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May/June 2005

Local Heroes

Houston Bar Association members devote more than 40,000 hours of volunteer service to HBA programs each year. In addition, they volunteer their time for countless other programs, projects and events. The lawyers profiled here represent just a few of the many ways in which HBA members serve their community, and beyond.

Julie Klibert

By Don Rogers

Julie Klibert, an assistant Harris County district attorney, is selflessly committed to helping others by volunteering. She earned her bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Louisiana State University in 1979 and became an administrative assistant with the Harris County District Attorney’s Office in 1981. While working in that capacity, she attended South Texas College of Law, graduated cum laude in May 1990, and became a Harris County prosecutor in 1991. Having spent the past 13 years in the appellate division, she is currently on assignment with the general litigation division, helping victims of identity theft reclaim their lives.
Because of her belief that she received many blessings in her life, Julie has donated much of her free time to assist several different charitable and educational organizations. After a close family member was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, she began volunteering with the local chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, including working with the MS150 Bike Tour; she continues to work with the society as needed. She also spends time assisting a team that participates in the society’s bike ride.
Since 1993, Julie has volunteered one night each week in the Ambulatory Treatment Center at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. While there, she visits with and assists those receiving chemotherapy or other treatment on an outpatient basis. “The patients and their families are a constant inspiration to me with their upbeat and hopeful attitudes at such a difficult time,” she says.
In 1998, Julie became a life member of the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo, which raises money for scholarships and other educational pursuits. Soon thereafter, she became a volunteer working on its commercial exhibits committee. For the past four years, she has served as a captain on that committee, performing assorted supervisory duties, including acting as a liaison between the show and commercial vendors and exhibitors. She said she hopes to attain further volunteer responsibilities with the committee, at least to the extent possible in light of her employment and other responsibilities.
Julie presently serves as secretary and board member of the Greater Houston Chapter of the Louisiana State University Alumni Association, the primary goals of which are assisting in recruiting high school students to attend LSU and raising funds to assist with scholarships and professorships at the university. Also, for the past five years, she volunteered to help the university as a member of the Texas Tigers Golf Tournament Committee, which sponsored an annual golf tournament for fund raising purposes.
In addition to her other volunteer activities, Julie teaches Sunday school to preschool children at Christ the Redeemer Catholic Church in Houston, where she is a parishioner. Julie, who has no motive other than personal satisfaction, says she gets back much more than she gives by volunteering. “In general, volunteering is just a small way of using the gifts given to me to help others who need the help,” she says. “That is why I do it.”

Michael W. Magee

By David V. Wilson, II

Mike Magee, a personal injury litigator and shareholder with Hays, McConn, Rice & Pickering, P.C., has volunteered with the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo since 1992. At that time, a two-year associate with the firm, he joined the rodeo’s Breeders Greeters Committee. Fourteen rodeos later, Mike still serves on the committee, which comprises the people who first interact with the commercial and junior exhibitors at the rodeo.
“We assist in directing the exhibitors, who come to the Houston Rodeo from all parts of the state and nation, where to unload their animals and show equipment,” Mike said. More important, members assist the exhibitors in the actual unloading and loading of their animals and equipment. In helping the exhibitors, Mike and his fellow committee members perform tasks as diverse as operating tractors and banding chickens. Most livestock shows do not provide this type of assistance, Mike said, adding that the ex-hibitors are typically appreciative of the help after driving numerous hours to Houston and then sitting in Houston traffic. Later, upon leaving the show, the exhibitors are ex-hausted and grateful for the help from Breeders Greeters Committee members in loading for the return home, he said.
The years of commitment to the committee have made demands upon Mike’s time. Each year, he attends three to four committee meetings and puts in approximately 40 hours of work during the rodeo. However, Mike said, there are numerous reasons to stay involved.
“The purpose of the rodeo is to raise money for youth scholarships. Without the help of volunteers, the millions of dollars raised each year would not be possible,” he said.
There are practical benefits as well: “You meet a lot of people on the committee, which has proven to be an asset on a personal and business level,” he said. Each year, Mike looks forward to seeing the determination of the young men and women in the competitions, who devote their time to raising animals, with some being awarded financial assistance in the competitions, enabling them to further pursue educational opportunities they may not otherwise have been able to afford.

