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.