March-April 2011

Who is your mentor?

Donna Hawkins, Assistant District Attorney in Harris County

My mentor would probably surprise many but not the people who know him well. Bill Hawkins has prosecuted criminals for over 25 years, and I am constantly amazed at his total dedication and excitement for a job that has never diminished. Truth be told, Bill is my husband, and I consider him one of the finest attorneys (and men) I have ever met.

    A few years back, Bill had to prosecute a 10-year-old boy charged with murdering his father. It was a particularly senseless crime and occurred when the boy shot his dad (who had just picked him up) through the back of the driver’s seat of the car. The victim was a local doctor, fairly prominent, and along with outrage over his murder, there were as many detractors that felt the child should not be punished. Many felt that a boy of 10 could not really be responsible for his actions. Throughout the lengthy investigation and trial, Bill truly attempted to get to the heart of the matter and determine why and how a young boy could commit such a horrific crime. He also met extensively with the boy’s brother and grandparents. In fact, they became so close that Bill actually made a point of taking them all out to a car show once a year after the trial to catch up. This made worlds of difference in the life of that young boy.

    Bill has prosecuted many people who have committed truly egregious crimes. One young couple broke into an elderly woman’s home, beat her to death with a baseball bat, and stole her car—before setting her house on fire in an attempt to cover up the crime. Bill’s passionate argument resulted in maximum sentences for the dangerous pair.

    Bill prepares for trial like a first-time pilot inspecting an airplane—extremely thoroughly and intensely. He spends hours meeting with every witness that will be called to testify to prepare them for the interrogation ahead. I have watched him argue with police officers and tenderly hold parents who lost a child. He believes that each case he tries deserves his total dedication and attention.

    He has sent 13 people to death row. Every case—every victim—has taken a toll on him. But what truly amazes me is that he still really sees the good in the world and the people around him. Many times as we are driving along the Houston roadways, he will point out an amazing sunrise or particularly beautiful city view. He faces troubled times and road bumps in life as temporary problems. Bill has the extraordinary ability to see what is really important in life—family, love, doing good deeds, and appreciating the journey. For that, I proudly call him my mentor.

Sara Spector, Assistant County & ­District Attorney in Ellis County

My mentor, Leona “Lonie” Jaquette, passed away several years ago; however, she continues to inspire me to this day.

    Several years ago, while I was an assistant district attorney in Bastrop County representing TDPRS, Lonie was the regional attorney who covered our area. She was a tireless advocate for the abused and neglected children of Texas. Not only did she advocate for these voiceless victims in the courtroom, but she was also an adoptive mother herself.

    Whenever I was frustrated with the system or needed a shoulder to lean on, Lonie was always there for me. I watched her fight for these lost children with a quiet tenaciousness that was inspirational to me.  Lonie never rested on her laurels. Once a victory was had, she moved on to the next good fight.

    When she was diagnosed with terminal cancer, she never let it faze her. She never complained through the chemotherapy and treatments. Although her body was failing her, she continued to work from her home, for the cancer never robbed her of her intelligence and integrity. I remember the last time I spoke to Lonie, I asked her opinion on a termination case I was about to try. She shared with me her wisdom and encouragement. She told me she was feeling fine. Two days later I received an e-mail stating she had passed away.

    To this day, I still prosecute child abuse cases, and yes, I have gone through my share of burnout. But whenever I start thinking it is too much for me to handle, I recall Lonie’s tireless dedication to the children of Texas and somehow I manage to persevere.

Kevin Yeary, Assistant Criminal ­District Attorney in Bexar County

Who is my mentor? Well, it isn’t one single person for sure. I have been blessed by so many good mentors that I could never hope to list them all here. But I can tell you about some of those who’ve led me to and through this career so far.

    The first lawyer I ever knew was Mr. Horace Hall of Laredo. He’s the father of one of my childhood best friends. I might not have gone to law school but for his example.
    Probably the biggest influence on my choice of career was the late Judge Bill M. White. He hired me out of law school in 1991 to serve as his briefing attorney at the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. He planted me in the soil of criminal appellate work, watered me, and let me grow. Even when I left his chambers to work in civil litigation, he encouraged and inspired me.

    I spent the next three years of my career working with two of the best civil lawyers I know, Mike Hedges and Bob Walsh of San Antonio. They shared with me their experiences and taught me how to practice law. I’ll never forget them.

    In 1995, I joined the Dallas DA’s office and became an appellate prosecutor. My career as a prosecutor has been filed with mentors. Besides having worked as a law student intern for two great elected DAs, Jose Rubio and Fred Rodriguez, I’ve now also worked as an assistant prosecutor under lots of other great elected DAs, including the late John Vance, John Holmes, Steve Hilbig, and Susan Reed. Each one of these electeds has had one thing in common: courage. It’s easy to be a good assistant when you have a courageous leader, and they have all been that for me.

