Those who happened to be in the Moore County Courthouse in Dumas at 11:30 am on July 3, 2019 witnessed something they don't often see: two criminal defense attorneys standing in the middle of the hall by the stairs on the first floor reading aloud the Declaration of Independence. "I can't remember how long it had been since I read the Declaration of Independence, but it is good to hear it, good to read it," said Dumas criminal defense attorney Rick Russwurm. He, Tim Salley, and Jarod Pingleton are three members of the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association (TCDLA) in Dumas. For several years they had talked about taking part in the association's program of having criminal defense lawyers read aloud the declaration in courthouses across the state of Texas as part of annual 4th of July celebrations. Since 2010, the association has had the goal of having the declaration read in every courthouse in Texas. Pingleton had taken part before elsewhere, but the other two had not. This year, they decided, they would read the declaration in all four counties of the 69th Judicial District: Moore, Hartley, Sherman, and Dallam.
"The goal is to get people to remember the Declaration of Independence and why we celebrate the 4th of July … we talk a lot about the freedoms we have, and it just sort of brings those back to our minds," said Russwurm. "We are going to make sure that it happens in all four counties from now on."
Two hours before Russwurm and Salley read the declaration in Dumas, they were joined by Whitney Hall, an attorney from Dalhart, in Channing to read the declaration in the Hartley County Courthouse. "The cool thing about Channing was that the past president of the TCDLA is from Lubbock. He happened to be in court in Channing that morning, and he got to hear the reading. He was going to miss out on it in Lubbock," said Russwurm.
Russwurm said he was moved by the experience. "I loved it. Just reading it made me proud to be from America." He says the feedback he has gotten from the readings has been positive.
Moore County Clerk Brenda McKanna was one of the 20 to 25 people out in the hall for the reading in Dumas. She echoed Russwurm. "I loved it. It's been so long since I have read it … it brought back memories of learning it … it was just so patriotic to me," she said. "It helped me look at America in a different way. The ones before us, what they did to make America what it is."
Russwurm added, "Criminal defense lawyers. People sometimes don't think of us as being patriotic, so I am proud as a criminal defense lawyer that we are out there defending people's rights, and those rights are important to everyone. Each person wants to have their rights, and we are out there protecting those rights. It made me feel good to make sure that people understand that we care about our constitution; we care about our Bill of Rights and Declaration of Independence. We care about our country."
Russwurm says they appreciate the people who came out for the readings and, "We encourage everyone who wasn't there to get it (the Declaration of Independence) out and read it. That, along with the Bill of Rights is something we want to be reminded of and want to protect."