Ashish Mahendru

By Tara Shockley

Ashish Mahendru and his wife, Sameera, were driving to Austin to spend New Year’s with family from India and discussing the recent tsunamis in Southeast Asia when he got the idea. Perhaps the Houston Bar Association and the Asian bar associations in Houston could band together to help tsunami victims?
“I thought, why not get the HBA and the South Asian Bar Association to do a joint effort?” says Ashish, a member of both organizations. “We are always looking for ways to intersect our interests.” Ashish started calling bar leaders from the car, including HBA President-elect Randy Sorrels, whom he knew professionally. Sorrels patched him through to HBA President Rocky Robinson, who was sold on the idea.
The HBA and the South Asian Bar Association were joined by the Asian American Bar Association in the effort. The presidents of each association – Robinson from the HBA, Jay Chadha from the South Asian Bar, and Lola Lin from the Asian American Bar – notified their members about the fund and encouraged contributions. The Houston Bar Foundation, under Chair Lynn Kamin, agreed to partner on the project, with contributions going through the Foundation.
Members responded overwhelmingly to the joint effort. In March, Ashish and representatives from the co-sponsoring organizations presented a check for $69,000 on behalf of the Tsunami Relief Fund to the Red Cross’s International Relief Fund.
“I couldn’t believe it. I thought that we, as attorneys, really pulled through,” says Ashish. “It was a great effort on the part of Rocky Robinson, Randy Sorrels, Jay Chadha, Lynn Kamin and Lola Lin to bring together three distinct and separate organizations, united with a goal of providing assistance, even though we are thousands of miles removed from the physical impact of the tsunami.”
Ashish, who was born in India, first came to the United States in 1971 as an infant. He landed in Houston through a “circuitous route” that included living for a while in Saudi Arabia, until his older brother had to return to the United States to continue his education. “Ex-pats were not allowed to attend school in Saudi Arabia after the 9th grade,” he says. “St. Stephen’s in Austin was one of the schools that recruited in Saudi, so when my brother was accepted there, we moved to Austin.”
Ashish was a Plan II graduate of the University of Texas and then graduated from UT Law School. After getting married in 2000 and living in Boston for a brief time, Ashish and his wife moved to Houston. Sameera is an attorney with the City of Houston Legal Department, while Ashish’s practice focuses on civil litigation, including some intellectual property and personal injury work. They recently celebrated the birth of a son.
Ashish has been a LegalLine volunteer for the HBA and handles pro bono cases through his own practice. He says he was amazed at the response to his idea. “I would like to personally thank everyone that participated,” says Ashish. “It shows a lot of character in the members of our legal community.”

Njeri Mathis

By Maxine Goodman

Njeri Mathis, an assistant professor of law at South Texas College of Law, spends much of her free time volunteering to help Houston’s children and elderly. She is a member of the Children’s Enrichment Committee of the Houston Area Women’s Center. This committee, formerly known as Youth Victim Witness, helps young crime victims adjust to the courtroom environment. The Houston Area Women’s Center, with the support of the committee, provides counseling services and courtroom advocacy to the children. The committee also sponsors three activities for the children each year: a Back to School Fun Fest, where the kids receive new book bags and school supplies; a Halloween Festival; and a Holiday Happiness Party, where the children meet Santa, play games, and win prizes.
Njeri also participates in The Links, Inc., a national service organization for African-American women. As committee chair for the National Trends Committee this past year, Njeri was responsible for coordinating the annual Cuney Homes Project. Cuney Homes is a housing project with mostly elderly residents. Njeri’s chapter of the Links has a yearly rummage sale and fair at the Cuney Homes Community Center. When Njeri chaired the event, she added a healthcare component to the fair. The money raised at the rummage sale and fair (which was then matched by Links) went to provide Thanksgiving baskets for the elderly residents of the project.
Last summer, Njeri participated in leading a bible study for teenagers at DePelchin Children’s Center. DePelchin has an emergency shelter for children who have been removed from their home because of abuse or neglect. Njeri worked with these children once a week. She hopes to continue working at DePelchin this summer. Njeri also volunteers for Living Proof Ministries, sending out spiritual resources to ministries and individuals in need.
When she’s not volunteering, Njeri teaches full time at South Texas College of Law. In teaching, she said, she draws from her experiences practicing law at Baker Botts and prosecuting criminal cases as an assistant district attorney in the Harris County District Attor-ney’s Office. At the district attorney’s office, Njeri also spent time in the family criminal law division, where she prosecuted family criminal law cases. She also prosecuted juvenile cases and general felonies. Njeri received her undergraduate degree from Spelman College and her law degree from Harvard Law School, where she served as the technical editor of the Harvard Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Law Review. When asked why she spends so much time volunteering, Njeri said, “People have a need to help others, whether they recognize it or not. A quote that I have cherished all my life is Luke 12:48 – ‘to whom much is given, much is required.’ As lawyers we have been given so much indeed.”

