Back on the Bench

Gov. Rick Perry on Oct. 14 appointed two former judges to benches in Dallas County and Harris County. He selected criminal-defense solo Jennifer Balido as the new judge of Dallas County’s 291st District Court. The seat was vacant after former 291st District Judge Susan Hawk resigned to run in the March primary as Dallas County district attorney. The governor also chose Grant Dorfman to become the new judge of Harris County’s 334th District Court, after Perry appointed the former judge, Ken Wise, to the 14th Court of Appeals in Houston. Balido has experience on both sides of the docket and on the bench. Perry appointed her in 2009 to the 203rd District Court in Dallas, but she lost the 2010 general election, she says. “I thought we did a lot of good work and handled a lot of cases,” Balido says about her time as a judge. “I felt like we did a good job serving the public when I was in that capacity, and I look forward to doing that again.” Balido has been a criminal-defense solo in several stints during her career. She was also a Dallas County public defender from 1997 to 2004 and again from 2007 to 2009. From 1992 to 1996, Balido was an assistant DA in the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office. She says she’ll assume the bench of the 291st District Court in one to two weeks, as soon as she “winds down” her criminal-defense practice. “I’m happy and proud that Gov. Perry has decided to appoint me to this bench, and I’m going to do a good job for Gov. Perry and the citizens of Dallas County,” she says. Previously, Dorfman was judge of the 129th District Court. Perry appointed him there in 2002, but he lost his bid for re-election in 2008. “I’m very grateful to Gov. Perry for appointing me a second time to the trial bench and very much looking forward to the challenge of public service, which I found rewarding the last time I was on the bench and am very much looking forward to resuming,” says Dorfman. He has been senior counsel at Nabors Corporate Services Inc. in Houston since 2009. He supervises litigation for the international Nabors group of companies, which provide oil-and-gas drilling and oilfield services. Before becoming a judge, Dorfman was an associate with and then partner in Ogden, Gibson, White & Broocks from 1996 to 2002. That firm is now called Ogden, Gibson, Broocks, Longoria & Hall. Dorfman says his past judicial experience is “great preparation” for his new job. But he adds, “I think being in the business world the last almost five years is even better preparation. . . . I’ve learned to be quick to get to the heart of a matter, to separate what’s essential from what’s tangential, and to use everyone’s time efficiently.” He says he hopes to use those new skills to move the docket along, “so everyone gets a hearing, and fewer people are standing in line, waiting for their turn.”

Appleseed Honors

Austin nonprofit Texas Appleseed will honor Susman Godfrey founders Steve Susman and Lee Godfrey and Locke Lord at a Nov. 21 dinner celebrating Texas lawyers’ pro bono contributions. “I think that it makes you feel good to do something that helps people,” says Susman. The Houston lawyer notes that helping his paying clients, many of whom he describes as victims and “underdogs,” also generates those good feelings. Locke Lord partner Elizabeth Mack of Dallas, chairwoman of the firm’s environmental section, says Texas Appleseed is recognizing Locke Lord’s contribution to a research project involving prosecutors’ criminal-discovery practices that prompted the Texas Legislature to pass reforms, known as the Michael Morton Act. The act was named after a man convicted of murdering his wife but later exonerated by DNA evidence. The reforms, signed into law last May, require prosecutors to open their files to defense lawyers and keep records of disclosed evidence. Mack, who serves on the board of Texas Appleseed, says she jumped at the opportunity to help with the research when the nonprofit sought help. She notes that says some 42 Locke Lord lawyers nationwide “from all practice areas” worked more than one year to help produce the research. For his part, Susman says his firm partners, rather than its associates, usually are the ones doing the pro bono work “so it’s coming out of his [or her] earning power.” The willingness of partners to take that kind of opportunity cost to handle pro bono matters sends a message and sets an example for the associates, Susman says. He recently agreed to handle a voting rights case for the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law. “We intend to do more pro bono than we’ve done before,” Susman says.