Celebrating Black History Month and Our World-Changing Alumni
During Black History Month, we are recognizing the excellence and achievements of Texas Law alumni who are impacting society today in Texas and beyond! Read on to learn more about some of our remarkable alumni who started here and are changing the world.
Arleas Upton Kea is the Deputy to the Chairman for External Affairs at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. She was previously the FDIC’s Chief Operating Officer, making her its top senior executive. Before that, she was Deputy General Counsel and was appointed by the FDIC’s Board of Directors to serve as the Ombudsman. Her many other achievements include selection as Chairman of the Coalition of Federal Ombudsmen and receipt of the prestigious Vice President’s Hammer Award for management excellence in government. She has also served on a White House Advisory Group for Reform of Senior Executives in public service.
Wallace B. Jefferson is the first African American to serve as a Justice and Chief Justice on the Texas Supreme Court. In 2002, Jefferson stood for election and became the first African American voted in to serve on the Texas high bench. He became Chief Justice in 2004. He has been honored by Texas Law twice, receiving the Outstanding Alumnus Award in 2005 and the Virgil Lott Medal in 2013. That year, he also received the Distinguished Alumnus Award from the Texas Exes. In 2016, the University of Texas awarded him its highest honor, the Presidential Citation Award. Wallace B. Jefferson Middle School in San Antonio, Texas is also named for him. Today, he is a partner at Alexander Dubose Jefferson in Austin.
Harriet Mitchell Murphy is a civil rights pioneer. She graduated from the University of Texas School of Law in 1969. In 1973, she became the first African-American woman appointed to a regular judgeship in Texas, and served on the City of Austin Municipal Court for twenty years. Before joining the municipal court, she practiced law part-time for eight years and served as the head of the government department at Huston-Tillotson in Austin for five years. Her 2018 memoir, There All the Honor Lies, tells the remarkable story of her pioneering life and career, including her time spent with W. E. B. DuBois, Martin Luther King Jr., and Thurgood Marshall. She is an inductee of the National Bar Association Hall of Fame.
Darren Walker serves as president of the Ford Foundation, where he oversees more than $12 billion in assets, $500 million in grants and 10 international offices. He has also been a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. From 2002-2010, Walker was vice president for initiatives at the Rockefeller Foundation, where he oversaw a wide range of programs in the United States and internationally. In 2009, University of Texas at Austin recognized him with its Distinguished Alumnus Award—its highest alumni honor, and he is a two-time Law Alumni Award winner. He joined the Ford Foundation in 2010 as vice president for Education, Creativity and Free Expression, one of the foundation’s three major program areas. His 2015 essay, “Toward a New Gospel of Wealth,” is a landmark document that has brought about paradigm-shifting change to the mission of philanthropic organizations in America and their global impact.
Sandra Phillips Rogers is group vice president, chief legal officer, general counsel and corporate secretary of Toyota Motor North America (TMNA). In December of 2018, she took on the additional role of chief diversity officer (CDO). Rogers is a founding member of the Center for Women in Law at The University of Texas School of Law, which is devoted to the success of the entire spectrum of women in law. In recognition of her leadership in advancing diversity and inclusion in the legal profession, she received the 2016 Legacy Award from the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law. She was the recipient of Texas Law’s 2018 Outstanding Alumna Award and serves on the board of directors for the YWCA USA, United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, and the University of Texas Law School Foundation.
Ronald Kirk was the 57th Mayor of Dallas from 1995-2002, the first African American to hold that office. Prior to that, from 1994 to 1995, he was the Secretary of State of Texas, the first African American man to hold that office. After several years in private practice, Kirk was appointed to serve as U.S. Trade Representative by Pres. Obama, a position he held from 2009 to 2013. Today, Kirk is Senior Of Counsel in Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher’s Dallas and Washington, D.C. offices, and he is Co-Chair of the firm’s International Trade Practice Group.
Adrienne Nelson is a Justice of the Oregon Supreme Court. Her appointment to the role on January 2, 2018, made her the first African American to sit on the state’s highest court or on any appellate state court in Oregon. When she won election to remain in that role in November 2018, she was the first African American woman elected to statewide office in Oregon. She began her judicial career as a judge on the Multnomah County Circuit Court from 2006 to 2018. Nelson has been a member of the American Bar Association House of Delegates and the ABA Commission on Disability Rights. The Adrienne C. Nelson High School in the North Clackamas School District was named after her and is projected to open in Fall 2021.