Judy Ritts

By Tara Shockley

Law was not Judy Ritts’s first career. She earned her undergraduate degree in social work from the University of Iowa, and then served as the educational coordinator at a residential treatment center for emotionally disturbed adolescents. While at the Center, Judy learned “that a can of hairspray and a lighter can become a blowtorch, and that disturbed kids can sometimes become responsible adults.”
After earning her master’s degree in guidance and counseling, she directed Upward Bound, a federally funded program that helps low-income teens finish high school and get into college. Through this program, Judy says she learned how courageous people can be when they enter an unfamiliar environment and how much pride they feel when they succeed.
Service to the underprivileged was the backdrop for Judy’s decision to enter law. She graduated in 1988 from the University of Houston Law Center, and has worked for the disenfranchised and underrepresented her entire professional life. She has been one of the most active volunteers for the Houston Volunteer Lawyers Program (HVLP) and was recognized three times for outstanding service to HVLP by the Houston Bar Foundation. She also recently earned a Pro Bono Award from the American Bar Association Family Law Section.
Over the last two years, Judy has provided over 258 hours of pro bono legal service through HVLP. She averages 14 pro bono cases each year, many of which include difficult, time-consuming family law issues. “I think, if I don’t take these cases, who else will,” she says.
In addition to direct provision of legal services, Judy helped design HVLP’s Family Law Intern Program, or “FLIP,” in which experienced attorneys take law school interns who, under the attorneys’ guidance, work on pro bono cases. Not only does this program help to place pro bono cases, but it also instills in young attorneys a sense of obligation to do pro bono work early in their careers.
Judy also mentors less experienced volunteers who are handling pro bono cases, and she serves as an annual presenter at the HVLP Family Law Seminar, where she speaks on paternity and related issues.
Pro bono work is an integral part of Judy’s law practice, even though as a solo practitioner, she often lacks the resources available to attorneys with firm support. Her firm has expanded to three attorneys, all of whom maintain their own docket of pro bono cases. At one point last spring, Judy says her office was handling 21 HVLP pro bono cases at one time.
“I have found that handling family law pro bono cases is simply a matter of incorporating them into my existing caseload. Pro bono cases receive the same care and attention as paying clients,” says Judy. “I encourage other lawyers here to do the same.”

