Monday, May 17, 2010

Contested battle for presidency of criminal defense bar

Democratic Texas Court of Criminal Appeals candidate Keith Hampton, oddly enough, is running in a second contested election this year: For President of the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association. Not everybody, however, thinks that's a good idea. Writes Mark Bennett:

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. ...

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.

Bennett and Paul Kennedy were miffed that their ballots for the race came in a non-descript plain envelope from an accounting firm they'd never heard of before.

I find it perplexing why Hampton chose to seek the TCDLA Presidency the same year he is running for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. Even Sharon Keller was never elected head of the prosecutors' association while sitting as a judge! Does Hampton's bid mean he assumes he will lose the CCA race? If so, why run? I emailed Keith to get answers straight from the horse's mouth. He replied:

There is no president's election. I was nominated as president-elect, and in accordance with our by-laws, have been challenged for that position. If I am elected to the CCA, I would resign that office (assuming my election to it) because I believe there would be a conflict of interest between the two offices.

I don't understand that response. Of course there is a TCDLA president's election - that's why TCDLA members are receiving ballots in the mail! (Hampton even refers to "my election" in the sentence after he denied there is one.) And it's difficult to imagine why one would simultaneously seek two positions if they "believe there would be a conflict of interest between the two offices."

A contested election every now and then never hurt any membership organization. But to win such battles requires focused campaigning, which always favors those playing insider baseball. It'll be hard to unseat Hampton if Trichter isn't actively organizing supporters and making sure they all open and return their nondescript ballots. If he does, though, he might be doing Hampton's so-far ghost-like CCA campaign a favor. He's on the November ballot no matter what, and he can't do both jobs.


Anonymous said...

Keith's response actually made sense, if you read the officer positions of TCDLA and the response correctly. He is not running for or nominated for President of TCDLA. He has been nominated for, by the board of directors, and therefore is in an election for President Elect, which is actually a separate position entirely.

Keith Hampton said...

There seems to have been a miscommunication. TCDLA has two separate positions, President and President-Elect. I currently serve in a third position, that of First Vice President. Months ago, members of the TCDLA approached me to run for President-Elect. These members knew full well that I was seeking a seat on the Court of Criminal Appeals. I made it very clear that I would resign from the TCDLA if elected to the court. These members nonetheless encouraged me to throw my hat in the ring and I did. Until a few weeks ago, I was the only declared candidate. Now another candidate has filed for President-Elect as well. Regardless of the outcome of the TCDLA election, I will continue to run hard for the Court of Criminal Appeals and, if elected to the CCA, I will resign from TCDLA.

I take issue with your description of my campaign as 'ghost-like.' While judicial elections don't have the profile or budget of other statewide elections, I am still traveling the state talking about my qualifications and the need for change at the CCA. Check out my website, Twitter, and Facebook to learn more about my race and what I'm up to.

Thank you,
Keith Hampton
Candidate for Court of Criminal Appeals.

Anonymous said...

Go get 'em, Grits! Is anyone even remotely surprised that there might be this kind of doubletalk from the mouths of criminal defense lawyers? LMAO!

Anonymous said...

No kidding! Anyone who could defend some criminal knowing full well they're guilty is just a shyster in my book! I sure hope this guy doesn't wind up on the court.

Anonymous said...

Twitter and Facebook activity are not the best gauges of candidate strength, as we saw in the recent Travis County race for a judicial position between Mindy Montford and Karen Sage, where Montford's supporters bragged online about how many more Facebook supporters she had, while Sage was running a much more effective grassroots campaign.

I haven't checked Keith's fundraising, but he should be working hard to raise $150,000 to have a good chance to win this race.

Anonymous said...

Keith, you might brighten up your website. Nobody likes white type on black backgrounds anymore, except sites for video gamers. Maybe the black background is supposed to evoke the color of a judge's robes, but it's kind of a downer for a website color. I hope you win!

Anonymous said...

Go get 'em Anon 4:47 and 6:55 (assuming you're actually two different people). We don't need those pesky criminal defense lawyers protecting people's constitutional rights or being a check government power. Let's just leave it up to the judges and prosecutors to "do the right thing" like they do in "bastions of freedom" like China. No, better yet, let's just leave it up to the police to mete out summary judgment -- it's much more efficient and would save billions in court-related salaries and infrastructure. Sure, some of those savings would have to be used for the many new prisons and jails we'd have to build, but maybe we could just get all those new prisoners to build them for free! Now if only Texas could secede and we didn't have that activist US Supreme Court overturning all the CCA decisions, we could fulfill our distopian defense-lawyer-free world....

Anonymous said...

anon, 6:55
sorry about that, y'know that pesky Constitution gives everyone including criminals a right to a trial and legal counsel is included. Even you are entitled to an attorney when charged with a crime.

Anonymous said...

Hampton and Trichter have more character, integrity and legal knowledge in the very tip top of their pinky fingernail than either Bennett or Kennedy. They are in no position to be critical of either of these fine lawyers.

To my recollection, I have not seen either Kennedy or Bennett lecture learned defense lawyers about anything of substance.