Dallas Bar Association

Honoring the Profession

by Barry Sorrels

Inaugural Address given on January 15, 2011

I cannot tell you how deeply moved I am on this occasion. I hope you realize how grateful I am for this honor. 

Leon Carter, thank you for that beautiful invocation. And, congratulations, Leon, on being the 2011 Recipient of this Association’s Martin Luther King Jr. Justice Award.

Ike Vanden Eykel, thank you for that generous and thoughtful introduction.

As many of you know, Ike is a highly-respected family lawyer and an excellent representative of our family law community. Through years of service, he and his firm have developed a legacy of generous contributions—giving their time and money to our Dallas Volunteer Attorney Program in one of the highest callings of our profession, the delivery of pro bono legal services to those in need. Ike’s theme in 2010—Team DBA—reinforced the notion that, in many ways, we are all in this legal community together. Thank you for your leadership last year. Ladies and Gentlemen, please stand and join me in expressing our gratitude for his service. To our friend, colleague, and 101st President of the Dallas Bar Association, Ike Vanden Eykel.

Ladies and Gentlemen—members, family and friends: None of us would be here tonight without the special people who have loved and supported us, and I am blessed to have a bunch of people here loving and supporting me tonight.

My mother, Evelyn, and her husband, Jimmie—live exciting, vibrant lives and model for the rest of the family that age is just a number. I grew up with three brothers, and the only thing I am willing to tell you is that you had to eat fast if you wanted the last piece of chicken fried steak. We lost our older brother, Nathan, three years ago. He would have loved this night. But, I’m very happy to share it with my two younger brothers. Craig is here with his wife, Sandy; and my youngest brother, Lance is here.

My two lovely daughters are here—Quincy and Avery—who have never looked more beautiful to their dad than they look to him right at this moment. My wife, Brenda is here—who has shared with me a life of love, encouragement and friendship.

Thank you all for your inspiration, support and affection. In the Dallas Bar, there is no greater asset to the administration than my friend, our Executive Director, Cathy Maher. Needless to say, her knowledge and expertise provide a guiding light for all of us, and in the upcoming year, especially for me.

Thanks to you all; who have worked so hard to make this evening a success. I extend my heartfelt thanks.

I consider myself very lucky to work with scholars of criminal law and exceptional advocates, my four law partners, Robert Udashen, Bruce Anton, Gary Udashen, and Kevin Ross, and our associates, Joey Mongaras, Stephanie Luce, Katherine Borras and Dan Gividen. I could not move on without recognizing my legal secretary, Janine Hargraves. We have worked, laughed and argued with each other every day. When I first hired her, I thought I would be the boss, but I know a lot more now than I did 27 years ago. It is an honor to work with all of you.

I have close friends; lawyers who I am honored to share this night with. John Carr, a prominent family lawyer in the Salem/Boston area, traveled from Massachusetts with his wife, Carol, to be here tonight. One of Texas’ great criminal defense lawyers, and a close friend of mine, Jeff Kearney from Fort Worth, is here tonight with his wife, Olivia. And, another outstanding lawyer I admire, Mark Werbner, my close, personal friend since law school over 3 decades ago. Thank you for being here.

I have chosen for my theme in 2011 “Honoring the Profession,” so tonight; I want to share with you why I have chosen that theme and my plans for 2011.

CLE/Mentoring

Over the years, it seems my friends and I have had one continuous conversation. We ask each other the same question that I know all of you have been asking yourselves, “How can I get better at the practice of law?”

I believe the pursuit of that answer is why we are all here. The desire to become better lawyers has made our home, the Belo Mansion, first and foremost, a place of learning where we help each other learn our craft, elevate our skills, and grow as lawyers. We all need teachers and mentors to share wisdom and experience, and the magical powers that come with it. We know that none of us can “go it alone.”

The work we do is challenging, and, it seems, the stakes are always high. That reality drives the men and women drawn to this profession. We know that the greater our skills, the better our chances of just results for our clients, and justice is important.

Go to the Belo Mansion, and you will see lawyers volunteering their time and energy to other lawyers. The Dallas Bar Association is the second largest provider of continuing legal education programs in the State—second only to the State Bar of Texas—and offers over 400 programs a year, almost all of which are prepared, produced and presented by our own members volunteering their time.

Our members also believe we have duties and obligations outside the doors of the Belo, and we back up these beliefs with action. From the tallest buildings housing the largest, international law firms to the solo practitioners sharing space in small suburban offices, the lawyers of our association donate their time, money, and experience to this community.

