Houston solo Andrew L. Jefferson Jr. (pictured), Harris County’s first African-American state judge, died Dec. 8 at the age of 74. Jefferson graduated from the University of Texas School of Law in 1959 and became a partner in Houston’s Washington & Jefferson the following year, leaving the firm in 1961 to become Bexar County’s first African-American assistant criminal district attorney, according to information provided by 215th District Judge Levi Benton of Houston. Jefferson left the CDA’s office in 1962 to become an assistant U.S. attorney for the Western District of Texas in San Antonio. Former U.S. Rep. Craig Washington, D-Houston, says that in 1970, then-Texas Gov. Preston Smith appointed Jefferson to the former Court of Domestic Relations No. 2 in Harris County. Washington, founding partner of the Craig Washington Law Firm in Houston but never Jefferson’s partner, says Jefferson’s investiture for the judicial position was a ceremony that drew such a large crowd that not everyone who came for it could get in the room. In 1974, then-Gov. Dolph Briscoe appointed Jefferson to the 208th District, but Jefferson resigned from the district court in October 1975 to return to private practice. In 1979, then-President Jimmy Carter nominated Jefferson to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, but his nomination died in the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee after the 1980 presidential election. Washington says he and Jefferson were attorneys for defendants in a 2006 trial before senior U.S. District Judge David Hittner, who was one of Jefferson’s friends. As Washington recalls, Hittner kept asking questions. Washington says Jefferson finally stood up and told Hittner, “Judge, if you’re going to try my case for me, don’t lose it.” Although Jefferson had been off the bench for many years, Washington says, “I never could bring myself to call him anything but Judge Jefferson. I held him in such high esteem.” Texas Supreme Court Justice Dale Wainwright says that Jefferson was a "trailblazer" who made it possible for Wainwright and Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson to be where they are today. Funeral services for Andrew L. Jefferson Jr. are set for 11 a.m. Dec. 15 at Pilgrim Congregation United Church of Christ in Houston.
-- Mary Alice Robbins