2017 Declaration Reading Recollections and Media Mentions

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Tuesday, July 25th, 2017


2017 Declaration Reading Recollections and Media Mentions

Lubbock criminal defense attorneys hold annual reading of Declaration of Independence

Members of the Lubbock Criminal Defense Lawyers Association took turns Friday morning on the courthouse lawn reading the grievances against British rule American colonists listed in a document that became the foundation of a country of people governed by the rule of law. Chuck Lanehart, a Lubbock attorney, told the dozens of people in the audience that the reading the association members did was similar to how colonists first heard the Declaration of Independence.

“There was no television, there was no radio, there were no telephones, no Twitter, no Facebook,” Lanehart said. “There were newspapers, but 50 percent of the population could not read. And so, broadsides were prepared and brought all across the colonies to places like this, town halls, courthouses, and the Declaration of Independence was read just as we have done today.”

Justin Kiechler, president of the Lubbock Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, said Friday’s event was aimed at starting off the Independence Day holiday weekend in Lubbock by reminding residents about the principles that provide them the rights and freedoms to celebrate the holiday.

“It’s a lot of fun. We do a lot of cookouts, obviously, as Americans, as Texans, we have fireworks, all the fun and just hanging out and being around family and friends,” he said. “But at the beginning, hundreds and hundreds of years ago, this was a lot more important among traditions about what gave us those freedoms and rights to do these things that we do every day.”

The association members also read the first 10 amendments in the Constitution, known collectively as the Bill of Rights.

“Both documents target absolute tyranny,” Lanehart said. “Both documents are designed to protect the people from government excesses. Both documents identify people void of class or privilege, yet demanding righteous human treatment. The Bill of Rights contains the rules, the tools that we as lawyers use every day in this courthouse and in courthouses across the country.”

The Lubbock lawyer’s association’s reading was part of an annual effort coordinated with the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, which organized similar readings in Texas counties in the days leading up to the Independence Day holiday, said attorney Rusty Gunter.

—Gabe Monte, The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal


The reading took place as scheduled on the steps of the Burleson County Court House, Caldwell, Texas, at 11:30 am, Friday, June 30, 2017. Unfortunately, the crowd was again very small—one in fact. Our local news media (KBTX) did show up after the reading and did a short interview with me regarding the program. They had covered the reading in Brazos County as their primary story.

—Marvin B. Martin, Bryan


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We added music to our reading in Lubbock this year. Lorna McMil­lion, local lawyer and member of LCDLA, opened the ceremony with “The Star Spangled Banner.” Her sweet voice, amplified by a sound system, was visibly inspiring to the dozens of onlookers who solemnly paid respect to the flag.

A wonderful, poignant photo of reader Charles Chambers—hand over heart, head raised and misty-eyed—illustrates the emotion brought about by the moment. Lorna’s ren­di­tions of “God Bless America” after our reading of the Declaration and “This Land is Your Land” following our reading of the Bill of Rights brought down the house.

Our reading was covered by the local news­paper and all four local TV stations. Several judges attended, including Texas Supreme Court Justice Phil Johnson.

—Rusty Gunter, Lubbock

SBOT: Don’t Doubt Your Impact

If there were ever a time when the power and importance of the legal profession is in doubt, July is not the month. For in July, we commemorate the creation of the Declaration of Independence, the foundation for this new and independent nation, 241 years after its adoption.

Of the 56 signers of the declaration, 25 were lawyers. In fact, lawyers outnumbered merchants and plantation owners, the two next most-common jobs held by the signers. The most famous of the lawyers who took part in the declaration’s creation are certainly John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. Those are the names most easily plucked from the recesses of our brains. But who were the others? There’s Samuel Chase, William Ellery, Roger Sherman, Oliver Wolcott, and many more.

But among all those scribbled names, there exists probably one of the most influential lawyers of that time, and it’s someone you may not recognize today. In the third row, several signatures below John Hancock, sits the elegant scrawl of George Wythe.

By all accounts, Wythe profoundly inspired Jefferson, the principal author of the declaration. Wythe, who was about 50 at the time of the signing, was Jefferson’s law teacher and mentor. In fact, several biographies list Wythe as the first known law professor in the country. He was a respected legal mind and a teacher in 1761 when he was appointed to the board of visitors of the College of William & Mary. It was there that he taught many of the nation’s first college-educated lawyers, including Jefferson and future U.S. President James Monroe, as well as future senators, judges, and eventual Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall.

It was in 1779, three years after the declaration’s adoption, that Jefferson, as governor of Virginia, appointed Wythe to the first chair of law at a college. Today, George Wythe is the Wythe in the Marshall-Wythe School of Law at the College of William & Mary.

Why would any of this be important, other than to tell you about an interesting lawyer whose name you may file away alongside Adams and Jefferson? To have impact and influence, to change the course of history, you don’t need to be the loudest person in the room or even the one most remembered. You can be that teacher or that mentor. You can be that thinker, that mediator, or that volunteer.

