TCDLA's Broken Election Process

 Posted on May 12, 2010 in Uncategorized

You get something like this in the mail, addressed to you:

a) Figure it's junk mail, and roundfile it; orb) Figure it's important, and open it immediately?

I figured it was junk mail, but opened it out of curiosity. What it turned out to be was the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association's ballot for president-elect. Gary Trichter of Houston is running for president-elect against Keith Hampton of Austin.

TCDLA has directors and officers. They are, by bylaw, selected each year by a committed of the Board of Directors. So the old board chooses the new board. Houston DWI lawyer Paul Kennedy writes about the process (without naming the organization) in Why Fear Democracy?

(Congratulations to Paul, by the way, for being elected to the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association's Board of Directors, along with Staci Biggar, Sean Buckley, Eric Davis, Danny Easterling, Randall Kallinen, Jani Maselli, Mark Thiessen, and Rob Tuthill. HCCLA does not do things the TCDLA way; there was no committee anointing board members, and there were people who ran and lost.)

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.

So naturally they had the ballots sent out under the cover of an envelope from an Austin accounting firm with no indication that it came from the organization.

HCCLA knows how to run elections. (Actually, Troy McKinney knows how to run HCCLA elections; the rest of us will be SOL if he ever gets tired of it.) We send out ballots to all members via fax and email, and members can return the ballots via fax, email, or U.S. mail, and can vote in person at the courthouse.

I've been saying it for years: TCDLA's process for electing officers is hidebound and archaic. TCDLA has had a string of disasters in recent years, including defalcation by an employee and money dumped into various ill-advised social-media schemes, that might have been avoided had the election process been more flexible.

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.

The organization does a lot of good, but it's much less than it could be. Gary's run for president-elect is a good start, but TCDLA needs to revamp its election process to allow the membership meaningfully to choose all of the board members and officers. It's time, in other words, for TCDLA to step into the 20th Century.

The problem, though, is this: how do we change the process when TCDLA's directors and officers are beholden to it for their positions?

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