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Former NBA star and current bizarre newsmaker Dennis Rodman continues to grab attention over his latest trip to North Korea—and his apology for a strange rant concerning an American held captive in the secretive country.
All of the Rodmania prompted Martha Hardwick Hofmeister (pictured), a partner in Dallas’ Shackelford, Melton & McKinley, to recall her own confrontation with the multiply pierced, heavily tattooed, retired basketball player known as “The Worm.”
Years ago, Hofmeister said she represented a client who had a business dispute with Rodman. She traveled to California for a hearing before an administrative law judge, and Rodman, as she recalls, was “super late to the hearing.”
“He comes wandering in, and he’s wearing pajamas and a wool skull cap and sunglasses. And he sat in the corner and slept, and the judge didn’t make him take his glasses off,” Hofmeister said. “It was so freaky. That was the most astonishing part about it. I can’t imagine a judge in Dallas County not making someone take off their sunglasses so we can see them.’’
The dispute eventually ended in a settlement, she said.
“I will say this: He was an interesting opponent because he kept calling me ‘ma' am’ when he was on the record, and then, when we were on a break, he would call me ‘honey,’” Hofmeister said. “He had been well prepared for his deposition.’’
— John Council
It's a new year in Washington, D.C. Back on Dec. 19, 2013, President Barack Obama nominated his first Texan, U.S. District Judge Gregg Costa of Galveston (pictured), to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. Today, despite U.S. Sen. John Cornyn's massive differences with the president over just about everything, the Lone Star State's senior senator blessed that nomination.
“I have a lot of confidence in Judge Costa,” said Cornyn, a Senate Judiciary Committee member. He and former U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison "recommended him for a district court nomination, and we are working very closely with the White House,” Cornyn said. “I support the nomination,” he added. “He’s a solid appointment.”
Costa hasn't been on the trial bench that long. In 2011, the president nominated Costa--a former assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District of Texas who helped send financier R. Allen Stanford to prison for 110 years--to the trial bench on the recommendation of Cornyn and Hutchison. Obama nominated Costa to replace Judge Fortunato “Pete” Benavides, who took senior status in 2012.
Costa did not immediately return a call for comment. A spokesperson for U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, who replaced Hutchison in the Senate, also did not return a call for comment.
Speaking of Texas' junior senator, Cruz has something in common with Obama’s Democratic nominee to the Fifth Circuit: Both served as law clerks for the late U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist.
— John Council
Phil Appenzeller (pictured) has had a few months to prepare for his new role: As of Jan. 1, he's CEO of Dallas’ Munsch Hardt Kopf & Harr. The lead time has given the Dallas litigator time to think about the firm’s future.
The firm, with 114 lawyers in Dallas, Houston and Austin, is on the right growth path, he said. Here’s why, in Appenzeller’s estimation:
• The firm will move into new space in Houston later this month, which will accommodate about 44 lawyers, nearly double the 25-lawyer capacity of the current office.
• A new lease in Austin also will allow for growth, with a build-out scheduled to be complete in mid-2015.
• Several new shareholders will join the firm later this month. “It’s a great spot for lawyers who have good practices at other firms who are being pushed out,” he said.
• The firm is “uniquely positioned” to serve a base of Texas clients looking for “high-caliber services at an efficient price point.”
Appenzeller succeeded Glenn Callison as CEO. In October, Callison announced he will seek the Republican nomination for District 66 state representative.
Prior to becoming CEO, Appenzeller was the firm’s chief operating officer and head of the business litigation section. E. Lee Morris (pictured, left), a shareholder in Dallas in the restructuring, creditors’ rights and finance practice group, is now COO. Dallas shareholder Steven Harr, a founder of the firm, stepped back into the role as head of litigation, Appenzeller said.
-- Brenda Sapino Jeffreys
Jim Darnell has confirmed news reports that Johnny “Football” Manziel will make the leap from Texas A&M University quarterback to the National Football League. Darnell represented the ball player in his battles with the National Collegiate Athletic Association last year. Said Darnell, an El Paso criminal-defense lawyer, about Manziel’s move to the NFL, “I knew about it, but I don’t know a whole lot more to say about that.”
Darnell’s not worried in the least about his client—whose tweets and late-night adventures led to some unflattering media coverage in his two years as A&M’s star player and Heisman Trophy winner—in the big league.
“I think, over the last football season, his maturity has showed itself to the world. I think the world saw just how mature Johnny was when he led on the comeback victory at the Chick-fil-A Bowl,” helping his team beat Duke University, 52 to 48.