Or you can be Robert Fickman, a Houston lawyer and mem­ber of the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association. Robb loves the Fourth of July and in years past, much to the chagrin of his children, required they read portions of the declaration before the barbecue was served so that they would have a better appreciation of the holiday. In 2010 that passion grew to a reading of the entire declaration on the courthouse steps in Harris County. His continued efforts led to readings on the courthouse steps of all 254 counties in Texas by members of the TCDLA or their surrogates in 2016. I was privileged to be one of those readers last year. It is an incredibly moving experience to be a part of or witness. Robb reminds us all, “The declaration was a historic first step in what remains an ongoing fight for liberty, a fight we as defense lawyers continue.”

Never doubt the importance of the work done by all the great lawyers who came before you or your ability to make an impact today.

—Tom Vick, President of the State Bar of Texas, TexasBar.com blog

Bryan: Attorneys read Declaration of Independence at Brazos County Courthouse

As we start the July 4th holiday weekend local attorneys are remembering one of our founding documents. More than a dozen lawyers read the Declaration of Independence Friday morning outside the Brazos County Courthouse in Bryan. Of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence, 25 of them were lawyers.

“The Declaration of Independence was a very critical first step in the fight for liberty and that’s a fight that continues today for people of all creeds and people of all colors,” Stephen Gustitis said. He’s a defense attorney in Brazos County.

“’We continue that fight today, so we’re anxious to help folks celebrate and participate,” Gustitis continued.

The Declaration of Independence was read not just here but at courthouses across the State of Texas Friday morning.

—KBTX-TV, Bryan

Bowie: Declaration of Independence reading opens holiday weekend

Celebrating America’s independence started on June 30 with the reading of the Declaration of Independence on the steps of the Montague County courthouse. Brian Alexander read along with local veterans. The Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association coordinated readings in all 254 counties [sic].

 —Bowie News, Bowie


Eight of us read the Declaration of Independence yesterday on the courthouse steps in Lockhart (Caldwell County), Texas. Another successful reading—then we moved on to Black’s BBQ for some great food. Also note that, in (perhaps) a TCDLA first, we all read from our smartphones, in order to keep it relevant . . . and . . . uh . . . because I forgot to bring the printed reading sheets.

—David A. Schulman, Austin

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We had another great reading in Parker County this year. In addition to members of the Bar, we had five of our local judges participate. Several spoke to me afterwards to express their gratitude to TCDLA for doing this every year all across Texas. The highlight for me, of course, was to have my 15-year-old (beautiful blonde softball catcher) granddaughter, Ashtyn, by my side to read a paragraph every year we have done this.  It is an honor to have the opportunity to create such a wonderful tradition with my future law partner!

—Dan Carney, Weatherford


No media. No anecdotes other than Leonard Whittaker informing me that Maryland’s Charles Carroll was the only Catholic signer. He is alleged to have initially only signed his name. Mr. Carroll supposedly responded by adding “of Carrollton” when another signer supposedly snickered that there are too many in the colonies called Charles Carroll for the King to issue a warrant. Charles was a barrister not allowed to practice law in Maryland due to his religion.

—Joseph A. Connors III, McAllen

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Laredo: Attorneys read the Declaration of Independence

Attorneys, judges, and members of the court were seen outside the Webb County Justice Center reading aloud the rights of all citizens in the United States. In honor of Independence Day, the Young Lawyers Association along with Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association read the Declaration of Independence. One attorney says the event is done to remind the community that the government serves the people, not the other way around. More than a dozen lawyers, judges, and court staff took part in the reading.

—KGNS-TV, Laredo


It was another great Independence Day gathering in Terrell County at the entrance to Sanderson Canyon. We must have made an impression last year as the DJ for the event recognized us and said he was afraid we weren’t coming back. That probably has more to do with remembering my wife and son than me, but I’ll take the credit. It was interesting that the gathered multitudes stopped their partying and listened to the reading. My wife looked over at me during our reading and asked if these transgressions were committed by King George or King Donald, but that’s another story.

Our reading came immediately after the announcement of the ice cream making contest and you’ll be happy to know that blackberry beat out pineapple in the adult category and cinnamon vanilla won the youth category! It’s not exactly Mayberry, but it’s nice to know that places still exist in the country where the county citizens, be they rich or be poor, gather together to celebrate their independence. Happy Independence Day!

—Jim Darnell, El Paso

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Reading held today at 9:00 am inside the foyer of the Limestone County Courthouse in Groesbeck. Local Criminal De­fense Attorney Michelle Latray welcomed the guests, and Judge P. K. Reiter, Senior District Judge, joined in on the opening comments. Also in attendance were members of the public, the Groesbeck Journal newspaper, County Judge Daniel Burkeen, County Clerk Peggy Beck, and a number of other courthouse employees.

