five Vinson & Elkins lawyers (L to R) Vinson & Elkins lawyers Thomas Leatherbury, Patrick “Pat” Mizell, Deborah “Carly” Milner, Morgan Kelley and Joshua Johnson. Courtesy photos.

The State Bar of Texas has tapped the heavy-hitting Texas Big Law firm Vinson & Elkins for representation in a case that claims the bar’s mandatory dues, used for alleged political and ideological purposes, are unconstitutional.

There’s less than a month left for them to complete the first order of business for the five-lawyer team, which must respond to the plaintiffs’ arguments that they deserve to win the case early because the law is on their side and no facts are in dispute.

The lawsuit, McDonald v. Longley, claims it’s unconstitutional for the State Bar of Texas to charge the plaintiffs—Tony McDonald, Josh Hammer and Mark Pulliam—mandatory dues and then use the funds for alleged political and ideological purposes. They object to some Texas Bar activities dealing with diversity, undocumented immigrants, LGBTQ issues, lobbying and legal aid. McDonald is one of at least four cases nationwide challenging mandatory bar association dues to last summer’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Janus v. AFSCME that public-sector nonunion workers cannot be required to pay union dues as a condition of employment.

Previously, State Bar Executive Director Trey Apffel told Texas Lawyer in a statement that the bar would vigorously defend its current structure, arguing that mandatory bar dues are constitutional because the state has an interest in regulating the profession and improving the quality of legal services.

Who are the attorneys going to bat to save the mandatory, unified bar? We’ve pulled together biographies of the defense team.

Thomas Leatherbury

Thomas Leatherbury Thomas Leatherbury

Texas Lawyer has honored Dallas-based Vinson & Elkins partner Thomas Leatherbury, a leader of the firm’s First Amendment practice, for his media law work. Leatherbury is also the firmwide appellate practice group leader, and currently serves as a council member of the State Bar’s appellate section. He earned his law degree from Yale Law School in 1979, and then clerked for Judge Robert Hill of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas in Dallas. Leatherbury has worked at Vinson & Elkins since 1992.


Patrick “Pat” Mizell

Patrick "Pat" Mizell Patrick “Pat” Mizell

Vinson & Elkins partner Pat Mizell of Houston is a trial lawyer who handles commercial litigation for both plaintiffs and defendants. His work has earned him spots on the selective trade groups the American College of Trial Lawyers and American Board of Trial Advocates. Mizell earned his law degree from the University of Houston Law Center in 1989. He’s worked at Vinson & Elkins his entire career, except for a stint as a judge of the 129th District Court in Harris County from 1995 to 2002.


Deborah “Carly” Milner

Deborah "Carly" Milner Deborah “Carly” Milner

Vinson & Elkins counsel Carly Milner of Houston represents plaintiffs and defendants in complex business disputes involving contracts, torts, property rights and securities litigation. She earned her law degree from the University of Virginia School of Law in 2004, and clerked for Judge Samuel Kent of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas from 2004 to 2005 and from 2007 to 2008. She previously worked at Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, and Mayer Brown.


Joshua Johnson

Joshua Johnson

Appellate litigation is the main area for Vinson & Elkins counsel Joshua Johnson of Washington, D.C., who clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg from 2012 to 2013. He earned his law degree from Yale Law School in 2009. Before joining Vinson & Elkins, he worked in the appellate section of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Criminal Division. Earlier, he did judicial clerkships at the federal trial court level in Massachusetts and federal intermediate appellate level in Washington, D.C.

Morgan Kelley

Morgan Kelley

Vinson & Elkins associate Morgan Kelley of Washington, D.C., is a commercial litigator who focuses on antitrust matters. She earned her law degree from The George Washington University Law School in 2018, and then she joined Vinson & Elkins in September 2018. While in law school, she interned for Judge John Bates of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.