Speaking of incest, why are almost all in-house publication edited by either Keith or his lovely bride Cynthia. Why was the lovely Kellie Bailey kicked out of the general counsel slot in favor of Cynthia, whose titles just seem to increase as the years go by. [Kellie Bailey writes: “I was most definitely not kicked out of TCDLA. I was recruited to go work for a civil firm. My departure from TCDLA was professional and, as those things go, pleasant. In fact, I am still on very friendly terms with all the then officers and staff, including Keith and Cynthia Hampton. ” Ed.] Is it cool for one couple to make hundreds of thousands of dollars from the same non-profit? And also put the husband on as a speaker at CLEs on topic he knows little about? The longer I am in this profession, the less I learn at CLEs. I go to the State Bar Advanced Course every year and learn nothing every year. Do we really need 30 minutes on the five Barker v. Wingo factors?

    Anyway, as a result of our writ for Adam, the trial de novo judge reconsidered the sentence, and a bunch of judges testified at a hearing Todd had that Adam was a talented lawyer. It’s weird when the judges come through for defense lawyer, when the defense lawyers are the ones trying to have him deprived of his liberty and his bar card.

    17 plus years of this has been more than enough for me.

      • Oops. I have a lot of typos in there. That is Ex parte Reposa, not Ex parte Womack. And it should have said I am surprised he did not throw a shoe, not a show. But Keith needed to be defeated for President-Elect.

        I get bored seeing the same mildly informed people speaking at every single CLE — some exaggerating their prowess as a trial lawyer when they don’t try cases or generally plead misdemeanors. With all the fantastic talent in this State, there is just no excuse for this state of affairs. ACDLA puts on a free Friday CLE, and recycles the same 20 people for the most part. The JP who directs it awards the title of “The Honorable” to the prosecutors, but not the defense attorneys. We love that kind of disrespect here in Austin!

        While I’m at it, I might as well expose another Keith lie: He applied for the A felony appointment list in Travis County and was turned down. These judges know his character well. For some reason, he gratuitously sent out an e-mail, when nobody asked, stating that he had applied to take “a few select cases,” given his stature, and was turned down. That was a lie. He applied for general inclusion at that time and was turned down. The case he got the “lawyer of the year” award for — he told the Fifth Circuit after COA was denied that he did not realize until relief was denied that he had “accidentally filed the wrong brief.” We all write at least three or four briefs and then file our best one — not. The Fifth Circuit clearly did not believe him, in the published opinion, but looked at the claim anyway, calling his conduct “inexcusable.” But he did pull a lot of political strings to get Desmond Tutu to help his client get clemency — on the plus side. I think Desmond Tutu should have been named lawyer of the year. It just like that New York blawger said, about these guys scratching each other’s backs and giving each other awards — uncanny.

        I’ll bet you had no idea how right-on you were in April 2008.

  7. Then again, at the first real meeting since being elected President-Elect, Trichter didn’t show up because he had to play cowboy — his failing to show up while being a board member before notwithstanding.

    You’d think that being elected would include placing the organization as some sort of priority, wouldn’t you?

  8. I just re-read this thread on 6/25/2013, several years after the events that are described. I was surprised to see the Editor’s Note placed there by Kellie Bailey, in which she explicitly refutes everything she ever personally told me about the evil lurking at ACDLA. She either lied to all of you, or she lied to me. How disappointing. The longer you live, the more you learn that perhaps you wish you hadn’t. Having a spine has always been a big no-no in ACDLA/Austin/Travis County. In the meantime, the Travis County District Attorney has been arrested and convicted of DWI, and the usual suspects, chiefly Betty Blackwell, are rallying around yet another poor, oppressed elected official. I decided things were never going to get better and left Austin, my hometown, for good in August 2011. As Federal Judge Sam Sparks once opined, “things must be better in Mississippi.” My old friends still soldiering on there seem to be in a state of perpetual resignation and/or despair. I haven’t missed it for a minute.

  9. Meanwhile, hypocritically, the SAME PEOPLE who supported Trichter opposed Steve Fischer for SBOT President… and SBOT will continue to work for the Texas Supreme Court while ignoring the best interests of Texas lawyers. After all, the TX. S.Ct. is the SBOT’s one and only real client. Their sole job is to administer the TX.S.Ct.’s will.

    Yawn. I’m not an organizational man. Never have been. Hampton would have done a much better job than Trichter, but fortunately that year is past.

    I’m all for sunsetting the SBOT, but that’s another discussion for another day.

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