Historically, HCCLA has been a highly respected organization with a Who's Who of distinguished and prominent criminal defense attorneys, as well as Lloyd Oliver, on the list of past presidents. They sponsor numerous CLE seminars that are free to members, have a Strike Force to help attorneys who find themselves on the wrong side of a contempt charge, and a Christmas Party that is the social event of the Criminal Justice Season.
And then there is the Listserve.
In theory, the Listserve is a message board for attorneys to assist each other with legal issues or to ask for advice. Oftentimes, that actually is what it is used for, and longtime defense attorney Troy McKinney serves as HCCLA's greatest asset when it comes to giving outstanding legal advice to those who seek it. The Listserve is more often used for gossiping and complaining about prosecutors and judges, and although everyone on the Listserve is sworn to utter secrecy, information leaks out of it like water through the Titanic.
When I left the D.A.'s Office, Mark Bennett and Tyler Flood (who is, coincidentally now HCCLA's President) strongly encouraged me to join the Group. I did, and I was glad that I did. I became involved and after a year or so, I ran for the Board and won. A year or so after that, incoming President Todd Dupont asked me to run for Secretary, which I did and also won. Despite having a baby on the way and dealing with chemotherapy, I did the best I could with the position. I co-hosted HCCLA's weekly television show, Reasonable Doubt. I even planned a CLE from my hospital bed with my then-friend and President-Elect Carmen Roe sitting in the room, helping me.
But my position on the Board didn't sit well with some of the more senior members of HCCLA. One in particular really didn't like me working as a legal consultant on Cold Justice. When I ran for Vice President the following year, my good friend Carmen and some others made sure I had opposition. Incoming President Roe wrote a mass email encouraging people to vote for Mark Bennett over me. Somehow, I wasn't included on the e-mail and didn't find out about it until somebody else told me. To this day, I've never felt more betrayed by a closer friend. We haven't spoken since.
Mark won the election, and I was the first to congratulate him. I then resigned from HCCLA over his encouragement not to. I knew it looked like sour grapes, but I just couldn't bring myself to pay membership dues to an organization run by Carmen Roe and others who clearly didn't want me involved in it.
That was three years ago. I didn't write about my reasons for leaving then. I still thought that HCCLA was a good organization. It just wasn't for me -- clearly. Despite my personal experience, I still encouraged new criminal defense lawyers to join.
But I was reminded of my negative experience with HCCLA this week after the organization's treatment of recent HCDA alum, Nathan Hennigan.
Hennigan, who was one of the 38 prosecutors
The next day, the hosts told him they had to rescind their invitation because someone high up in HCCLA didn't think he needed to be on the show. The reason he was given at the time was that he wasn't an actual member of HCCLA and therefore their rules prohibited him from being on the show yet.
Of course, that whole thing about having to be a member of HCCLA to be a guest on their show is a bunch of crap. I should know. Not only was I one of the hosts on the show for a good chunk of time, I was also invited to be a guest on the show two weeks ago. As noted above, I'm not a member, either.
Hennigan applied to become a member of HCCLA and his membership came up for a vote before the Board of Directors this week.
His membership was rejected. When he shared the rejection on his Facebook page, the CJC community went nuts. Several Board members posted that they had voted for him, although nobody gave any details as to what had happened. Other members expressed outrage that Hennigan's membership hadn't been approved and encouraged him to reapply.
Obviously I wasn't there, but as I mentioned before, confidentiality within HCCLA is about as leak-proof as the Titanic. There has been word that a senior defense attorney sent one of his lackeys to convey the message that if Hennigan were granted membership, the senior defense attorney would quit the organization (God forbid). What happened after that is anybody's guess.
The thing that is interesting about this is that nowhere in HCCLA's Mission Statement does it mention that it only helps defense attorneys that are universally loved.
And apparently, in HCCLA, some members are most definitely more equal than others.
At the end of the day, there are plenty of us who are not members of HCCLA that are doing just fine on our own. That doesn't mean it isn't a good organization, but it isn't critical to survival. The Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers' Association offers outstanding support and help like HCCLA does, just without the petty backroom drama. The Houston Bar Association also has a drama-free Criminal Law section. As of this writing, my understanding is that President Flood is much more concerned about figuring out how the details of the Hennigan Vote got leaked rather than the larger issue of why one attorney gets to dictate membership.
Ultimately, I'm not sure why any former prosecutor would want to be a part of HCCLA if this is going to be the example the organization sets.