Alfred Bennett is a Federal Judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas. Prior to serving in the judiciary, Judge Bennett was a respected and often-honored attorney with Fulbright & Jaworski and Solar & Fernandes. He later opened his own firm, representing clients before both Federal and State courts. From 2009 to 2015, he served as the Presiding Judge for the 61st Civil District Court of Texas, and, from 2010 to 2011, he served as the Administrative Judge for the Harris County Civil District Courts. In 2015, Judge Bennett was honored by Texas Law with the Honorary Order of the Coif Award. He serves as a Trustee of the University of Texas Law School Foundation.
Cisselon Nichols Hurd currently serves as Senior Litigation Counsel for Shell Oil Company in Houston, Texas, where she handles environmental litigation. She also worked at the U.S. Department of Justice as a Trial Attorney and an Assistant United States Attorney where she prosecuted environmental crimes. Among numerous other recognitions, Cisselon has been named the 2016 recipient of the TMCP Corporate Counsel of the Year Award. The Award recognizes a corporate counsel who has “done the most to open doors for Texas minority, women, and LGBT attorneys by promoting diversity within its department.” She is a Founding Member and serves on the Executive Committee of the Center for Women in Law.
Gary Bledsoe has served as president of the NAACP’s Texas chapter since 1991. He is currently the Chair of the NAACP’s National Criminal Justice Committee. The permanent class president of the Class of ’76, Bledsoe has not only made incredible contributions to the legal profession but has also worked tirelessly to advance civil rights by educating the next generations of world-class lawyers. For these outstanding accomplishments, Texas Law awarded him the Virgil C. Lott Medal in 2019, while he was Acting Dean of the Thurgood Marshall School of Law. Today, Bledsoe maintains a thriving private practice in Austin.
Tracey A. Kennedy is a partner in the Labor and Employment Practice Group of Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP, Los Angeles and New York offices. She is also a member of her firm’s Executive Committee. Kennedy has lectured state-wide on personnel practices, employment discrimination, retaliation, sexual harassment, and wrongful termination. She has been recognized with awards for her work in the field, including “Top Women Litigators”, “Top Labor & Employment Attorney”, and “Most Powerful Employment Lawyers.” She is a Founding Member of the Center for Women in Law and serves as a Trustee of the University of Texas Law School Foundation.
Rodney Ellis is the Harris County Commissioner for Precinct One, where he serves over 1.1 million residents. Before that, he represented his Houston district, the Texas 13th, in the Texas State Senate for more than 25 years. He is a widely admired champion of criminal justice reform in the State of Texas and a well-known advocate for children’s rights. A lifelong public servant, Ellis spent three terms on the Houston City Council before his run the State Senate, and before that was Chief of Staff to the late U.S. Rep. Micky Leland. Commissioner Ellis was a 2001 recipient of the Honorary Order of the Coif Award from Texas Law, and a 2015 recipient of the Virgil C. Lott Medal.
DeMetris Sampson joined the firm of Blair, Goggan, Sampson & Meeks and became the first African American to be partner in a major Dallas law firm. She then joined Linebarger, Goggan, Blair & Sampson, LLP as a managing partner, making her the first African American female partner at a majority firm in Dallas. She also served as an advisor to Dallas Mayor Ronald Kirk. Upon her retirement in 2014, Sampson was honored for her distinguished career by Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives. Sampson was also honored by Texas Law in 2007 with the Honorary Order of the Coif Award.
Rudy Metayer is successful attorney with Chamberlain McHaney, the civil litigation law firm, and a dedicated public servant, currently serving on the Pflugerville City Council, as President of the Texas Black Caucus Foundation, and as a Board member of both the Texas Supreme Court’s Board of Disciplinary Appeals and the Capitol Area Metropolitan Planning Organization. Metayer has previously served as Special Counsel to the Health and Human Services Commission. He has been recognized numerous times as one of the most influential young professionals in not only the Greater Austin area, but the State of Texas. In 2019, Metayer was honored with the Rising Leader Award from The LBJ School of Public Policy, alongside his fellow U.T. alum Stacey Abrams, who received the Distinguished Public Service Award.
Keegan Warren-Clem is a managing attorney and founding director of Austin Medical-Legal Partnership (MLP). She is an adjunct professor dually appointed at The University of Texas School of Law and McCombs School of Business. Keegan challenges students and residents to explore connections between health, poverty, and unmet legal needs. She has published articles on public health law and policy and the use of population health norms to understand outcomes of legal interventions. She is a veteran of the Army National Guard and is also a member of the Order of St. Joan of Arc, the highest civilian award given by the Army Armor and Cavalry Associations.
Jonathan Harmon currently serves as Chairman and Litigation Partner of McGuireWoods, where he represents Fortune 500 companies in bet-the-company litigation across the country. His clients include some of the largest U.S. financial institutions as well as telecommunications giants and leading automotive, food and product manufacturers. Harmon has more than 20 years of experience communicating complex information to juries in federal and state courts. Companies often call on him to “parachute” into high-exposure cases shortly before trial, and he has won verdicts in some of the most difficult, pro-plaintiff venues in the United States.
