President's Message: My Shadow on the Floor - By Mark Snodgrass

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Tuesday, November 6th, 2018

As I write this column, it is a cold and rainy day outside my window. Apparently, Mother Nature decided that the good people of Texas did not need a fall and jumped straight into winter. The first freeze in Lubbock was three weeks earlier than normal, and it is too wet for the cotton farmers to get into the fields to harvest their crops. Our friends in the Hill Country are seeing record-level rains and floods. The weatherman tells me that Travis County has had rain the last seven weekends. Parts of the “Wild Horse Desert” of South Texas has had more than 20 inches of rain in the last 30 days, which is more than the annual average in much of that area.

Earlier today before I sat down to start this month’s message, I pleaded a young client on a case that included a victim impact statement. After having sat through more victim impact statements than I care to admit, I have come to categorize them into three categories. First are the ones where the complaining witness just wants to vent and call names; second are the ones where it seems the victim is just there because the prosecutor asked them to be there; and third are the statements where the victim has given great thought to their statement and wants to heal, learn, grow, and move on for themselves, or the defendant, or often times both themselves and the defendant.

The statement this morning fell into the third category. The victim in the case was clearly distraught over what had happened to her and was ready to heal and move on—both for herself and the defendant. She did not yell, she did not cuss, she did not call my client names or demean him. When the statement was over, the judge recessed the case and the defendant was led from the courtroom. I was left in a courtroom full of people, many in tears after the impact statement. I looked around and realized that I was pretty much by myself. All the audience was there on behalf of the victim. My client’s family had left the courtroom when the bailiffs escorted him out. I was all alone.

Today’s weather, combined with that isolated feeling, drew me back to a fall evening ten or fifteen years ago—before I had a vehicle new enough to have satellite radio. I was on US Highway 83 near Uvalde, where the Texas Hill Country slowly gives way to the South Texas Plains. I am always fascinated by this area because the cedar trees that dominate the landscape in the Hill Country stop almost instantly and give way to the mesquite trees and black brush of the South Texas Plains. That particular evening, I was listening to some far-off AM radio station, and the old song “To Beat the Devil” by Kris Kristofferson come over the airwaves. (Those of you who know me, know that most of my deep thinking comes from listening to guys like Willie, Waylon, Kris Kristofferson, Robert Earl Keen, and the like.)

I had heard the song before, but I guess I had never really listened to the words. After hearing the song that night, I made a point to seek it out and buy a copy. Two different parts of the song stuck out to me as a criminal defense lawyer. The first that really made me stop and think was a verse that could very well constitute a heck of a lecture on voir dire.

If you waste your time a talking
To the people who don’t listen
To the things that you are saying
Who do you think’s gonna hear?

The next thing that really got me to thinking about what we do as defense lawyers follows:

Well the old man was a stranger
But I’d heard his song before
Back when failure had me locked out
On the wrong side of the door
When no one stood behind me
But my shadow on the floor.

“No one behind me but my shadow on the floor” pretty well summed up how I felt in the courtroom this morning. It was one of those days where all that is left to do is pull up your britches, hold your chin up, and move on to the next one. Lucky for me there is a Lubbock Criminal Defense Lawyers Association meeting tonight, where we will get some continuing education and even more importantly see a bunch of my brothers and sisters who understand what we do and why we do it every day.

TCDLA is a great organization made up of tremendous lawyers who understand what we do and why we do it as well. I would be willing to bet not a week goes by that nearly every one of us is asked “How do you defend those people?” or “How do you defend someone you know is guilty?” or some variation of those questions. I doubt there is any one answer that would fit all our members, but a good many of us would not do anything else. I always leave Rusty Duncan or any other seminar re-energized because I have been around people who understand what we do and why we do it.

TCDLA currently has over 3,200 members. We are the voice of and for criminal defense lawyers in Texas. According to the state bar, there are more than 15,000 lawyers in Texas who practice criminal law. We need more of them to be members of this organization. There is strength in numbers. We need more folks to make our voice stronger.

To that end, Carmen Roe from Houston, Monique Sparks of Houston, and Nathan Miller from Denton are heading up our membership committee. Carmen has set a goal of 1,000 new members by Rusty Duncan next June. The committee will have members at every TCDLA seminar. The committee needs your help. Please reach out to our fellow criminal defense lawyers and help them help themselves by joining TCDLA. Criminal defense can be a lonely job at times, when you do feel like no one is behind you but your shadow on the floor, but TCDLA and its members are always there to help you hold your chin up and move on to the next one.