We have 38 standing committees and 29 standing sections populated by thousands of lawyers—most, if not all, have full time jobs, yet still find a way to volunteer their time and contribute. The Community Involvement Committee, Law in the Schools Committee, Legalline, Mentoring, Minority Participation, Pro Bono Activities and the Summer Law Intern Program, just to name a few.

Dallas Volunteer Attorney Program

And, of course, we are so proud of our Dallas Volunteer Attorney Program—working in partnership with Legal Aid of Northwest Texas—and financially supported by our Equal Access to Justice Campaign.

As you just heard, because of the extraordinary efforts of Jerry Alexander and the members of his Campaign committee to secure donations (largely from our members), they raised over $700,000—more than has ever been raised before. These are practicing lawyers with full-time jobs, not professional fundraisers. And they have spent their free time working for this campaign so that more members of our community, living at or below the poverty line, will receive free legal services.

With that kind of support, the Dallas Bar pro bono efforts are constantly growing and evolving. Michael Regitz, a five-year lawyer at Fulbright & Jaworski—and Dan Scott, a five-year lawyer at Gardere Wynne & Sewell—opened the Veterans Legal Clinic in Dallas to help provide basic legal aid to the deserving men and women of our country’s armed forces. Mike and Dan worked hard to bring in lawyers with a wide range of skills, so they would be able to handle many of the different legal issues presented by the veterans who came to the clinic.  

They are helped in this effort by our Dallas Volunteer Attorney Program and the State Bar’s Texas Lawyers for Texas Veterans. Pablo Almaguer, Chairman of the Board of the State Bar of Texas, who is a guest with us tonight, has played an important role in implementing this initiative statewide. So far, over 350 veterans have visited the clinic and over 100 veterans have received continuing legal services at the Dallas Veterans Legal Clinic.

Ambassadorship/Diversity

Another word about Mr. Almaguer. He is not only the first legal aid lawyer, but also the first Hispanic lawyer, to become Chairman of the Board of Directors of the State Bar of Texas. We at the Dallas Bar salute your accomplishments, and I am going to ask you to do us a favor in your many travels across this great state.

Please tell all who will listen that at the Dallas Bar, not only do we believe in diversity, but it is our formal policy to promote diversity. We believe a diverse membership adds richness, depth, texture and value to our bar.

Wherever we go, whatever we do—hosting national or international lawyers—sponsoring the Dallas Minority Attorney programs—participating in programs within Dallas ISD—or talking to law students—we will deliver the clear message that we want men and women of every color and creed to come to Dallas, become lawyers, and become members of the Dallas Bar Association.

In 2011, our doors at 2101 Ross Avenue will be open, and we will host some very special guests. We will help our colleagues in the Dallas Hispanic Bar Association in welcoming the Hispanic National Bar Association for their annual convention. This is the first time this convention has been held in Dallas. Many members of the Dallas Hispanic Bar Association are also distinguished members of our Dallas Bar Association. We will help them roll out the red carpet for these honored guests who are visiting our city and jointly host a reception in their honor at the Belo Mansion.

We will also invite to the Belo lawyers from every populated continent: Africa, Asia, Australia, North and South America and Europe. They will be in town for a six week academy held at the Center for American and International Law. I believe an evening like this has the potential to foster friendships and create goodwill.

Our Public Forum Committee, which has sponsored programs of intense interest to the general public, will be ready on short notice to present programs addressing relevant, developing topics—and controversial issues—important to this community. We will open our doors to any member of the public who would like to engage in the discussion of these public issues.

This positive flow of new, dynamic, fresh energy that all these guests will bring to our home, the Belo Mansion, is healthy for our association.

Criminal Justice Forum

We believe in diversity, new friends and new ideas. We also believe in justice and due process of law. I am certain of that because every lawyer in this room took an oath to support the Constitution. It is a privilege for me now to recognize a man whose commitment to our system of justice and the rule of law defines his life, Judge Patrick Higginbotham. As most of you know, Judge Higginbotham is a former Dallas trial lawyer, former federal District Judge, and, now, Senior Judge on the United States Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. He has a reputation as one of the most well-respected jurists in the nation. He is an ardent protector of our 6th Amendment right to trial by jury, and he has personally shaped my career, as well as the careers of many of my colleagues, because of his unmatched respect for and commitment to the criminal defense bar. When he speaks to us about his feelings for the importance of our work, he motivates and inspires us.

