Below are the nominations for the 2017 banquet. A short description is available for each nominee. One you have read over the nominations, click the link at the bottom of the page to continue on to the voting ballot.
LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT: (select THREE)
Gerald Bourque – A career most of us would envy, Gerald got 2 capitals dismissed in just the last 2 years! Gerald often reaches out to young lawyers, privately, and does more than offer sage advice. Gerald offers to let them work his cases. The time has come to recognize his achievements.
Clyde Williams – HCCLA Past President (1984-85), Past President Board Rep (2016-17). True trailblazer, always willing to give a helping hand.
Allen Isbell – HCCLA Past President (1987-88), Past President Board Rep (2012-14). Allen started the Docket Call (the Defender) with Robert Pelton.
Terry Gaiser – Description not provided by nominator.
Robert Alton Jones – Robert Alton Jones has been practicing law for over 40 years. He is heavily involved in state and federal practice and has mentored many lawyers over his career. He is on the selection committee for the CJA panel and was instrumental in early voir dire litigation dealing with race issues before Batson.
Connie Williams – Connie Williams is one of the pillars of criminal defense in Harris County, Texas. He is known as a gentleman and formidable advocate in the courtroom. Connie began his legal career in 1974 after graduating from the University of Houston. After a short stay at the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, Connie began his career as a criminal defense lawyer. Over the span of his career, Connie has represented approximately 50 persons accused of capital murder and all but 6 avoided death row during a time when Harris County led the nation in capital murder sentences. He was named one of the top lawyers in Houston in 1994. Decorated war veteran.
Gilbert Villarreal – Description not provided by nominator.
Craig Washington – Description not provided by nominator.
LAWYER OF THE YEAR: (select ONE)
Mark Thiessen – It can be a wee bit tiring reading about DWI gurus piling up the wins in misdemeanor court. Then, a DWI guru steps out of the comfort zone and shows everyone he’s not just a 1 trick pony. Mark won 4 counts of intoxicated manslaughter, 1 count of intoxicated assault, and an immigrant family rejoices together. Add that to all the DWI wins, and there’s someone who deserves to be nominated.
Steve Shellist – It can be a wee bit tiring reading all Shellist’s questions on the listserv about any number of subjects a 30 second Google search would answer. Then you look at the string of impressive wins Steve has piled up over the year, and maybe he really is too busy to do that research himself. A dope case for an Austrian national who was tricked into being a mule; a Dad charged with ASAC by stepdaughter, and biological daughter takes the stand to accuse Dad. Someone who deserves a nomination.
Neal Davis – He has had some huge victories this year.
Tyrone Moncriffe – Tyrone Moncriffe has nearly 35 years of experience as a criminal defense lawyer. He’s known as a fierce advocate and fighter for his clients. This past year alone, he’s obtained amazing results at trial. In one case, his client was charged with murder for shooting a man in the back 7 times. Tyrone takes the case to trial and gets a NOT GUILTY. Another defendant was charged with killing a 2 year old. Jury comes back NOT GUILTY. Another defendant is charged with pouring lighter fluid on his complainant and threatening to set her on fire. State would not go down from their offer of 25 years. Tyrone tries the case and the jury comes back with a NOT GUILTY!
Mana Yegani – Mana Yegani and (every lawyer) who went to IAH to help when the first executive order went into place.
Kate Black – for her work on Duane Buck’s case that was just reversed by the Supreme Court. She took over from Stan Schneider in 2008 and has kept Buck alive and now has gotten him a new punishment hearing.
TORCH OF LIBERTY: (select ONE)
Bob Ferguson – Washington State Attorney General – Ferguson, in winning the 9th Circuit appeal, helped restore the liberty of many people across the country and he helped re-affirm the importance of our checks and balances at a critical time. (if only for a while)
Maisie Ballenger & Sean Buckley – attorneys for the jailed rape victim
Mark Pirtle (of Houston Media Source) – Mark Pirtle has worked with HCCLA since the beginning when he helped to create the TV show Reasonable Doubt. Mark has been a tireless advocate of the show and continues to help us innovate the show. He works tirelessly each week putting the show together and often works with the hosts and producers during the week on ideas on improving the show. For the last 20 years this man has dedicated his life to his craft, and to our organization. He has done this without praise, want, or vanity. He has humbly done his job, and gone above and beyond anything we have ever asked of him.
Justice Elsa Alcala – Justice Alcala is sometimes the lone voice of reason at the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. Her most recent dissent is an 18 page opinion questioning the constitutionality of the death penalty in Texas. Her opinion outlined three reasons about the constitutionality of the death penalty: the way it’s arbitrarily applied by race, the nationwide decline in its use, and the time the inmates spend in solitary confinement before their execution. Her well reasoned dissent is just part of her history of questioning death penalty cases, which often differ her from her conservative colleagues. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed this summer to hear the appeals of two death row inmates who had been denied a hearing by the CCA. In both of those cases, Justice Alcala wrote the dissenting opinion that the inmates deserved a second chance.
