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A bit of vanity must run through most lawyers’ veins, right? The idea of captivating a jury while delivering a well executed closing argument, much like that of the fictional Atticus Finch from “To Kill a Mockingbird,” attracts many young people to the legal profession. So it shouldn’t be much of a surprise to learn that attorneys have a desire to stand out among the thousands of cars that zoom the freeways throughout the state. Vanity plates are one way to make that distinction. Take environmental law attorney Gregg Cooke’s vanity plate that reads “HAZE.” Cooke, of counsel at Guida, Slavich, & Flores in Dallas, was the regional administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency from 1998 until 2003. In 1999, Cooke says the Mexican government refused to participate in an air-quality study for the Big Bend area and, in fact, asked the U.S. government not to conduct the study. “We did it anyway, and it made them mad,” Cook says. The study’s results will be released later this year. “HAZE” is emblazoned on Cooke’s Big Bend specialty plate to remind him of that disagreement and as a way for him to educate people about pollution problems. “I’ve never been happier about anyone being angry at me as I was with that,” Cooke says of his wrangling with Mexican officials. “They were not at all enamored.” Ike Vanden Eykel’s former license plate turned many heads, most not realizing it had a legal connection. Shortly after the first Gulf War, the managing partner of Dallas’ Koons, Fuller, Vanden Eykel & Robertson says he had a client who wanted to go all out to win a nasty divorce case. “He told me we were going to Baghdad as a way of telling me we would have to go to trial in order to prevail in his lawsuit,” Vanden Eykel says. “There was no stopping point. We were going to do everything we could to win.” To honor his client, Vanden Eykel got a vanity plate that reads “BAGDAD.” The vanity plate induced a wide array of reactions, Vanden Eykel says. “No one would tail gate me on the toll road, and my car was always protected in valet,” he says. When the recent war with Iraq began, Vanden Eykel says drivers would pass him pumping their fists. As the war became more and more controversial, Vanden Eykel says his wife would not let his children ride with him, fearing people would try to run him off the road. So, earlier this year he replaced the tag with a new vanity plate that reads “SIR IKE.” Still, he keeps his “BAGDAD” plate for posterity. Jacqueline Cullom Murphy, special counsel for Hays County, says many people pegged her as a lawyer when they saw her “ETHICS” license plate. “Most of the comments were negative,” she says. “People would usually say that lawyers have no ethics.” As a governmental lawyer, Murphy says she was drawn to the vanity plate because of her interest in governmental ethics, which, she says, “is not shared by most elected officials.” Murphy says people harassed her so much about her plate that she recently replaced it with a regular plate. She plans to return to the “ETHICS” moniker, she says, as soon as a Web site she is creating, TexasEthics.com, is complete. SAY WHAT? Brian Wice, a Houston criminal-defense solo, says that his vanity plate is a great conversation starter at the car wash. “It sends a flare to most people that I’m a lawyer, but others want to know what ‘ha-bee-us’ means,” he says. “Some people think it’s a food from some former Iron Curtain country.” The idea for the plate came from Wice’s father, Marshall, a former dispatcher who lives in West Hartford, Conn. The elder Wice searched the nation’s license plate database one day and found that “HABEAS” was not in use. He suggested it to his son since he handles a lot of criminal appeals. While many people not familiar with the law are confused over its meaning, Wice says that about 10 years ago a member of a district attorney’s office tried to get him recused in a case because of it. “They claimed that anyone with a plate like that could never be fair to the state,” Wice says. The court disagreed. Will Pryor, a Dallas solo who conducts mediation and arbitration hearings, thought that “AGREE” was a good fit for the back of his car. When he applied for the vanity plate five years ago he also suggested “MED8″ and “SETLE.” Those were not available. “I don’t think most people realize that I’m a lawyer and when they see it they smile,” he says. “Lawyers who know me laugh at it.” “LAW” has been on the back of McAllen solo Servando Gonzales’ car for more than 20 years. “It’s nice to know that no one else can have it,” he says of the tag that identifies what he does for a living. However, attorneys are not the only drivers who have vanity plates that refer to their job. Alice Fosson is a reference librarian for Bracewell & Patterson in Houston. On the back of her Volkswagen Beetle her vanity plate reads “TXJUR.” “Most people who see it think I’m referring to ‘texture,’ ” she says. “ Others think that I’m a judge.” In fact, her plate refers to the legal encyclopedia Texas Jurisprudence, Third Edition. Notes Fosson, “I’m proud of my job and I wanted to make a statement about being a law librarian.” THE VANITY PLATE PROCESS Personalized specialty license plates, also known as vanity plates, are issued by the Texas Department of Transportation, provided that the combination of numbers and letters do not conflict with an existing numbering sequence and do not duplicate a plate already in use. The fee for a vanity plate is $40. Applications and specialty license plate fees are submitted to TxDOT’s vehicle titles and registration division. In addition, an applicant must pay the regular registration fee and other applicable fees associated with the county in which the car is registered. Those fees are paid to the county tax assessor-collector’s office when the plates are approved. Vanity plate registration forms are available on the TxDOT Web site — www.dot.state.tx.us/vtr/spplates/specialplate.htm?nbr=77 — or through a local county tax assessor-collector’s office. YOUNG LAWYERS’ AND JUDGES’ PRIDE For lawyers who want to keep a low profile but support the legal community, perhaps a Texas Young Lawyers (And Justice for All) plate is an option. As with most of the 131specialty plates offered through TxDOT, it requires an additional $30 fee. TxDOT sends $22 of each fee collected for the special plate to the Texas Office of the Attorney General to be used for basic civil legal services such as protected orders, wills and child support orders for Texans who cannot afford legal advice. The TYL plate has been available since 1999, and TxDOT officials say there are approximately 1,137 cars that display the plate. Judges also may receive special plates signifying their positions for no fee, other than the regular registration fees required by the home county. An application for special plates is located on the TxDOT Web site — www.dot.state.tx.us/vtr/vtrreginfo.htm?pg=form2 — or through local county tax assessor-collector’s offices. While working on the story about vanity license plates Carly Simon’s hit “You’re So Vain” went through Texas Lawyer reporter Kelly Pedone’s head so many times that she was forced to listen to the CD over and over again to purge it from her system. Pedone lives in Houston with her husband, where talk of the Super Bowl halftime show is never-ending.

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