Once, in a private conversation, he shared his views on the importance of a strong criminal defense bar in our system of criminal justice. His metaphor for the system is a stool with three legs—the judiciary, the prosecution and the defense are the legs. All must be strong, or it will not stand.

His description is the source for the 2011 Criminal Justice Forum this October. The forum brings together our judges, prosecutors and private and public defense attorneys to share ideas about the Dallas County criminal justice system. There will be no trespass—zero—on the fundamental responsibilities or respective roles of the judges, Craig Watkins’ prosecutors, or criminal defense attorneys in our adversarial system of justice. When we come together, it will be to discuss the areas of common ground we share.

Those individuals responsible for the planning and preparation of this unprecedented opportunity are also well known leaders within the Dallas Criminal Justice System. Judge Elizabeth Crowder will chair the committee. Her co-chairs will be Judge Roberto Canas, and my well-respected law partner, Bruce Anton. Honorary Co-Chairs will be District Attorney Craig Watkins, and Public Defender Lynn Pride Richardson—who have pledged the enthusiastic participation of their respective offices. All will work hard to properly prepare between now and then.

Their leadership in this forum is important. Because leaders of this quality and caliber must be involved for this forum to make real, positive strides, not only for our judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys, but also for the people of Dallas County.

Judge Higginbotham, thank you for being here, for your contributions to our justice system, and for the knowledge and support you have given me and all other criminal defense attorneys.

Judicial Media Response Team

The Dallas Bar recognizes and appreciates the significant contributions our judges make to our system of justice, this community and our association. In the course of our professional lives, unfortunately, we have all seen judges unfairly attacked in the media for merely exercising their duty to apply the law to the facts in a fair and impartial manner. This is not right, but it happens. It is made worse because there are many rules preventing judges from publicly defending themselves. This year, we will begin standing up for them, when appropriate.

The Dallas Bar will adopt the basic model created by the American Bar Association and ask a team of highly-respected lawyers to form the Judicial Media Response Team. The purpose of the team will be to provide quick responses to serious and unjust criticisms of judges.

Be assured that the Dallas Bar is, and will remain, a non-political, non-partisan organization that embraces the entire diversity of the political beliefs of our members. This team will not be used for political purposes and will not respond to political or personal criticism. We will respond to criticism only if it unjustly impugns the integrity of the judiciary. When the team is called to action, we will defend our judges and educate fellow citizens about the core concepts of our system of justice.

This skillful team will always be ready, but, it is my hope, rarely be needed. Even though we may not accept every request, I assure you that when we do, our response will be professional, appropriate and effective.

Media Training

In this day and age of 24-hour news coverage and growing interest in legal matters, the odds are increasing that you may be contacted by the media. Many of us have differing opinions on what to do if, and when, that happens, but in any case, we must be prepared to defend our clients in the court of public opinion when it is in their best interest, and not in conflict with the rules of professional conduct.

This year, the Dallas Bar will offer two half-day media training sessions, one in the spring, one in the fall, to teach the fundamentals of dealing with media attention. These intensive sessions will be coordinated by our Media Relations Committee, along with the experts from Androvett Legal Media, to help build confidence and skill so that when the media calls, you will capitalize on the opportunity to effectively represent your client, yourself and your profession to the public.

Reasons to Honor

I have seen the many positive contributions of our lawyers. We support each other by providing continuing legal education. We form mentoring relationships with other lawyers, law students and students. We celebrate and promote diversity. We help provide legal representation to those who cannot afford it. We defend the rule of law. Being a lawyer—being a judge—in a constitutional democracy is special. We are responsible for practicing law, for the rule of law in our community, and, ultimately, for justice for the citizens of this city, county, state and nation.

These facts are many of the reasons why I have chosen “Honoring the Profession” as my theme for 2011. But there are other reasons, also. Intensely personal reasons. Not just personal to me, but to the men and women I practice law with—to Jeff and John and Mark—and to most, if not all, of you here tonight.         

The great battles we fight, the constant challenges we face, and the extra effort we put into our practice—these things broaden and deepen our individual experiences and enlarge our lives.

The practice of law, which contributes so much to our way of life, provides us with a nourishment the human spirit needs and wants—that is, feeling a deep sense of meaning and purpose in your heart while living in this world.

The profession deserves to be honored because it is an honor to be a member this profession.

I am so pleased that you all came tonight. I promise to do my best as your president. Thank you very much.

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