—Michelle Latray, Groesbeck


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I believe our turnout was impacted this year by the calendar and the weather. Although our courthouse was open on Monday, there were no settings, which resulted in an absence of the necessity of coming to the courthouse for lawyers. I think many were absent because they were gone for the holiday with their families. Threatening skies did not help, and it sprinkled immediately prior to the reading. Having said that, we read loud and proud. I had invited our newly appointed CCL#1 Judge and longtime TCDLA member Kent Phillips to join us. We also were joined by Ebb Mobley, who was just recognized for reaching his 50th year as a lawyer.

—David E. Moore, Longview

Corpus Christi: Attorneys read declaration to celebrate Independence Day

The members of the Coastal Bend Criminal Defense Lawyers Association celebrated the Fourth of July by paying homage to the document that started it all—the Declaration of Independence. The attorneys took turns reading the declaration outside the Nueces County Courthouse on Friday morning. The organization does it each year to celebrate the rights the Founding Fathers fought for in the declaration, which include the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

“Reading the declaration is an important reminder of the historic first step in what remains an ongoing fight for liberty,” defense attorney Lisa Greenberg said. “It’s a fight defense attorneys continue daily.”

Corpus Christi Caller-Times

Palo Pinto

In Palo Pinto, we had nine readers and a decent crowd of onlookers, which is a surprise given the size of the county. The local media were present as well.

—Andrew Herreth, Weatherford

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Marshall: Defense lawyers gather for annual Declaration reading

In observance of Independence Day, Harrison County criminal defense lawyers conducted what spectators considered an eloquent recitation of the Declaration of Independence, as a reminder of all citizens’ rights and liberties.

“I think that it’s wonderful that these lawyers have taken the time to read it to the people,” said Marshall resident Jim Shelton, who was one of the few residents who took the time to come and support the annual public reading.

“I’m embarrassed that there are so few here,” Shelton said, agreeing it’s a good way to kick off the Fourth of July holiday.

Local defense lawyer and organizer of the event, Kyle Dansby, said this is the fifth year that the group of lawyers has done the public reading in Harrison County. This year, attorney Kimberley Miller Ryan joined Dansby in the annual recitation of the 241-year-old document.

Dansby noted that the reading of the nation’s founding document was started as a statewide tradition in 2010 by Houston criminal defense lawyer Robert Fickman.

“(He) actually started the idea of having criminal defense attorneys read (it) in front of every courthouse in Texas,” said Dansby.

Last year was the first time all 254 of the state’s counties participated.

“The reason we have the criminal defense attorneys do it is the criminal defense attorneys are the ones truly holding the states to their burden and exercising and making sure that people’s rights are defended,” said Dansby. “The Declaration is the very first time that many of these rights were ever written down and actually stated to the world that people had certain rights no matter who they were, where they were from, or who was in control of them.

“(It stated) that we all had these rights,” Dansby continued. “So it’s good at this time of year to remind people about why these rights exist, to remind them of the historical importance of that, and also just to let the world know that us—as Texas criminal defense attorneys and defense attorneys everywhere—are protecting the rights of all of us regardless of your station in life, what age, what gender, (or) what your race is.

“The rights are yours and yours alone, and we make sure to protect those rights for everybody,” he said.

The Declaration of Independence was adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, and announced that the 13 American colonies, which were then at war with Great Britain, regarded themselves as 13 newly independent sovereign states, and no longer a part of the British Empire. Instead they formed a new nation—the United States of America. According to www.ushistory.org, the document was adopted two days after Congress declared independence as the British fleet and army arrived at New York.

—Robin Y. Richardson, The Marshall News­Messenger


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As I was reading in Coldspring, the county seat of San Jacinto County, this afternoon, that King guy who’s mentioned over and over in the Declaration seemed a lot more familiar to me this year than last year.

—Bob Mabry, Conroe

Conroe: Defense attorneys read Declaration of Independence to remind of true meaning of the Fourth of July

Beer, barbecue, and baseball are frequently first and foremost on people’s minds over the Fourth of July weekend, but Montgomery County defense attorneys want to remind residents that the day is really about celebrating the birth of our nation.

For those who might have let it slip their mind, the Fourth, also called Independence Day, commemorates the adoption of the Declaration of Independence—the day in 1776 that representatives from what was then 13 colonies declared independence from Great Britain.

To remind people of the real meaning of the holiday, members of the Montgomery County Defense Lawyers Association and judges gathered on the steps of the Montgomery County Courthouse Friday morning, where they read excerpts from the declaration.

The event is “In honor of the men who declared independence of this great country,” said Lydia Clay-Jackson, one of the organizers and a Conroe criminal defense attorney.

“Think about the words being said to you,” Clay-Jackson urged onlookers before the reading began.

The event is now an annual commemoration that includes similar readings in every county in Texas and across the United States.

—John S. Marshall, Houston Chronicle