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Areas of practice: I joined the Harris County Public Defender’s Office in March 2011. Prior to joining the office, I was in private practice where I represented clients accused of misdemeanors and felonies in state and federal courts. While in private practice, I also orchestrated mock trials and shadow juries for major white collar crime litigation.
Latest pursuit: Currently I am in the Mental Health Division of the Harris County Public Defender’s Office. The Mental Health Division is designed to provide specialized defense services to mentally ill defendants, with attorneys supported by social workers who connect defendants with mental health services in addition to representing them.
Education: I received my J.D. from the University of Houston Law Center in 2000, and my B.A. from Southwestern University in 1997.
Bet you didn’t know: I was one of the first students at Southwestern University to graduate with a Bachelor of Arts in Environmental Studies (a relatively new discipline at the time). Prior to entering law school I worked at the Houston Zoo on the Attwater’s prairie chicken captive breeding program as part of the National Recovery Plan. The prairie chicken is a critically endangered subspecies of prairie grouse that was once very common on the coastal prairies of eastern Texas, including what is today the Houston metropolitan area. The Houston Zoo is the coordinator of the captive breeding programs for the Attwater’s Prairie Chicken National Recovery Plan, overseen by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Mentors/heroes: I had the honor of learning the practice of criminal law and spending the first ten years of that practice working along-side Michael Ramsey, George Tyson, and Chip Lewis. I learned more in that time than I have in any other setting, and I value my friendship with each of them.
The part of my job I do best is: Listening. It can sometimes take a back seat in a litigator’s world, but I think listening is the most powerful tool we have in our arsenal in this business.
What do you think is the biggest challenge facing attorneys today? I would like to address that specifically as to the challenges for a criminal defense attorney and talk about the concept of holistic defense. Holistic defense combines legal advocacy with a broader recognition that for most poor people arrested and charged with a crime, the criminal case is not the only issue with which they struggle. In my cases, the person’s mental health must be addressed and considered. In other kinds of cases, people are so concerned about medical care, housing, government benefits, and other services that their actual case may be way down on the list of things keeping them up at night. To be truly effective advocates for our clients, we must broaden the scope of our work to include both the collateral consequences of criminal justice involvement as well as the underlying issues, both legal and non-legal, that have played a part in driving our clients into the criminal justice system in the first place. This is a concept that I have come to embrace and the words I use to describe it are borrowed from the Center for Holistic Defense, a project of the Bronx Defenders.
When you are not practicing law, what do you like to do? My husband and I have a six year old son and twin two year olds. They keep us busy and they are our greatest joy.
Mary Grace works at the Harris County Public Defender’s Office.
You can also view Mary Grace’s TexasBar.com profile.
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