2013 Power Attorneys: Address by Judge Reed O’Connor

Remarks by Judge Reed O’Connor to the 2013 Power Attorneys on Oct. 09 at the City Club in Fort Worth.

Thank you to the Fort Worth Business Press for inviting me tonight.

The business, medical and legal communities are fortunate to have access to such a fine publication, and we are grateful that it performs the kind of work journalists have traditionally undertaken. Richard Connor and his staff do an excellent job providing information about what is going on in the community that cannot be found anywhere else, and programs like tonight’s serve to build camaraderie as we gather to honor those who best exemplify the best and brightest of our profession.

It is my honor to be here and it is my pleasure to speak this evening as we honor this year’s Power Attorneys.

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For those of you worried that I may go on too long, let me put you at ease. I recently read Walter Isaacson’s biography on Steve Jobs and he describes the Stanford commencement address by Steve Jobs as “one of the best ever given, displaying the art of minimalization.”

I cannot promise you these will be the best remarks ever, but I will work to keep it brief.

Before I get started I wanted to say how excited I am that I will be taking Judge Means’ place over here. Fort Worth is a special place. Judge Mahon used to say that Fort Worth is the country’s best kept secret. In fact, when I hear the Governor has gone to another state to solicit businesses to come to Texas, I automatically think he should show them Fort Worth – and that would seal the deal.

But even so, had you asked me earlier this year if I would be moving over here I would have told you that you were crazy. In fact, when I was first asked by several local attorneys to consider it, I told them I was happy with my assignment to the Dallas and Wichita Falls Divisions.

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But throughout the year various Fort Worth attorneys continued to ask me about moving and how they were concerned that the Fort Worth Division would have to endure a lengthy period, possibly years, with only one active federal judge. Indeed, Fort Worth is the 10th fastest growing city and the 16th largest city in the United States, larger than Boston, Seattle, and Denver. These attorneys argued the Fort Worth Division of the Northern District of Texas is simply too important for its residents to have an extended period with delayed resolution of its cases because of the absence of a full time judge.

Coincidentally, Judge Fitzwater asked me to stand in here on an interim basis and take twenty five percent of the new cases filed while the other twenty five percent would be handled in Lubbock..

After taking account of the period of time it would take to fill this spot, I too came to the conclusion that the Fort Worth Division is too important to go without two full time judges for what may be an extended nomination process, so I went ahead and made the move.

I have been warmly welcomed by many attorneys in Fort Worth, including Mr. Kelly, Roland Johnson, Mark Pittman and many, many others.

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As I thought about this move, I realized I have spent a lot of time in the courtrooms in this city and in Dallas over the last 6 years, and I can tell you there is a real difference between the two divisions.

My formative years as a trial attorney were spent here. I first came to work in Fort Worth for Mr. Curry at the District Attorney’s office. While he was not flamboyant or not frequently in the media, he set the tone for the office, and that tone was one of fairness. Mr. Curry insisted that those who worked for him treat defendants, victims and the process with fairness.

This idea was not limited to 401 West Belknap Street. When I moved to the United States Attorney’s Office I had the opportunity to appear before Judge Mahon. Judge Mahon was a man that exuded fairness.

I remember while I was at the US Attorney’s Office, the Department of Justice pursued an initiative focused on gun prosecutions, and therefore, we focused on prosecuting felons who were in possession of firearms. None of us escaped this mandate. All prosecutors had a large number of these cases, from the most experienced to the least experienced, from white collar prosecutors to complex drug prosecutors.

Many of the federal judges expressed disagreement with this policy, including Judge Mahon. He felt it was heavy handed of the federal government to take all of these cases from the state government. On one occasion I recall him raising his voice to me at the conclusion of one of these prosecutions telling me he would not have brought this kind of case to a Justice of the Peace court, much less a federal court.

I think Judge Mahon was upset because he thought it was unfair that the federal government would indiscriminately sweep up all of these people and put them in the federal system that, at that time, had a very inflexible sentencing structure instead of permitting those less serious cases to be handled at the state level where they would receive a more individualized punishment.

Now as I transition to the building that bears his name, it is my goal to bring that same concept of fundamental fairness to my time over here.

This concept of fairness is very important to the Power Attorneys we are here to celebrate tonight. Power Attorneys are those who are highly respected and whose reputations are unmatched in their profession. These attorneys, and all of the litigants, depend on fairness and this concept is very important in the Fort Worth Division.

Fort Worth has handled monumental cases and has been home to some legendary judges, like Judge Mahon, David Belew, and Leo Brewster. For example, 65 years ago in this Division former Governor Coke Stevenson sued then Congressman Lyndon Johnson over the primary results for the 1948 Democratic Senate primary. This decision was appealed to Justice Black who ruled in Lyndon Johnson’s favor. And of course, the rest is history as Senator Johnson became Majority Leader, Vice President, and then President Johnson. Judge Belew held the longest aviation trial in history in this Division;

and Judge Means handed down the first death sentence under the 1994 Federal Death Penalty Act in this Division.

All of these cases involved Power Attorneys. These types of cases will continue to be filed in this division because Fort Worth has historically produced leading men and women and entrepreneurs, and will continue to produce these kind of leaders.

This city has also produced historic figures. From Amon Carter and Sid Richardson to the Bass and Moncrief families, John Justin, Anne Burnet, and many, many others. Leading business, philanthropic and civic leaders will continue to emerge here and, big disputes will necessarily arise here.

These kinds of leaders expect, demand, and need high caliber attorneys when they seek legal representation. Because of this, Fort Worth has also been home to many talented and powerful attorneys, attorneys who rose to the occasion to represent these legendary figures, attorneys like Dee Kelly. Kleber Miller, and Beale Dean. Of course, we were all saddened to hear of Mr. Dean’s passing last week. I think everyone here would recognize that he was highly respected, his reputation was impeccable, and the Tarrant County Bar will miss him.

In 1951, after hiring John Connally to come to Fort Worth as his lawyer, Mr. Richardson reportedly said “You are a man with a lot of promise, but I can hire good lawyers, good engineers, and good geologists, but it is hard to hire good common sense.”

The combination of high caliber legal talent and good common sense is what this year’s Power Attorneys possess. This diverse group of twenty men and women have been selected by you as being the best in their respective fields of practice, be it trial, corporate, real estate, or appellate law. That is why it is important that the Fort Worth Business Press identify Power Attorneys, so we know and honor the identity of those attorneys who meet these high expectations.

Clearly, this year’s Power Attorneys meet these expectations. You have demonstrated you belong in this upper echelon of attorneys whose reputation is unmatched. You have a rich and well-deserved inheritance from many generations of power attorneys in Fort Worth. I hope you will pave the way for the generation that follows.

Congratulations to you.