Benjamin Sanchez

By Michelle Cash

Benjamin Sanchez, an attorney with Leyh & Payne, LLP, walks the walk when it comes to volunteering. His view is that “we as attorneys are obligated professionally, morally, and socially” to volunteer.
Benjamin traces his passion for volunteering to his parents. “My mother taught me how to care about people and that you should try to give back to your community.” The Houston Bar Association has provided Benjamin with a variety of volunteer opportunities, including LegalLine, Lawyers in Public Schools (“LIPS”), Speaker’s Bureau, the Mentor Program, and others.
Benjamin believes that lawyers who do not volunteer their time may not be aware of the volunteer opportunities that exist, or may become bored with the volunteer work that they do. Benjamin said he does what he can to educate lawyers about volunteer opportunities. To alleviate the possibility of boredom, he spends time on a variety of volunteer activities. For example, he said, he participates in every session of LegalLine, which is “only twice a month, for not that long.” Benjamin also accepts pro bono appointments, is a frequent speaker for groups of school-age children and law students, serves as a mentor to two new lawyers and four law students, and volunteers as a substitute teacher for the LIPS program.
Although Benjamin’s volunteer efforts are extensive and varied, they are all the more remarkable given the state of his health. Last April, Benjamin was diagnosed with leukemia, which requires that he receive seven days of chemotherapy treatment each month. Although these medical treatments diminish his stamina and energy, he has not cut back on his volunteering commitments. To the contrary, Benjamin has agreed to chair next year’s LIPS program. Benjamin said he attributes his attitude to his father, who “raised me not to waste time being mad or sad.”
Benjamin has a general litigation practice, including commercial, construction, and probate matters, at Leyh & Payne. He said he appreciates his firm’s support of his volunteer efforts: “I feel lucky that I have a firm that recognizes how important it is to volunteer.” Indeed, Benjamin’s extensive volunteer efforts have been recognized, as he has become part of the Pro Bono College of the State Bar of Texas, an organization whose members qualify by going above and beyond the call of their professional duty in donating free or low cost legal services.
Benjamin Sanchez lives by his own words: “The least we can do is give of our time, labor, and services” to the community.

Marty Thompson

By Michael J. Mazzone

Marty Thompson is an associate in the environmental practice group in the Houston office of Haynes and Boone, LLP, where she handles a full load of cases. In addition to handling depositions, hearings, and medi-ations in Brazoria, Harris, Jefferson, and Orange counties, she has published articles on discovery, tort reform and other recent legislation. She also acted and danced in HBA’s Night Court in 2003 (she was the big yellow bird), and will help raise money and reprise (she hopes as a blue bird this time) her acting and dancing again in this year’s Night Court. And this is only what she does in connection with her law practice.
In her spare time, Marty serves on the board of the Houston Downtown Alliance and is the chair of the organization’s Emerging Leaders’ Community Outreach Committee. The Alliance promotes living, working and playing in downtown Houston. Marty’s committee does charitable work in the downtown area, including working at Loaves and Fishes Soup Kitchen, raising money for AIDS Foundation Houston in the annual AIDS Walk Houston, and volunteering at HEB’s Children’s Festival.
Marty also is also involved with her alma mater, the University of St. Thomas. She is one of the youngest members of the Alumni Board of UST, where she graduated magna cum laude in 1999. She is also president of the UST International Studies Alumni Association, which, among other things, mentors current international studies students. Also, she recently founded the University of St. Thomas Attorney Alumni Association.
But what really makes Marty go is volleyball. As an undergraduate at UST, she started the UST women’s volleyball team in 1996. She now coaches the Fighting Celts. Marty’s players are all UST undergrads, from freshman to seniors. Two nights each week, the team practices for two hours. From September through April, the team plays in the United States Association of Volleyball League. They play in an intercollegiate league from January through April, where they compete against other Houston-area schools such as Rice University and the University of Houston.
Marty finds her work with the UST players tremendously rewarding. “During my years at St. Thomas, I learned that in order to be a whole person, your mind, body, and soul must be cultivated. I give back to St. Thomas because they have taught me so much and I want to help impart a little of that wisdom to the next generation of Fightin’ Celts.”