Aurora Martinez Jones is a first generation American and first generation law school graduate. She serves as the presiding judge of the 126th District Court in Travis County. She presides over child welfare dockets, including Family Drug Treatment Court and Permanent Managing Conservatorship dockets, reviewing Travis County cases with foster children in the permanent care of Child Protective Services (CPS). Judge Martinez Jones is currently the chair-elect for the Texas Children’s Justice Act Task Force, is the past President of the Austin Black Lawyers Association and is the former Chair of the Austin Court Appointed Family Advocates (CAFA). She is active in both the local Austin Bar Association and Texas State Bar through her service on various committees. She is also a Texas Bar Foundation Fellow and a member of the Robert W. Calvert American Inn of Court.
Ashton G. Cumberbatch Jr., serves as Special Counsel at McGinnis Lochridge, as co-founder and President of Equidad ATX, and Executive Pastor with Agapé Christian Ministries. From 2014-17, he was the Executive Director of Seton Foundations. Cumberbatch also has served as Police Monitor for the City of Austin and as a Policy Advisor for Austin Mayor Steve Adler. He co-led initiatives focused on equitable and holistic development and the Mayor’s Task Force on Institutional Racism and Systemic Inequities. He has given multiple presentations raising awareness about the state of racial equity in Austin with Equidad ATX, a nonprofit with the mission of creating sustainable neighborhood revitalization in Austin. He was awarded the University of Texas Thurgood Legal Society’s Distinguished Alumni Award.
Tracy Walters McCormack is a lecturer and Director of Advocacy at The University of Texas School of Law. Professor McCormack practiced as a trial lawyer for 14 years in Austin before joining the faculty full time in 2000. She teaches courses in Evidence, Trial Advocacy, ADR advocacy and related subjects. She heads the John L. Hill Trial Advocacy Center, the Harry M. Reasoner Center for Trial Practice and the Kincaid and Horton Excellence Fund for Empirical Advocacy Research. Professor McCormack co-authored the book, “The First Trial: Where do I sit? What do I say?”
Joseph C. Parker, Jr. has practiced as a trial attorney and as a mediator and currently serves as Senior Pastor at the David Chapel Missionary Baptist Church. He was elected the first African American president of the Austin Bar Association (ABA) for 1996-97. The ABA named the “Joseph C. Parker, Jr. Diversity Award” in his honor. He is a Fellow of the Texas Bar Foundation and the Center for Public Policy Dispute Resolution at the University of Texas School of Law. He has taught Advanced Civil Litigation in Trial Advocacy at the University of Texas at Austin School of Law. Among his many honors, he received the 2013 Heman Marion Sweatt Civil Rights Legacy Award and ABA’s 2018 “Distinguished Lawyer of the Year” award.
Nelia Robbi is lecturer at Texas Law in the David J. Beck Center for Legal Research, Writing, and Appellate Advocacy and teaches legal writing and appellate advocacy. Robbi is also of counsel with McGinnis Lochridge, and as a trial attorney, has represented individuals and entities on both sides of the docket in a variety of civil matters, including business disputes, commercial landlord-tenant and construction matters, and personal injury and product liability actions. Robbi is a member of the Firm’s Diversity and Inclusion, Women’s Initiative, and Associate Recruitment committees. She is also actively involved in the community, currently serving on the Board of Directors for The SAFE Alliance, Austin’s resource for survivors of child abuse, sexual assault and exploitation, trafficking, and domestic violence. Robbi has been involved with SAFE—as a volunteer, employee, committee member, or board member—for twenty years. She has been honored with the 2020 Joseph C. Parker Diversity Award at the Austin Bar Foundation.
Shavonne Henderson teaches upper level courses on race and law and criminal and quasi-criminal Legal systems as a member of Texas Law’s faculty, and she serves as Texas Law’s Inaugural Director of Student Equity and Inclusion. She also serves as Co-chair of the Diversity and Inclusion Committee at the Law School. She began developing her expertise in the creation of equitable and inclusive environments as an undergraduate student and carried that commitment into private practice, working on firm-wide and national diversity committees. Prior to joining the faculty, Professor Henderson’s practice primarily involved mass tort and product liability litigation. She later worked in higher education administration before serving as Assistant Director for an interdisciplinary policy institute at UT Austin. There, she wrote on a range of legal and policy matters concerning historically underserved and underrepresented populations. Professor Henderson received her JD and dual bachelor’s degrees from UT Austin. She also serves in leadership positions for her region and chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, as a board member for the local American Constitution Society, and on the governing board for a non profit.