All types of football fans have found interest in Manziel’s plans, including Texas Supreme Court Justice Don Willett, who tweeted about it.
-- Miriam Rozen
Josh Blackman (pictured), an assistant professor at South Texas College of Law in Houston, is one of Forbes magazine’s 2014 30 Under 30 in Law & Policy.
Yes, it’s that Josh Blackman, the lawyer who operates fantasySCOTUS.net, a site where members try to predict the outcome of U.S. Supreme Court cases. Along the same lines, in February 2013 Blackman launched fantasypope.com, a website where participants could pick their top five contenders for pope. (Blackman reports that fantasypope.com pickers didn’t make the correct prediction.)
Blackman, who graduated from George Mason University School of Law in Virginia in 2009 and teaches constitutional law, also wrote a book last year, “Unprecedented: the Constitutional Challenge to Obamacare.”
The 29-year-old said he’s honored to be recognized for his accomplishments at such a young age. He said he loves teaching and writing. What's next for the academic wunderkind? One thing on tap is a sequel to his book, with a working title of “Unraveled.” But he’s not sure when he will write the second book about the Affordable Care Act because he has “no idea where the story goes.”
-- Brenda Sapino Jeffreys
“I think law can eat up your soul, especially trial law. I think being creative allows your humanity to come out. As lawyers, especially trial lawyers, we have to put up with a lot of negative things: difficult opposing counsel; extremely negative outcomes; a lot of frustration. I think this probably heals some of that,” explained Jeff Akins (pictured, left), a lawyer and a poet.
He’s a member of a monthly poetry group that another lawyer, Darby Riley, started 20 years ago, after taking a poetry class at Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio.
Each member writes a poem and passes it out; the group discusses each one. Two decades after Riley (pictured, left), a partner in Riley & Riley in San Antonio, started the group, six to 12 poets meet at his law office for the critique session.
Both lawyers said practicing poetry makes their legal writing better.
Akins noted that the poets sometimes spend five minutes discussing the placement of one comma in a poem. That level of scrutiny made Akins “pay attention to every word” in his legal writing, he said.
Riley said he thinks judges neither want not like “to see rote-type and unimaginative ways of presenting things. They want it succinct, and poetry is very succinct.”
Better writing isn’t the only benefit of poetry. Both Riley and Akins said it’s a creative release from the legal world.
“It is a release. You reach into your soul to write poetry at any level,” explained Akins. “I was amazed at the creative feeling that one had, and then you write something, and other people are moved by it or affected by it, and you’re like, ‘Wow, this is powerful.’”
-- Angela Morris
The next two lawyers to face off in the State Bar of Texas president-elect race are going to be: San Antonio solo Allan DuBois (pictured top) and Beverly Godbey (pictured below), partner in Gardere Wynne Sewell in Dallas.
The State Bar’s Nominations and Elections Subcommittee on Dec. 13 decided to recommend DuBois and Godbey after interviewing six potential nominees in Austin, said Ray Cantu, the subcommittee’s staff liaison.
“The board will vote to approve the committee's recommendations at their board meeting in San Antonio,” said Cantu. That meeting is Jan. 23 and 24.
When asked what he would do if he were elected, DuBois replied, “In my philosophy, I think we need to turn inward, and we need to help our own, and we need to do things for lawyers and their families.”
For example, he would try helping younger lawyers find jobs, learn to practice law right and afford to pay their students loans. For older lawyers who wish to retire, he said he would like to help them transition to retirement “with dignity.” DuBois also said it would be a good idea to match up older and younger lawyers in a mentorship program.
Godbey didn’t return a call before deadline. According to her biography on her firm website, Godbey was a board member, and later, she was chairwoman of the board. Last year, she was co-chairwoman of the Nominations and Elections Subcommittee.
State Bar spokesman Lowell Brown writes in an email that the subcommittee also interviewed Dallas solo Bill Elliott, Winstead shareholder Talmage Boston of Dallas, Judy Ney of the Texas Department of Insurance in Houston and University of Houston Law Center professor David Crump.
Buck Files, co-chairman of the subcommittee, didn’t return a call or email seeking comment.
No matter your opinion on the death penalty, it’s generally a good thing when the United States has less of them — which could mean either we have less of an appetite for the ultimate punishment or criminals are committing fewer crimes worthy of a drastic sentence. And as the year comes to a close, the Death Penalty Information Center has issued a report showing that executions in the United States dropped below 40 for the only the second time since 1994.
