More than 500 members of Austin’s legal community packed the Four Seasons Hotel on Saturday, Jan. 28, 2017, for the Austin Bar Foundation’s 14th annual Gala. The mission of the Austin Bar Foundation is to support and expand the provision of legal-related charitable and educational programs and services in Central Texas by organizing and marshaling the resources and abilities of the Austin Bar Association and its members.
(L-R) Dirk Jordan, Martha Smiley, Austin Bar President Leslie Dippel, Jo Ann Merica, Tony Nelson and David Hilgers.
The Great Gatsby-themed evening transported guests to the Roaring 20’s, with many at the black-tie event decked out in period costume. In addition to enjoying cocktails, dinner, and dancing, attendees generously raised funds by purchasing “Grab for Good” bags, buying raffle tickets for a variety of exclusive gift baskets, and bidding on luxurious live auction items.
The Gala benefitted the Austin Bar Foundation’s many charitable and partner programs, including Austin Adoption Day, the Justice Mack Kidd Fund, Free Legal Advice Clinics for Veterans, the Self-Represented Litigant Project, the Diversity Fellowship Program and scholarships for LGBT law students in Texas. Visit austinbar.org/foundation/programs for more information on these and other programs supported by the Austin Bar Foundation
During the evening, five outstanding attorneys were honored for their immense contributions to Austin’s legal community, and the community at large. The awards and award recipients were:
The Distinguished Lawyer Award was presented to Martha Smiley and David Hilgers. This award recognizes the dedication and hard work of two attorneys who have practiced law for 30 years or more and have significantly contributed to the legal profession and the greater community.
As an attorney, founding team member and executive of Grande Communications, civic volunteer, and political activist, Martha Smiley has been deeply engaged in the Austin community for more than 40 years. She began her career in the State Attorney General’s Office and then served as Regional Counsel to the Environmental Protection Agency. She later joined Steve Bickerstaff and Bob Heath, building the firm Bickerstaff, Heath and Smiley. Smiley’s legal career drew her to entrepreneurial enterprises for more than a decade before returning to private practice. She now serves as Counsel to the firm Enoch Kever, PLLC. Smiley was appointed to The University of Texas Board of Regents, and the Texas National Research Laboratory Commission by Governor Ann Richards. She has been an avid Longhorn supporter and fan having served on the Intercollegiate Athletics Council for Women, as Chair of the University of Texas Longhorn Foundation, on the Advisory Board of the Lozano Long Institute for Latin American Studies, and as a Founder of the Center for Women in the Law. She has been honored with numerous awards and recognitions for her dedication to community leadership and service.
Currently a partner at Husch Blackwell, David Hilgers has been practicing law in Austin for over 40 years. An expert in health care law, he has been a longtime leader in the American Bar Association’s Health Law Section, including serving as section chair. Committed to legal aid since the 1980s, he has served on and chaired the boards of both the Travis County Legal Aid Society and the Texas RioGrande Legal Aid. He was recently appointed to the ABA Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defendants. Hilgers has long been involved in the community sup-porting organizations such as Austin Community Nursery Schools, and Planned Parenthood Federation of America Western Regional Council. He served on Planned Parenthood of Texas Capital Region’s Board of Directors and was president in 2004. He was on the national board for Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic as well as the local board, where he served as chair from 1985 to 1987. Currently, he is on the board of Patient Privacy Rights.
The David H. Walter Community Excellence Award was given to Jo Ann Merica. This award is presented to an attorney or judge who has recently made a significant impact in the community and, at the same time, raised the profile of the legal profession
Jo Ann Merica
A partner in McGinnis Lochridge, Jo Ann Merica’s career reflects her steadfast commitment to professional leadership and com-munity service. She has served as President of the Austin Young Lawyers Association, the Texas Young Lawyers Association, and the Austin Bar Association where she implemented a wide range of public service projects designed to assist victims of domestic violence, educate school children about the law, and provide legal services to the disadvantaged and poor. Merica has served as Trust-ee of the Texas Bar Foundation. She recently served as Chair of Texas Lawyers for Texas Veterans, established by the State Bar of Texas to provide pro bono advice clinics to serve Texas veterans. In addition, she has served as co-chair of the Austin Bar Association’s Free Legal Advice Clinic for Veterans, where she often volunteers. She has been an adjunct professor at the University of Texas School of Law since 1993 and regularly takes a variety of pro bono cases.
The Larry F. York Mentoring Award, given to Dirk Jordan, goes to a lawyer or judge who has demonstrated exceptional skill and generosity in mentoring younger members of the bar, practiced law for at least ten years, and served as a role model and counselor to other lawyers.
Dirk Jordan, a solo practitioner, began his career as a clerk for the Hon. Joseph Hart at the Travis County District Court, and as an intern for the Hon. Nathan Hecht at the Texas Supreme Court. He then joined the Austin office of Strasburger and Price where he became partner before forming the Jordan Law Firm. His role as mentor has developed through his longtime involvement in the Inns of Court and as a speaker and educator. He was a member of the Robert Calvert Inns of Court, before helping form the Lloyd Lochridge Inns of Court in 2009, where he served as president. He currently serves on the executive committee as Counselor. In 2014, he became the first Austin member to serve on the Board of Trustees of the American Inns of Court Foundation. He is an adjunct faculty member at the University of Texas School of Law and is a frequent speaker and presenter at State Bar CLE, various law schools in Texas, Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, and at conferences worldwide.
The Joseph C. Parker Jr. Diversity Award was given to Tony Nelson. This award was named in honor of Joseph C. Parker Jr., the first African-American president of the Austin Bar Association. Blazing the trail for minority lawyers who followed in his footsteps, Parker has spent his life and work championing the equal, ethical, and fair treatment of all people, and raising awareness of the need to diversify our community. This award honors a firm or an individual who has led the way in bringing diversity to Austin’s legal community and who exemplifies all that Parker stands for.
Tony Nelson has spent his twenty–nine year legal career focused on the representation of those who serve the citizens of the State of Texas—representing State, County and Local Governmental Entities, elected officials, and government employees in litigation matters in federal and state courts across the state. His legal career began as an Assistant Attorney General in the Law Enforcement Division, where he served for five years. Currently, he serves as the Federal Court Litigation Team Leader for the Travis County Attorney’s Office. Nelson’s community involvement includes the Austin Black Lawyers Association, as a member and former officer, and serving as co-chair of the Austin Bar Association’s Diversity Committee since 2008. His service on the Diversity Committee led to the development of the Austin Bar’s Diversity Fellowship Program, which provides rising second year minority law students a unique clerkship experience, splitting their summer between working for Travis County District and County Court at Law Judges, and a participating private sector law firm.