TCDLA Inside Story

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Wednesday, October 10th, 2018
TCDLA Inside Story

Does anyone remember the inside story about how TCDLA was born? Does anyone remember the likes of Tony Friloux, Phil Burleson, or Frank Maloney? And while you ponder those questions, imagine a criminal defense practice in Texas without TCDLA. Imagine practicing without defense-oriented books and written resources. Imagine practicing without the focused and quality continuing legal education we enjoy today. Imagine life without a strong criminal defense lobbying force in the Texas Legislature. Or simply imagine trying to bridge the gap between law school and a financially viable law practice all by yourself. Well, that was life prior to 1971 . . . before TCDLA was born.

The inside story on the birth of TCDLA began at the 1970 Dallas State Bar Convention. Frank Maloney, the first president of TCDLA, recalled Tony Friloux handing out flyers at the convention advocating for the establishment of a statewide criminal defense lawyer’s organization. Tony had recently organized the Harris County Criminal Bar Association and had much support from his loyal Harris County brethren for the establishment of TCDLA.

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At the same time, Phil Burleson was a leader among the Dallas criminal defense bar. He noticed Tony’s efforts and saw how Dallas defense attorneys were supportive of his idea. Phil was then instrumental in organizing the now-famous meeting of defense attorneys at the Petroleum Club in the upscale Adolphus Hotel. There, factions from Houston and Dallas debated over who would lead this new defense lawyer organization.

Reliable sources revealed an agreement was reached between the two groups wherein Tony Friloux would be voted in as the first president the next year when the Bar met in Houston for its annual convention. Further, Phil Burleson would receive support from Tony for his own presidential bid the following year. And the need for comity was imperative at that time since TCDLA would be circling its wagons to combat the District and County Attorney’s Association during the coming legislative session regarding the enactment of the new penal code. Joe Goodwin of Beaumont was credited with facilitating this peace between both sides in an effort to get the nascent TCDLA established and off on the right track.

And don’t we know the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry? At the next year’s Bar convention, neither Tony nor Phil could muster enough votes to get elected president. Consequently, plan B went into effect. Tony and Phil agreed the most innocuous person left, Frank Maloney, should be nominated. Frank was consequently nominated and then elected as TCDLA’s first president. Interestingly, Frank always claimed he did not want the job, but a close friend had persuaded him to accept. His leadership was necessary not only from a personal perspective, but also for the health and well-being of the infant TCDLA.

Frank Maloney’s first order of business was to convince the elected Board of Directors the organization desperately needed an executive director to help run the day-to-day operations. Frank incorporated the organization and hired Bill Reid as the first executive director of TCDLA. From an office in the Brown Building, Bill and Frank wrote to every district court judge in Texas seeking recommendations on leading criminal defense attorneys around the state who would be invited to join. The Board agreed on the $150 membership fee while Bill designed an application, which was sent out to all the recommended attorneys. Frank remembers fondly how he and Bill hung a big map of Texas on the wall and stuck in a pin at the address for each member who joined as a result of their initial efforts. The result? Over 200 dues-paying members that first year in 1971.

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The first TCDLA Board meeting took place at the Lakewood resort outside of Austin. Bylaws were proposed and finalized at the Rice Hotel in Houston the following year. Frank explained from that point, TCDLA “began to roll,” becoming the supportive and forceful organization we know today. And in the years following, both Tony Friloux and Phil Burleson were eventually elected president – both putting their personal touches on the organization we all have come to appreciate and depend upon.

Thankfully, in 2018 we don’t have to imagine practicing criminal law in Texas without books and resources, without quality continuing legal education, or without a force in the Texas Legislature. Indeed, the dream of a few visionaries in 1970 made our professional lives possible today. And long after these visionaries pass away, TCDLA will continue to train and support one of the nation’s most effective criminal defense lawyers' organization ever conceived—the TCDLA.