Officiating at weddings is one of the most enjoyable duties a Texas district court judge performs. Sometimes the blessed event occurs in a courtroom, sometimes it happens outside of the courthouse, and — if the judge is 192nd District Judge Craig Smith of Dallas — sometimes the event occurs at the home of NBA superstar Dirk Nowitzki. Smith says Tom Melsheimer, managing partner of the Dallas office of Fish & Richardson who represents Dallas Mavericks’ owner Mark Cuban, called him in June to ask whether he would preside over Nowitzki’s wedding to Jessica Olsson. “And I said. ‘You bet. Now?’ ” recalls Smith, who’s a huge fan of Nowitzki and the Mavericks. Nowitzki and Olsson wanted to get married in Dallas in the home they share because they had a destination wedding scheduled for Aug. 8 on a remote Caribbean Island. “ With these types of destination weddings, a Texas wedding license only authorizes certain people who can administer the ceremony. They include a district judge. And so that’s what we scheduled for July 20, at their home,” Smith says. Smith presided over the wedding in Nowitzki’s Preston Hollow home in a small ceremony attended by three other couples and Smith’s wife. “Michelle and I had a wonderful time. It was special to be a part of it,” Smith says. And Nowitzki even signed a Mavericks jersey for Smith. That jersey is now framed and hanging in Smith’s chambers. The signature reads “To Judge Smith. Thank you for being a part of our special day. Jessica and Dirk.” Says Smith, “Is this a great gig or what?”
Texas M&A Roundup
Nine Texas-based firms are on the short list of firms handling the lion’s share of big Texas mergers and acquisitions during the first six months of 2012, mergermarket reports in its Texas M&A Roundup. It has been a hot year for deals in Texas. Mergermarket reports that Texas M&A activity from January through June included 172 deals worth $57.6 billion, which is a 13.6 percent increase in deal value compared to the first half of 2011, with 187 deals valued at $50.7 billion. Mergermarket includes deals of at least $5 million in which the “dominant geography” of the target company is in Texas. Bracewell & Giuliani of Houston topped the league table that ranked firms by value of deals during the first half of 2012, with 18 deals worth $33.8 billion. Texas firms following Bracewell on the value league table are Vinson & Elkins in second place with $26.5 billion; Locke Lord in sixth place with $8.6 billion; Baker Botts in the 10th spot with $7.3 billion; and Andrews Kurth in 14th place, with $4.9 billion. All of the firms are based in Houston. V&E topped mergermarket’s league table that ranked firms by the number of deals during the six months, with 37 deals valued at $26.5 billion. After V&E, Texas firms on that league chart for the first half of 2012 are Houston firms Bracewell; Baker Botts; and Fulbright & Jaworski — each with 18 deals — and Andrews Kurth with 11 deals. Others are Dallas firms Haynes and Boone with 10 deals; Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld with nine; and Thompson & Knight with eight.
This fall, students at South Texas College of Law in Houston will be able to represent inventors and small businesses before the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), says Phillip Page, a professor of intellectual property law with the law school. The USPTO announced it had added STCL to the list of law schools nationwide that are participating in the Trademark Law School Clinic Certification Pilot Program. “It gives students hands-on experience dealing with clients with real-world situations,” Page says. “This is real representation of real people with real needs before real agencies.” As of July 31, the USPTO had expanded the trademark program to a total of 24 schools. Law schools applying to the program have to demonstrate “strong clinic programs and have a solid IP curricula,” according to an announcement from the agency. STCL is the first of Texas’ nine American Bar Association-accredited law schools to join the program. “It’s a new kind of clinic for us to be offering,” Page says. For years the school has offered pro bono clinics for distressed or low income people with issues such as family law or Social Security matters, he says. “This is sort of a new opportunity for us to have our students representing entrepreneurs and business people and folks who are trying to get something done in the market place,” Page says. In July, the USPTO also announced plans to open one of its first satellite offices in Dallas. David Kappos, director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, spoke about why Dallas was chosen.
New Chief of Staff
Texas House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, recently announced the promotion of Jesse Ancira to chief of staff. Ancira joined the speaker’s office in 2009 as general counsel. He had been acting chief of staff since March, when his predecessor, Denise Davis, stepped down and created the Austin firm Davis Kaufman with Lisa Kaufman. Ancira was officially named chief of staff on Aug. 1. Prior to working in the speaker’s office, Ancira was an associate deputy comptroller and general counsel with the Office of the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts and a special agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Dallas. Along with his other professional experiences, Ancira credits his work with the FBI with helping him prepare for the challenges of his new job. “What I learned there was always stay calm, cool and collected and be prepared,” Ancira says. “I use that as much as anything throughout my days here at the Capitol.”