Vincent Harding currently serves as Assistant General Counsel and Public Information Officer for Aldine ISD. He is a first generation college graduate and an attorney and realtor in Austin, Texas. Harding is involved in many civic, community, and board activities. At 28, Harding became the youngest Chair of the Travis County Democratic Party and only the second African-American to serve in that role.
Meagan T. Harding is the co-founder of Rosa Rebellion, a platform for creative activism by and for women of color to disrupt unjust systems and design equitable futures. She is a creative and justice advocate with a passion for racial and gender equity. She has co-developed a program designed to encourage and cultivate authentic conversations around difficult topics such as race, politics and community. Harding has served in multiple roles as a community servant including as the Vice Chair of the City of Austin Ethics Review Commission and as a member of the Criminal and Civil Justice working group for the Mayor’s Task Force on institutional Racism. She served on the planning committee for the Austin Trailblazer Awards and is a graduate of the 2015 class of Leadership Austin, the recipient of the 2016 Rising Star award for the Black Austin Democrats, and the 2018 Outstanding New Director of the Year for the Texas Young Lawyers Association. Harding formerly practiced as a senior attorney at the Texas Civil Rights Project and as Assistant District Attorney in Travis County.
Velva Price currently serves as Travis County’s District Clerk. She was the first African-American woman to be elected as President of the Austin Bar Association and has also served as President of the Austin Black Lawyers Association and the Travis County Women Lawyers Association. In addition, she was selected as Chair of the City of Austin Minority-Owned and Women-Owned Business Enterprise and Small Business Enterprise Procurement Program Advisory Committee as well as Chair of the Travis County Civil Service Commission for Sheriff’s Office Employees. Price has volunteered for many other boards and commissions including the State Bar of Texas, Volunteer Legal Services, Interfaith Action of Central Texas [IACT], Texas Supreme Court Grievance Oversight Committee, City of Austin Ethics Review Commission, Austin Community Radio, Inc. dba KAZI 88.7 radio station and David Chapel Missionary Baptist Church Usher Board.
Eliot Cotton is a Principal and Assistant General Counsel at Riverstone Holdings, an energy and power-focused private investment firm. At Riverstone, Cotton works on buyout and growth capital investments in the exploration & production, midstream, oilfield services, power, and renewable sectors of the energy industry. Prior to joining Riverstone in January 2018, Cotton was an attorney at Vinson & Elkins L.L.P., where he specialized in capital markets, mergers and acquisitions, private equity, fund formation and led the firm’s venture capital and emerging companies practice in the New York office.
Nicole Simmons is currently serving as the Director of Professional Development at the University of Texas School of Law, providing in-depth career coaching and professional development support. Earlier this year, the Law School announced that it would be creating a pipeline program to help bring more Black students and members of other underrepresented groups into the Law School and into the legal profession more generally, and we are thrilled that Simmons has agreed to serve as the program’s director. She was previously the Director of Public Service Programs in the UT Law Career Services Office. Simmons was an innovative counselor in the public service area and has been commended for her leadership and commitment to public service. Simmons serves on the board of directors of Volunteer Lawyers of Central Texas.
JoAnn Lee recently retired from her position as Associate General Counsel at ExxonMobil Corporation, where she served as a senior member of the Law Leadership Team. During her 22 year tenure with ExxonMobil, Lee served in various management positions within the Law Department including: Assistant General Counsel, Litigation, Exxon Mobil Corporation, Chief Attorney, Commercial, Exxon Mobil Chemical Company; Chief Attorney, Labor, Employment and Special Services Group; and Coordinator of the Employment and Tort Litigation teams. Prior to her employment with ExxonMobil, Lee served as a Trial Attorney for Union Pacific Railroad Company and as a Chief Prosecutor in the Harris County District Attorney’s Office.
Lee is a member of several organizations including the Executive Leadership Council, Chief Litigation Counsel Association, and Texas Bar Foundation. She serves on the Advisory Boards of Corporate Counsel Women of Color and Texas Executive Women, and co-chaired the Institute for Energy Law’s 2015 and 2016 Energy Litigation Conferences. She has also served on State Bar of Texas committees including the Minority Corporate Counsel Steering Committee and Grievance Committees and as a Trustee of the University of Texas Law School Foundation. She has received several honors including the 2013 University of Texas at Arlington Distinguished Alumni Award, the 2014 Chambers Women in Law Award for Outstanding Contribution in Gender Diversity, one of Savoy Magazine’s Most Influential Black Lawyers in 2015, and a 2016 Texas Lawyer Women in Energy Award.