The report concludes that the inability to obtain the lethal injection drugs was one of the reasons the number of executions dropped during 2013. The report also notes that two states — Texas and Florida — were responsible for 59 percent of the executions in the nation. But, it also concludes that the famously death-penalty-prolific Lone Star State is seeking fewer death sentences at trial. In fact, the report notes that for the sixth year in a row Texas juries issued less than 10 death sentences, a stark contrast from 1999 when they issued 48 death sentences.The report also notes that the public’s opposition to the death penalty has reached 60 percent in some polls.
Toby Shook, a former Dallas County prosecutor who has handled numerous death penalty cases, says the reason death penalty sentences are dropping in Texas boils down to two things mainly — economics and the evolving nature of death penalty law.
“Smaller counties really can’t afford to prosecute a death penalty case and the life without parole option allows them to put a dangerous criminal away in prison for the rest of his life,” says Shook, a special prosecutor who will seek the death penalty in Kaufman County against a former Justice of the Peace judge who is alleged to have killed two Kaufman County prosecutors.
“I don’t think people’s general opinions about the death penalty has changed that much. The person on the street in Texas still favors it, but I think more [district attorney] offices are much more selective in the cases that they try for the death penalty than they used to,” said Shook, a partner in Dallas’ Shook Gunter & Wirskye. “The Supreme Court has put in such an emphasis on mitigation and mental health issues that prosecutors are less inclined to go for the death penalty and go for life if that option exists,’’ Shook notes that many offices reserve death penalty for “the worst of the worst” criminals.
— John Council
University of Texas System regent Wallace Hall Jr. wanted a forensic analysis of the UT Law School Foundation’s computers, and he wanted to fire Vinson & Elkins as outside counsel for UT Austin.
According to a report by the Austin American-Statesman, those revelations came out on Dec. 18 during a hearing before the House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations, which is investigating Hall to determine whether to impeach him as regent.
Houston lawyer Rusty Hardin, representing the committee, questioned UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa about Hall’s desire for the computer forensic analysis.
The Statesman reported, “Hall sought this summer to get the Board of Regents’ office to seize UT Law School Foundation computers and subject them to forensic analysis. Hall has questioned the relationship between the foundation and the School of Law, including a forgivable loan program benefiting some law professors.”
Committee member Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, questioned UT-Austin President Bill Powers about Hall allegedly expressing interest in firing Vinson & Elkins. Hall opposed counting software donations as fundraising, but V&E partner Harry Reasoner “took the university’s position that software donations should be counted,” said the article.
Previously, the UT System asked for an opinion from the Texas Office of the Attorney General about whether the committee has the legal authority to force UT System lawyers to testify and give up documents, and jail them for contempt if they refuse.
In politics, it never hurts if a candidate for office -- appointed or elected -- has a really good background story to tell the public at large. And that certainly is the case for Locke Lord senior counsel Nandita Berry (pictured) whom Gov. Rick Perry appointed as Texas Secretary of State on Dec. 19. When she leaves the firm and assumes the job as the state’s chief elections officer on Jan. 7, Berry will become 109th person to hold that post and the first Indian-American to have the job.
“Nandita Berry personifies what is possible through hard work and dedication in the State of Texas,” Perry said in a prepared statement. “Arriving from India at the age of 21 with nothing but $200 to her name, she worked diligently to earn her law degree and has since become one of the most accomplished attorneys in the state. Her work ethic, intelligence and wide array of experiences will serve her capably in her new duties as Secretary of State, and I look forward to working with her to keep Texas the best place in the country to live, work and raise a family.”
Berry, whose practice has focused on technology transactions, did not return a call for comment. In a statement, Berry says she’s glad to have a job once held by Texas hero Stephen F. Austin, the Lone Star State’s first secretary of state.
“Like him, I came to Texas in search of a better life and the limitless opportunities to be found across our great state. Every day, I see Austin’s pioneering spirit alive in Texas, and this great honor proves once again Texas is the land of opportunity, both in the private sector and public service.”
Berry will replace John Steen who held the job for a year. One of the more exciting legal aspects of the job that Berry can look forward to -- as Steen can attest -- is her name will now be proximately featured in federal complaints every time Texas gets sued in federal court over voting rights disputes.
--- John Council
After handling nearly 4,300 applications for writ of habeas corpus last year, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals is trying to streamline the process by changing rules to create word limits for applicants and deadlines for courts.