Judge Marc Carter – Judge Marc Carter helped to create the first Veterans’ Court program in Texas. His program has been replicated throughout the State. Veterans’ Court diverts veterans charged with crimes to mental health treatment and substance abuse programs to help treat the mental health issues that are often unique to veterans.
UNSUNG HERO: (select ONE)
Allison Jackson – Allison started off in the Gideon’s Promise/FACT program. She left and became the Public Defender of the Republic of Palau (where she made international headlines beating John Bradley – yeah, THAT John Bradley – over prisoner mistreatment). She came back to Texas to work at FBCPDO a year ago, but also a) began writing a column for HCCLATV, b) now runs that website, and c) co-handles the editor duties at The Defender, and re-joining her group in GP/FACT.
Mana Yegani – Mana practices criminal and immigration law. This year, with the eruption of immigration issues, Mana has been on the front lines. She has been at the airport volunteering to help families in desperate need. She volunteers all the time to help people in need and she helps every member of the defense bar when we need immigration advise. She never blows her own horn. She truly is the right person for this award named after our dear friend Sharon.
Deborah Keyser – She has been a defense lawyer for over 25 years and was one of the original defense attorneys for Star Court and remains with them today. The money she receives from her representation she has always donated back to Star Court Foundation. She is presently the Chairperson of the Harris County Drug Court Foundation where she actively raises money for housing and treatment for the Star Court defendants. She was also asked by the judges to be one of the lead attorneys for Transitional Court so she could help make that program a success. I feel you could not find a more worthy recipient for this award.
Cheryl Irvin – Cheryl has been practicing criminal defense for over 36 years. This past year or so, she risked going to jail and being in contempt when Judge Collins refused to let her talk to her client. She has continued to fight for her clients this year.
MENTOR OF THE YEAR: (select ONE)
Professor Lydia Johnson – Professor Johnson runs the criminal defense clinic at TSU. She encourages all her students to join HCCLA and to go to the monthly brainstorming sessions. Professor Johnson’s clinic students bring a breath of fresh air to HCCLA with their enthusiasm for learning, their support of older attorneys by sitting second chair with them during trial, and their unique views on criminal cases. Many of Professor Johnson’s students have gone on to become strong members of the defense bar.
Kurt Hopke – by Sean Darvishi. Kurt has always been quick to answer, willing to help, and just is a great overall guy. On many occasions he has sat or offered to sit 2nd with me and has reciprocated on a few occasions with his trials as well. I was not ever paired with Kurt for anything, it was out of the kindness of his heart. I sincerely hope he takes the award home, as it is well deserved and I don’t think I’m the only one by any means that he has helped mentor recently.
Vik Vij – by Rahan Atia. He goes above and beyond to help me and other attorneys in the profession. No matter what time of day it is, I can reach out to him via text or phone call and he’s always gracious enough to help with whatever question I have. He’s made a point not to spoon feed me information and urges me to keep researching and digging to find the answer to my question. Once he sees that I’ve done the best I can with the situation at hand, he walks me through the analysis. Vik has taken it upon himself to introduce me to court staff and other criminal defense attorneys who practice in Harris and contiguous counties. He has two more mentees that speak highly of him and I truly hope that he gains the recognition that he deserves at this year’s HCCLA banquet.
Robert Alton Jones – by Tillett J. Mills and Eric Davis for the Lifetime Achievement award, as well as Mentor of the Year. He has practiced for over forty years, and has been a stalwart in the legal community of Texas for quite some time. He was the lead attorney on the landmark case Thompkins v. State, which was essentially Batson before Batson. If you need the court opinion, I will provide it to you. As far as the Mentor of the Year nomination, he has been instrumental in helping me develop my practice, as well as being a constant source of advice for me on my cases. We have been officing together for about a year now. We try all of our cases together, and we have had a multitude of hearings together as well. He has always been available for me on any matter, now matter how big or how small. I hope that HCCLA will nominate him for both awards.
UNKNOWN (NEW) AWARD: (vote YES/NO)
Susan Brown – by Tom Moran. I suggest a special surprise award for Susan Brown. She showed real guts in the Moore case in using current standards for intellectual disability, not the outdated ones required by the Court of Criminal Appeals in Briseno. The Supreme Court has granted review in Moore and I think Susan’s holding will be upheld by the Court. She showed real attachment and regard for science. Moore may be out by banquet time. To be clear – this is to create a new award for Judge Susan Brown.