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has asked a Travis County court to enter a judgment that the State Bar of Texas must turn over copies of bank statements and checks to a Texas Lawyer reporter. Abbott filed a plea to the jurisdiction and original answer on July 31 in State Bar of Texas v. The Honorable Greg Abbott, Attorney General of the State of Texas. On April 10, Texas Lawyer reporter Angela Morris filed a Texas Public Information Act (TPIA) request seeking information regarding a Bar “investigation into a potential misappropriation of funds by a Bar employee who serves as a deputy clerk of the Texas Supreme Court.” On April 24, the Bar asked the AG for an opinion on the request. The AG issued a letter ruling on June 28, finding that much of the information Morris requested could be withheld, but it required release of bank statements and copies of checks. On July 9, the State Bar filed a petition in Travis County district court alleging it should not have to release the information because the matter is subject to an “ongoing criminal investigation.” The Bar alleges the AG erred in concluding that information “falling within section 552.022 of the TPIA can never fall within the law enforcement exception, section 552.108.” Abbott generally denies the allegations in his July 31 plea to the jurisdiction and original answer. He seeks a final judgment that “declares the information at issue to be subject to disclosure” and that orders the Bar to take nothing in its suit. He further argues that any claims the Bar alleges under the Uniform Declaratory Judgments Act (UDJA) are barred because, among other things, the UDJA is not an “independent basis for jurisdiction.” Abbott alleges the TPIA is the sole basis for jurisdiction. Jennifer Riggs, a shareholder in Riggs Aleshire & Ray of Austin who represents the Bar, says Abbott’s reply is “pretty standard.” “The plea to the jurisdiction is simply to the UDJA on the theory you can only sue under the TPIA,” Riggs says. Tom Kelley, a spokesman for the Texas Office of the Attorney General, did not return a telephone call seeking comment.
Hear Them Roar
The Texas Governor’s Commission for Women announced on Aug. 6 that it will induct former Texas Supreme Court Justice Harriet O’Neill into the Texas Women’s Hall of Fame. “It’s a pretty remarkable group of women, and I’m just proud to be in their company,” O’Neill says. “I worked very hard at the court to improve the justice system in several ways. I was glad to see that work honored or acknowledged.” O’Neill, an Austin solo, was elected to the Texas Supreme Court in 1998, and she retired from the court in 2010. She notes she focused on improving legal services for people who can’t afford lawyers and improving child welfare and child protection courts, among other things. “I’m very happy Justice O’Neill was chosen. I think it’s very fitting,” says Carol Peterson, chairwoman of the Governor’s Commission for Women. “I know about her career. I’m glad she’s being honored.” Lesley Guthrie, the commission’s executive director, says the commission receives nominations for the Women’s Hall of Fame and forwards them to judges who complete “score sheets” to choose the inductees. Guthrie says some of the judges commented on O’Neill’s score sheets that she “transformed” how the state addresses the needs of foster-care children and that her efforts protected the poor and abused women and children. O’Neill and four other women will be inducted into the Hall of Fame during a ceremony on Oct. 12 at Texas Woman’s University in Denton.
Derek Rollins, a partner in Shackelford Melton & McKinley in Dallas, says he felt embarrassed last week as news spread on Facebook that he broke a car window to save a puppy from baking in the August heat. “The story is that I broke the window. I didn’t actually break the window: The fire department did,” he says. But he did play a role in saving the puppy on Aug. 4. “It wasn’t the type of thing I was looking to get attention for,” Rollins says. Rollins recalls that he went to a grocery store to buy baby food for his 8-month-old, and while returning to his car he saw a woman standing by a car “looking a little panicked.” In the 110-degree heat, there was a panting yellow Labrador inside the locked car. Rollins suggested the woman call the police for help and he continued to his car to drop off his groceries. Rollins then returned to the car with the puppy in it, which attracted a small crowd during the incident. “The dog was panting, sitting on the floorboard of the passenger side. We were knocking on the window trying to keep him looking at us,” says Rollins, who notes he also has a yellow Lab at home. The police and fire department arrived quickly. After the fire department broke the window, the dog’s owner, a young woman, came out of the store; Rollins says he heard her say she was only inside for five minutes. As he left, Rollins says he wondered how the owner would feel sitting in a hot car with no air for that long. “My takeaway on the whole thing was, as much as we hear about it on the news, I’m surprised people would be so oblivious to the risk,” Rollins says.