Open Letter to Grant Scheiner, President of the TCDLA

Ed. Note: This article was originally posted at Simple Justice, the award winning legal blog run by my old mean-ass editor at Mimesis Law Fault Lines, Scott Greenfield.

Dear Mr. Scheiner:

On July 27, 2020, you forwarded to all members of the TCDLA that the Executive Committee had decided to participate in the public lynching of the State Bar of Texas President, Larry McDougal.

First, I’m going to point out some things that should have been considered before you took action on behalf of the entire TCDLA, especially without consulting the membership.

  • Larry made comments in response to a question on electioneering. These remarks were off the cuff and were not researched. And they appear to be wrong. He stated that he made the comments in his personal capacity, not his capacity as the SBOT President.
  • He has apologized for any offense that this may have caused and laid out what he intends to do to moving forward.
  • He has followed through on this by having meetings with concerned groups of the SBOT. Some of the groups don’t like his apology or his statements and are pressing their own agenda.
  • People who have known Larry for years, and in some cases, decades, have repeatedly said that he’s not a racist.

Now I’m going to point out some other issues that as a lawyer you should have taken into consideration, and that I would hope you would take into consideration for any of your clients.

  • Larry was a police officer and a deputy sheriff for about 15 years before he became a lawyer. Being a cop is not just another job, it changes a person no matter who they were before. Gallows humor and inappropriate comments about street justice are not uncommon.
  • Someone had to be very interested in doing harm to Larry to search through his social media posts, especially going back five and eight years. What was their motivation? Are they some type of social justice warrior?
  • Larry has been recognized on multiple occasions as a top criminal defense attorney in his part of Texas, and that doesn’t happen if one is a racist. That happens when the attorney in question works hard and diligently in his client’s best interests.

I’m sure that some people will want to jump on me and my past posts because of my support for Larry. That’s fine, you can start at the stories I did about the shooting of Tamir Rice, or Alton Sterling, or any number of other incidents involving the police and black people. You can look to where I wrote about police driving toward the sound of gunfire, and what they do to protect society. That should give you plenty of ammunition to come after me.

And it won’t matter that I’ve called for reforming how we handle police shootings and use of force before that, because once the lynch mob is formed, it has one goal, and it doesn’t matter what justice requires.

But I’m not the only one that supports Larry, nor am I the only one who has objected to the TCDLA letter on Larry to the SBOT. There were a number of comments on the TCDLA listserv, none of which condemned Larry, and one noted that his “offense” was in not being respectful enough of Black Lives Matter “and failed to hate on the police enough.” Another noted that he wasn’t consulted, disagreed with the letter, and was leaving the TCDLA over this issue.

Less than half of the people commenting at a SBOT special meeting called to lynch discuss Larry wanted him to resign. Some pointed out, like I have, that he’s not a racist. Some defended him on free speech grounds.

On the back of my business card is a quotation from Clarence Darrow, one of the best criminal defense attorneys in our nation’s history. It says “You can only protect your liberties in this world by protecting the other man’s freedom. You can only be free if I am free.” That quotation comes from Darrow’s defense of twenty alleged members of the Communist Labor Party against criminal charges leveled against them not for the actions they took, but for what they thought and said. They were being tried for what they believed, for thought crimes.[i]

But the lynch mob still gathered. It wants to take Larry out and hang him. As criminal defense lawyers, we’re supposed to defend people, one person at a time. That’s not what you and the TCDLA are doing. No, you are in the street, screaming “git a rope!”

Which side would you rather be on? Protecting another man’s freedom? Defending people even when they screwed up? Standing between that person and the lynch mob?

Or carrying a torch and a rope?

I’m sorry, I can’t do that, either as a criminal defense lawyer or a former cop. I’ll stand between Larry and the mob. And the TCDLA should be standing there with me, not with those who want to lynch Larry.

[i] As a side note, all twenty were convicted and sentenced to between one and two years in prison, affirmed by People v. Lloyd, 136 N.E. 505 (Ill. 1922).