Randy Sorrels Randy Sorrels, of Abraham, Watkins, Nichols, Sorrels, Agosto & Aziz. Courtesy photo.

When President-elect Randy Sorrels appointed his wife to serve on the Texas Bar Foundation board of trustees, it caused a dust-up at this month’s Texas Bar board meeting.

Alexandra “Alex” Farias-Sorrels of Houston will serve on the foundation’s board for three years beginning June 1, after the bar’s board voted to approve her appointment on April 26. Funded by lawyer-members, the bar foundation is a voluntary organization that distributes grants to organizations working to enhance the rule of law, improve the justice system, provide legal aid, boost legal ethics and other functions.

When board members questioned Farias-Sorrels’ appointment, Sorrels explained that the bar foundation recommended nominees who were all men, which wasn’t acceptable to him. He wanted to add diversity to the board and has appointed four women this year.

Some board members said they did not realize when they approved the appointments that Farias-Sorrels was married to Sorrels.

When they did, former board chairman Rehan Alimohammad said that Sorrels should further explain why he appointed his wife, because some attorneys have claimed the bar is a “secret society” where people win appointments “in back room deals.”

“The board has always faced tough questions and in full transparency the board should know that the appointee was the president-elect’s wife,” Alimohammad wrote in an email, adding that he approved of the appointments.

Many lawyers have voiced the “back-room deal” criticism about the bar’s method of using an elections subcommittee to interview and appoint two president-elect nominees to run against each other. In recent years, candidates have sidestepped the elections subcommittee by gathering lawyers’ signatures on a petition to become candidates, which is a procedure authorized by the State Bar Act.

Responding to the “back-room deal” criticism at the April 26 meeting, Texas Bar Executive Director Trey Apffel said that Sorrels had the sole prerogative to make appointments, and he had followed all the proper policies and processes.

Sorrels explained in an interview that he and Farias-Sorrels often donate money to charities, universities and law schools. His wife serves as a trustee on the Houston Young Lawyers Foundation, which awards grants. She graduated at the top of her law school class and has Big Law experience, plus, she’s a Hispanic woman, who will add diversity to the bar foundation board, Sorrels said.

“She is extraordinarily qualified in this area,” he said. “I want to leave a legacy of great appointments that make a difference, and also diversity.”

Farias-Sorrels earned her law degree in 2010 from the University of Miami School of Law, graduating in the top 10 percent of her class. She was a law clerk on the Texas Supreme Court and then worked as a litigator for six years at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius. As a Houston Young Lawyers Foundation trustee, Farias-Sorrels has helped run a foundation, planned for its future, conducted fundraising events and reviewed grant applications, she said.

“I can only speak to what my accomplishments are, and why I think I am worthy,” she said, noting that she’s earned her past positions on her own merit, and feels she could have been appointed as a bar foundation trustee, no matter who the bar president was.

The couple married three years ago, and she kept her last name as “Farias” until they had a baby and she wanted the same name as her child, she explained. She’s already changed her name legally but is still working through the process of switching over accounts and profiles to her new name.

Farias-Sorrels added that she’s been introduced as his wife at many bar events, including a reception just the night before the April 26 board meeting.

She said, “I don’t know how they didn’t know me.”