George W. Webb III

By Patrice Pujol

An associate attorney with Forman Perry Watkins Krutz & Tardy, George W. Webb III is an avid fan of his alma mater, Rice University. Before attending Tulane Law School, George earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical engineering at Rice. His continued enthusiasm for Rice and its students is evidenced by his nearly ten-year involvement as a community associate at one of Rice’s residential colleges. Community associates are adults from outside the campus who serve as advisors and friends to Rice students, giving them an additional perspective on college life and life in Houston. George and his wife Susannah – a Michigan graduate who has wholeheartedly adopted Rice – eat dinner at the college every few weeks, and they take groups of Rice students out for local outings such as baseball and hockey games. George has even played intramurals when a student team needed an extra player.
“The students really appreciate having an adult to talk to other than their parents or professors,” George says. “Our role as associates provides that outlet to the students, some of whom are far from home.” No longer known only to locals as one of the best colleges in the country, Rice University attracts a large number of foreign and out-of-state students each year. That international and interstate flavor allows the community associates to do what they do best: helping new students adjust to and enjoy life at Rice and in Houston.
“Serving as a community associate is only one of the many things I do for Rice,” says George, who has been a tireless champion of Rice alumni programs over the past decade. “But it many ways it is the most fun. It is very rewarding
to help new students enjoy their college ex-perience and appreciate all that Rice and Houston have to offer.”
The Webb’s contributions to Rice are well-known on campus. In April 2005, George and Susannah were named the outstanding community associates at their college, and earlier this year, George received the first-ever Builder’s Award for outstanding service to Rice University by a young alumnus.
The Webbs also devote their time to Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church, across Main Street from the Rice campus. In 2004, George and Susannah created the Grand Slam Against Hunger, a men’s softball tournament benefiting the Way Station, a soup kitchen for homeless Houstonians. Five area churches put together teams and took part in the day-long event, which raised more than $2,000.
 The 2005 Grand Slam Against Hunger will take place September 17 at Memorial Park. “This year we can accept up to eight teams, and we would like to see a few law firms and other organizations join the fun,” states George. “And as with any charitable cause, we welcome sponsors as well.” For those who are interested in participating, registration forms are available under “Fellowship” at www.palmerchurch.org.”

Dori Wind

By Maxine Goodman

An Dori Wind has worked with crime victims’ assistance at the Harris County Attorney’s Office for the past 20 years. When she is not at work, Dori spends time volunteering on behalf of crime victims, including child abuse victims.
To commemorate the 25th Anniver-sary of National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, and because April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, Dori recently suggested bringing these two groups together as part of the Gulfton Festival, an event designed to increase community awareness about critical social issues. Approximately 50 organizations gathered on April 16, 2005 at the Gulfton Festival. The organizations, which are dedicated to issues involving law enforcement, crime victims’ assistance, domestic violence, gun safety, child abuse prevention and healthcare, came together in southwest Houston to supply information to children and their parents about safety in their homes and neighborhoods.
As part of this ongoing effort, the office of County Attorney Mike Stafford distributes parenting books (donated by the Henriksen Foundation and provided in conjunction with the Harris County Hospital District Foundation) in English and Spanish from the American Academy of Pediatrics. Dori has spent countless hours ensuring these books reach parents. On April 10, 2005, she distributed several boxes of the parenting books at the “Safe At Home With The Astros” game dedicated to child abuse prevention.
Dori also works to increase childhood immunizations. This summer she will participate for the third time in a project which provides children who receive immunizations at the Harris County Hospital District with a stuffed animal reward. She is also an active member of her synagogue, Congregation Brith Shalom. For many years, Dori chaired the Shareut (social justice) committee, which, under Dori, aided the community at large by collecting used eyeglasses for the Lion’s Club, collecting food for city food pantries, gathering toiletries and clothes for homeless shelters, Children’s Protective Services and the County Guardianship program, and collecting stuffed animals and books for the Harris County Hospital District.
Dori has arranged for teenagers to volunteer in the BEAR (BEAResource) room for Children’s Protective Services. BEAR supplies necessities to abused children in Harris County. Dori made colorful, unique centerpieces containing baby food, stuffed animals, books and school supplies to decorate the tables at the teens’ Bar/Bat Mitzvah parties. The teenagers donated the centerpieces to CPS and other organizations. Some of the teenagers who participated in this project continue to work with these charities.
When asked about her work, Dori quotes Pirkei Avot, Ethics of our Fathers: “It is not your obligation to complete the task of perfecting the world, but neither are you free to desist from doing all you can.” Dori’s husband (also a lawyer) and two grown children help in many of these efforts. Her daughter, who will start law school this fall, is riding her bicycle from Austin, Texas to Anchorage, Alaska this summer with Texas 4000 for Cancer to raise funds for the American Cancer Society.