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Texas Lawyers Unhappy About Conscription

In 1995 Congress cut funding for some twenty-odd regional death penalty resource centers, pro bono legal aid clinics which specialized in death penalty appeals. The Texas legislature halved the $4 million in state funds budgeted to pay for counsel in state capital appeals cases to go along with a state habeas corpus reform bill it passed in 1995. This type of both state and federal legislation was widely hailed by conservatives as a badly needed "reform" that would speed up executions and eliminate waste on tax dollars spent for needless appeals.

In November of 1996, the Texas court of criminal appeals began mailing out orders to private practice attorneys, appointing them to represent Texas death row prisoners in state appellate court. The orders drew a heated protest to presiding judge Michael McCormick from David L. Botsford, president of the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association (TCDLA).

In a December 9 letter from the Law Offices of David Botsford in Austin, Botsford said, "We are firmly opposed to conscription and believe it is not the answer to the problem."

"We tried to get volunteers," said judge McCormick, "and when that didn't work, we made the appointments." McCormick added that he didn't have much reaction to Botsford's letter.

Lawyers appointed by McCormick to represent those among the state's 411 death row prisoners were informed that fees generally could not exceed $7,500 per case, or $2,500 for expenses.

"I wasn't real happy," said Tom Moran, of the Houston law firm Schneider & McKinney, who was ordered to represent Farley Charles Matchett, convicted of capital murder in 1993. "I wish someone had asked first."

In the month following issuance of the orders, five lawyers received permission to withdraw, said chief deputy clerk George Miller, including one conscripted attorney who turned out to be a federal prosecutor.

Kate Thomas, writing for the National Law Journal, said that most of the protest boils down to inadequate fees, lack of experience with death cases and the harrowing emotional toll they can take on lawyers.

National Law Journal

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