…Same As the Old Boss?

Scott Greenfield comments on my take on Robb Fickman’s post about Joan Campbell:

Maybe there’s some variant of entropy that applies only to criminal defense lawyer bar associations, where they start out bold and purposeful, with a clear understanding of why they exist and whose voice they express. But over time, the strong grow old and weary, and new people come into the organization. The old were there out of a sense of duty, and they were willing to risk their personal comfort and welfare to achieve greater goals.

The new come in for other reasons, some because they want to go from unknowns to players in the field, or seek validation, or want to network, are joiners, like the kids nobody notices in high school who are in every club. These are not the sort of people who take risks. They certainly won’t put themselves as risk.

I had written about lawyers who want to return the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association to its halcyon pre-2006 days, when the organization wouldn’t have dreamt of disturbing its leadership’s cozy (and sticky) relationship with the bench by filing complaints with the Commission for Judicial Conduct. It is interesting that Greenfield read this as “new people,” for the H&K lawyers who think HCCLA should return to the old days are Greenfield’s age, and were members (and board members) long before Fickman radicalized the organization. 

In Harris County the “warm and fuzzy voices of not making waves” predominated for many years, if not for decades. HCCLA spent a long time in the wilderness—from when I joined the organization in 1995 until 2006 about the most we did was to write stern letters. Concerted opposition to judicial abuse is a fairly new phenomenon. Maybe the early years of the organization were different; maybe HCCLA was a political power at some point between 1970 and 1995. But I doubt it—lawyers who have been members since the beginning and who praise HCCLA’s new activism never seem to remember any early activism.

So Greenfield’s experience in New York is with an organization (NYSACDL) heading for irrelevancy—becoming “less aggressive, less offensive, less strident”—as new members join who are not dedicated to the mission; mine in Houston is with an organization (HCCLA) become newly relevant—more aggressive, more offensive, more strident—as new members join who are not invested in cozy bench-bar relationships. Fickman is the catalyst, but the driving force is neither Fickman, who’s nearly as old as Greenfield and so should be enjoying his dotage sitting on the front porch eating mush; nor my generation, whose anger is mitigated by its prosperity; but people like Carmen Roe and and former prosecutor Murray Newman and APDs Sarah Wood and Franklin Bynum and countless other young guns whose sense of right is more powerful than their desire to be liked.

Bottom line: hope for New York’s criminal-defense bar, and caution for Harris County’s, as the pendulum swings. There are lawyers young and old who want to be liked, and lawyers young and old who want to be respected. Whose voice prevails will depend on the catalyst.

About Mark Bennett

Mark Bennett got his letter of marque from the Supreme Court of Texas in May 1995. He is famous for having no sense of humor when it comes to totalitarianism.
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3 Responses to …Same As the Old Boss?

  1. shg says:

    You should enjoy your dottage as-much-as-I am. I hope you are right about the pendulum swinging, though I’m not aware of anyone as yet willing to rock the boat.

  2. Jen Gaut says:

    Great post Mark (but do we have to relegate Fickman to eating mush on the front porch? : )

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