“It gives us the ability to process the writs a little better—maybe quicker, more efficient,” said CCA Clerk of the Court Abel Acosta.
The CCA on Dec. 13 amended parts of the Texas Rules of Appellate Procedure governing habeas writ applications. The court approved the changes in an order that also laid out rules for electronic filing of court documents. The habeas rule changes begin on page 25 of the order.
Among other things, the applications can’t be longer than 15,000 words if computer generated, or 50 pages if handwritten.
“That’s really the biggest change,” said Acosta.
The court changed the form that inmates or their lawyers can use to file an application. But one new rule requires district clerks to accept all applications “whether it’s on the form or not,” Acosta noted.
Another major change creates a 180-day deadline, starting when the state receives its copy of an application, for district courts to resolve issues that the application raised. But courts can ask the CCA for a time extension.
The book was a gift from litigator Bill Dawson (pictured), who spoke at the school’s fall hooding ceremony. Dawson’s keynote speech explained that trials are a “microcosm of life.” Among other things, Dawson discussed his good friend Phil McGraw’s work as a jury consultant before becoming a TV star.
“Winning a trial is much the same as winning in life,” Dawson, a partner in Gibson Dunn & Crutcher in Dallas, said that he told the graduates during the speech.
Key moments in every trial determine the outcome of a case, and the same is true in life, he told the graduates.
“It is how we handle those few defining moments that makes all the difference. You’ve got to be watchful for those few moments, and have the courage to act decisively,” Dawson said.
He said he discussed trial stories in which McGraw was a jury consultant. Dawson notes that lawyers tend to look for a certain trait in potential jurors, and that trait also drives success in the lawyer’s own life.
He explained, “Successful people accept responsibility for their own choices in life, and tend not to blame forces beyond their control.”
Dawson graduated from Texas Tech law in 1975, and in 2012, he was the school’s distinguished alum, noted Kari Abitbol, assistant director of communications for the law school.
Harris County honored Mike Anderson, the former Harris County District Attorney who lost his battle with cancer on Aug. 31, by renaming the STAR (Success Through Addiction Recovery) Court courtroom after him on Dec. 17. It’s now the Mike Anderson Memorial Courtroom.
Anderson, who took office as DA on Jan. 1, is a former STAR Court judge. He was a Harris County assistant DA for 17 years and a district court judge for 12 years. The STAR Drug Court Program provides non-violent, repeat drug offenders with treatment.
According to a press release from the Harris County DA’s office, currently 144 defendants are participating in the program and more than 400 have graduated since 2003.
At a dedication ceremony, where a portrait of Anderson was unveiled, 262nd Judge Denise Bradley, one of the Harris County judges with a STAR docket, said there is no better way to honor Anderson by naming the courtroom after him because he got “great joy” from his work in STAR court.
“He was an absolute sucker for a happy ending,” Bradley said to a packed courtroom. “He always had words of encouragement and he always, always made people think they could do it.”
In September, Gov. Rick Perry appointed Anderson’s widow, Devon, to succeed him as DA.
— Brenda Sapino Jeffreys
Before the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve, lawyers who practice in the state’s most populated counties may want to review electronic filing rules that the Texas Supreme Court finalized in mid-December.
The draft e-filing rules only impacted civil lawyers, but criminal appellate lawyers should also pay attention to the final version.
The most significant change is that the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has partially signed on to the Texas Supreme Court’s previous mandate—effective Jan. 1, 2014, in the 10 biggest counties—that lawyers use e-filing exclusively in most civil cases. The CCA has now mandated e-filing for attorneys who file appeals of criminal cases in intermediate appellate courts and the CCA.
CCA Clerk of the Court Abel Acosta said many intermediate appellate courts already allowed e-filing in criminal appeals, which factored into the CCA’s decision to mandate e-filing.
“It’s just the general progression of technology. I think that’s really it,” said Acosta.
High court rules attorney Martha Newton said she received about 75 public comments about the August draft version of the e-filing rules. They came from lawyers, trial and appellate court clerks, judges and the companies that prepare an e-filing to send to eFileTexas.gov, the state’s new e-filing system.
“We did receive several comments urging the court to make electronic service mandatory—or as mandatory as possible—which is one of the changes we made,” Newton said.
She noted that lawyers who wrote comments were afraid of what would happen if they submitted a document and a clerk rejected it. They asked, would they miss their filing deadline?