    Several other people have mentored me as well, both toward and through this career. Beth Taylor, who hired me as an intern at the Bexar County DAs office; Sue Korioth, my former appellate section chief in Dallas County; and Ed Shaughnessy, my first appellate section chief in Bexar County, taught me to have a passion for prosecution. Sr. Ann Semel, one of my undergraduate professors at St. Mary’s University; Lori Ordiway, a coworker from my days in Dallas County; and Roe Wilson, the chief of writs in Harris County, taught me to strive to write well. Alan Curry, my supervisor in Harris County, and Alan Battaglia, my second chief of appeals in Bexar County, taught me the importance of a good work ethic. And my late good friends Matthew Paul, former State Prosecuting Attorney, and Dan Thornberry, a former coworker in Bexar County, taught me to love the law.

    I have had many more mentors in my life than I have mentioned here, and I’m sure I will have many more. I’ve been blessed to be surrounded by so many talented and generous teachers and sources of inspiration. I am grateful to them all.

David C. Newell, Assistant District Attorney in Harris County

It always makes me nervous to single out one person for their impact upon my life because I’ve been influenced and inspired by so many different people and I wouldn’t want to insult someone by omission. Indeed, I could simply list them all, but then I’d run out of my 500-word limit without telling you why I think they are awesome or da’ bomb.

    But if there is one person who got in on the ground floor and set the foundation for the lawyer I have become, I’d have to pick John J. Harrity, III, Chief of the Appellate Division in Fort Bend County. John is one of the smartest and most meticulous lawyers I have ever met—indeed, he borders on paranoid, but in a good, appellate sort of way. He chases down every theory and leaves no questions unanswered. And when I met him as a new prosecutor, he quickly impressed upon me the value of that level of preparation. But more than that, he was also patient and humble. (Well, he’s still those things. It’s not like he’s dead, but you know where I’m coming from.) He always included me in discussions about the toughest legal issues that he and the office were facing. When he disagreed with my analysis, he always took the time to explain why I was mistaken and what I might have overlooked. And when he agreed, he was always very quick to back me up before more experienced prosecutors. Kind of like Al Pacino did for Johnny Depp in Donnie Brasco except without all the death and curse words. He gave me confidence when I didn’t have it and taught me to be humble when expressing my opinions.

    I’ve changed offices since working with him, but I still call him to run ideas by him, and I am always extremely flattered when he calls me up to ask for my opinion about an issue he’s facing. As I have told him before, I would not be the attorney I am today if not for the care he took to guide me. And as he often responds, “You are not my fault.”

Carolyn Olson, Assistant County & ­District Attorney, in Colorado County

I started working as a criminal prosecutor in Colorado County in late 1997. Ken Sparks’s predecessor actually gave me the job in the Colorado County and District Attorney’s Office, but when Ken took office in 2001 he was kind enough to keep me on. What a gift that has been! I have now been in the office for 131⁄2 years, and I owe so much to Ken. Not just for letting me keep my job, but for mentoring me to become the best prosecutor and attorney I could be.

    Ken Sparks is an inspiration. He is a workhorse and the ultimate manager—organized, driven, ethical, dedicated, compassionate, and of course, extremely smart. When there is a problem, he solves it, right then and there. When there is a project, he works diligently and tirelessly until the project is not only complete, but also as perfect as it can be. He does nothing halfway. He always makes time to get any job done. He is involved, both in our local community and the prosecutors’ community, giving hours of his time and talent. He is always accessible and there for me when I have a question, a problem, or when I just want to pick his brain.

    Many people who work in criminal law in the Houston area seem to know and respect Ken, either from when he worked in the Harris County DA’s office or in private practice. Robert Scardino Jr., came to Colorado County representing a misdemeanor defendant just last week. He asked if he could tell me “a Ken Sparks story.” (How many criminal defense attorneys have I heard say that over the last 10 years?) Mr. Scardino said when Ken was a new prosecutor in Harris County, he went up against him in a criminal jury trial. Mr. Scardino, having a reputation for being a pretty good trial attorney at the time, thought to himself he would have no trouble beating this skinny, young, unknown prosecutor with round eyeglasses. “Well,” Scardino told me, “Ken Sparks kicked my a** up one side of the courtroom and down the other.” He had never seen anyone who knew the law and evidence so well or was so thoroughly prepared and organized. After that experience, Mr. Scardino said, if he knew Ken would be trying a case against him, he would immediately assign it to another attorney.

    Ken has taken an unknown rural prosecutor’s office and turned it into a professional prosecutor’s office. He has written the Offense Report Manual for Patrol Officers, published by TDCAA; has been and continues to be involved in TDCAA’s activities, whether working on a committee, giving speeches, or sharing his extensive knowledge; has created and gotten state legislation passed; and has done numerous other activities and projects too lengthy to mention here. In each he always includes and encourages my opinion and participation, which has been invaluable.

    One of Ken’s greatest attributes is that he never takes full credit for anything he does, always praising his staff—the other assistant attorney in the office, Jay Johannes, and me—for our dedicated work. But, truth be known, any successes are due to the brilliance, hard work, and leadership of Ken Sparks.