Thoughts from KC Ashmore on International Women's Day
Happy International Women’s Day! I was raised by a Mother that was coming up in a time at the end of the Vietnam War and the social revolution of the 1960’s. Mom was, like many women in her generation, groundbreaker in her ambition to chase education and professional achievement. I recall that Mom loved the satirical movie 9 to 5 which portrayed (probably not as accurately as it could have) what challenges women faced in business and industry in the late 1970s and early 1980s. I was blessed with my Mom’s example, as well as many other examples, of female high flyers (and I know their collective leadership helped me be a better father when my own daughters were born later in life).
I also was blessed to have as a guide, to get me off the path I was on, and away from the streets of Houston, Texas Chief
Petty Officer Cozetta “Cozy” Calloway. She instantly befriended me (and my family) and helped change my life forever when I was accepted into the United States Coast Guard. Chief Calloway provided me a path to success that I had never even dreamed was possible and showed me a door to success that sent me on a different, and profoundly better path. I give my deepest thanks to my first “at bat,” that Chief Calloway provided not only myself and also for the thousands of young men and women whose lives she’s changed; Semper Paratus.
I want to also thank and acknowledge the outstanding examples of leadership, mentoring, patience and hard work I learned firsthand as a trial court Clerk in Harris County, Texas and, later at the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. My “first” boss in the practice of law was the Honorable Elizabeth Ray in Houston, Texas. I remember the day that (unbelievably), I was called by her staff and told that I had earned that opportunity. I had, in my mind, not done well at that interview opportunity; regardless of my thoughts, I got that call (here’s a lesson in silencing the self-doubter we all carry). Judge Ray was many things to a young impressionable attorney to be-above all, a teacher, leader, a pioneer in a contentious political time (perhaps by modern standards those days seem calm), and really gave instruction on the complex civil briefs that were filed in her court and, helped me understand those complex arguments in a way that made sense (she was a trial lawyer and could explain completely complicated matters to a jury, or her staff, in a very straightforward manner). In Judge Ray’s court I saw firsthand excellent (and occasionally not so inspiring), courtroom briefing and advocacy. Judge Ray was sure to show me the highs and lows of the profession that I was aspiring to be a part of; multi-million dollar pre-tort reform personal injury claims to an attorney disbarment trial, even a reprimand to an elder (male) attorney “attempting” to speak down to the Judge (lessons not lost on me, and things I reflect on even now). I am, to this day, ever so appreciative and grateful for this opportunity-thanks Judge Ray.
I was further blessed with yet another opportunity, to work with the Honorable Barbara Hervey at the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. I was lucky to have that door that opened due to a connection with another woman, law school classmate and, at that time, Briefing Clerk to the Honorable Mike Keasler-Debi Riherd. I really felt I’d whiffed the opportunity to get that job, and went and wallowed, like probably many Texas Supreme Court/Court of Criminal Appeals applicants (in case you missed it, Texas has 2 Supreme Courts), in my chili & sorrows at the fortuitously nearby Texas Chili Parlor (another lesson in silencing self doubt). I later learned, in a call that changed the course of my legal career, that I had earned that spot on the Court of Criminal Appeals. Judge Hervey’s call is one I remember to this day.
I remember like yesterday, standing in Judge Ray’s chambers (probably mid-organization of pocket parts in the Vernon and Southwestern Reporters for those who recall what that task entailed), when the call came in from Judge Hervey’s chambers, and I was so happy, even overjoyed, to have been accepted for that post. I recall the application process, for any court clerk posting, at that time, required strict adherence to the mailing and copy requirements for each Court. I remember I mailed a copy of a cover letter, a transcript and a writing sample, many, many times (certified mail return receipt requested, or CMRRR as we used to say in the jargon of this business). I learned an invaluable lesson (again) in that repetition equates to greatness and turns into accomplishment.
Judge Hervey has remained and is a dear friend, and her colleague (the aforementioned) Judge Mike Keasler always joked, in his dry wit, that “there’s no Justice on the Court of Criminal Appeals, that why (they’re) ‘just’ Judges.” I learned a lot about justice on the Court from Judge Hervey-saw the most inspiring advocates in Texas’ courts (Mike DeGuerin’s plea against a life sentence for a
Juvenile offender remains one of the many highlights of that time), and had the opportunity to meet and work alongside many brilliant people. Judge Hervey helped me, in so many ways-from beginning to understand what it truly means to search for “Gideon” (for justice), pouring over briefs, records, transcripts and lower court opinions to prepare our work product for the Judge’s review, and sometimes, after many late night edits collaborating on a final work product, presentation of those memoranda to other Judges on the Court for consideration. I was able to see and learn about the intricacies of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (the Texas prison system as it was then called), travel to the Polunski Unit (which houses Texas’ Death Row unit) and the Chamber at the “Walls” (the execution chamber at the Huntsville Unit). I learned in an indelible way the consequences of the ultimate, irrevocable punishment and much about the worst of the worst within our criminal justice system. I cannot thank Judge Hervey enough for making a difference in my life, and career at a time when I would never be able to return that kindness. I had, literally, nothing to offer in exchange for these opportunities, to be mentored, continuing my education in the practice of law, deep dives into the complex (and at that time) new movement of “actual innocence,” seeing brilliant (and occasionally not so glowing) appellate court advocacy. Judge Hervey, above all, reinforced the fact that hard work, and a continuing passion for self improvement, would be the difference maker in my career (no matter what path I chose). I’ve also been blessed with a lifelong friend, celebrated milestones with the Judge (and the Court), and that perhaps is the most endearing and enduring legacy of all to come from that Clerkship.
I have, over the years, been given the good fortune to work with hundreds of brilliant professional women in this business-both in leadership and support roles. I have, and continue to aspire to the lessons reinforced (at first, by my Mother) and later, other female role models, like Chief Calloway, Judge Ray, Judge Hervey, to continue aspire to be a person “on the rise.” I also learned this amazing lesson from all of them, that there’s no way to “pay them back” for those opportunities and kindnesses, and instead, being a person who aspires to be ascending, find a way to pay them forward. I wholeheartedly accept that challenge and continue to work towards that, to earn those gifts given to me by mentors, by making these opportunities available to those I aspire to teach, lead, and inspire. Be Great!