“That’s not the case. You will meet your deadline when you tender your document to the clerk, even if the clerk sends it back and says, ‘You need to fix some things,’” Newton explained.
There are revisions throughout the rules, but they’re still pretty similar to the draft. Lawyers need to review the final rules to learn how to format e-filings, what information to include or redact, which documents are prohibited from e-filing, what happens if there’s a system outage, how a criminal appellate lawyer can get out of e-filing, and more.
“I feel like I do,” Farris responded when he was asked if he knew enough about both occupations to recreate them effectively in fiction.
No surprise, since Farris is an entertainment lawyer and of counsel to Vincent Lopez Serafino Jeneve in Dallas, and a screenwriter.
Farris said he writes novels “for fun.”
"The Bequest" ranks as Farris’ fourth published book. He wrote the thrillers "Kanaka Blues," "Manifest Intent," and "Rules of Privilege." He co-wrote Robert Hinkle’s memoir "Call Me Lucky: A Texan in Hollywood," and ghostwrote journalist Murphy Martin’s memoir "Front Row Seat: A Veteran Reporter Relives the Four Decades that Reshaped America."
"The Bequest" has a thriller plot too, according to its publisher’s description. A struggling actress inherits (or thinks she inherits) the brilliant script of an un-produced writer who died suddenly. The actress only discovers the weekend that the presumed blockbuster is scheduled to open, that the screenwriter’s alleged death raises questions and some of those point to her as a murder suspect.
Farris said he can imagine "The Bequest" story on the big screen someday and that two production companies in Los Angeles are already looking at the book.
Farris is not the only one at the firm with big screen ideas, Sally Helppie, of counsel at Vincent Lopez, produces movies in which Farris has played bit parts.
The Construction Law Foundation of Texas will host educational events, update attorneys about legislation and engage in charitable giving, according to an announcement by the State Bar of Texas Construction Law Section.
The Section’s officers will also lead the foundation. Starting in 2014, the foundation will run the section’s annual conference and other educational events. Revenue from those events will support the foundation’s other efforts.
“The Foundation’s future activities will help assure that revenues generated through the hard work and financial contributions of construction law practitioners who support the educational programs and events will be used to achieve maximum benefit to those in the construction law and construction industry communities for many years to come,” said the Dec. 6 announcement.
The announcement added that section leaders are particularly “excited” about the foundation’s “independence to be governed and directed” by the section.
Section chair Matthew Ryan, partner in Allensworth & Porter in Austin, and vice-chairman William Sommers of The Gardner Law Firm in San Antonio, each didn’t immediately return a telephone call or email seeking comment.
— Angela Morris
St. Mary’s University School of Law on Dec. 14 will hold a hooding ceremony to honor 27 juris doctorate candidates and 10 master of law candidates who finished their studies.
The hour-long ceremony begins at 10 a.m. in the Law Classroom Building. It will feature a keynote address by U.S. District Judge Xavier Rodriguez of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas in San Antonio.
Rodriguez, an adjunct law professor, said he plans to speak about the role of lawyers in history, emphasizing how the law students themselves could one day make a mark.
Through history, he noted, there have been times of great change, and lawyers have always played a role in shaping their generations. Today, there is great technological, economic and social changes, he said, leading to “uncertainties” that are “sometimes overwhelming.”
Rodriguez said he’ll communicate to the law students that, “They also will survive this, and they will thrive, and they will contribute.”
Anndria Flores, law communications coordinator, said the ceremony isn’t technically a graduation. The students could still participate in an official commencement next spring.
Texas A&M University School of Law will award its first law degrees on Dec. 13, when 47 graduates will receive degrees at the hooding ceremony.
Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp will deliver the keynote address during the graduation, which will be held at the First United Methodist Church in Fort Worth.
The law school, formerly operated by Texas Wesleyan University, has operated under Texas A&M since the beginning of the fall semester. A&M acquired the law school this year.
According to information provided by the law school, the graduation ceremony will feature a “decidedly Aggie flavor.” Charles Schwartz, a partner in Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom in Houston who is a member of the Texas A&M University System, will speak on behalf of the board. Also, Marty Holmes will speak for The Association of Former Students, and a rendition of “The Spirit of Aggieland” will conclude the ceremony.
Others who will address the crowd include Aric Short, interim dean of Texas A&M School of Law, and Kamyar Maserrat, who elected by his classmates as student speaker.
-- Brenda Sapino Jeffreys