by Chief Justice Kem Thompson Frost, Fourteenth Court of Appeals
It took more than a century for a woman to ascend to the Chief Justice position of Texas’s Eighth Court of Appeals in El Paso. In 2011, Ann Crawford McClure became the first to hold the title. A longtime member of the Texas judiciary, McClure draws on two decades of judicial experience to lead the three-member court that serves the state’s seventeen westernmost counties.
Born in Cincinnati, Ohio, McClure moved with her family to the Lone Star State when she was just a toddler. The near-native Texan graduated from San Antonio’s Winston Churchill High School, where she developed an early interest in debate and extemporaneous speaking. Pairing her gift for speech with a flair for written expression, McClure left high school already cultivating key assets for a life in the law.
She attended Texas Christian University, where she honed her public speaking skills by taking advantage of unique opportunities to work in radio, television, and film. After earning a bachelor of fine arts degree in communications, the magna cum laude graduate moved to Houston, hoping to land a job in radio or television. Her plans changed as she learned more about the entry level positions, should she be fortunate enough to find one in the Bayou City’s tight market. As a tenderfoot, McClure would be relegated to the graveyard shift. Eager to get to work at a daytime job, she opted instead to take a position as a legal assistant with a big Houston law firm. McClure was thrilled when the partner to whom she was assigned let her take a crack at drafting documents. Delighted with her work product and seeing the promise in the 21-year old, the partner encouraged McClure to go to law school. She did.
At The University of Houston Law Center, McClure relished the academic experience. After receiving her Juris Doctorate and law license in 1979, she set out to make her mark in family law litigation. At the time, it was easy to spot women attorneys at the courthouse because nearly all of them wore bow ties, cummerbunds, and skirted versions of men’s suits. There were not many in the family courts and even fewer women role models in family law litigation. Reflecting on those early years, McClure says she feels fortunate that as a young attorney she found strong mentors in Burta Rayborn of Houston and Reba Rasor of Dallas.
McClure’s keen interest in family law spurred her to join a State Bar of Texas committee whose central mission was to write the Texas Family Law Practice Manual. Also on the committee was El Paso attorney David R. McClure, with whom she sparked a connection. Separated by 750 miles but brought together by regular committee meetings, the two fell in love. They were engaged to be married before the practice manual project was complete. To ensure that the entire committee would be in town for the wedding, the chair called the meeting for El Paso. For those who might think that finding love on a bar committee is a remote possibility, the Chief Justice reports that the McClures’ nuptials were the first but not the only marriage to come out of that bar committee. (Bar associations might want to take note of this report as a potential tool for the recruitment of single lawyers who might need an extra measure of motivation to sign up for committee work.)
Relocating to El Paso with her new husband in 1983, attorney Ann McClure spent the first few years in her new city as a solo practitioner. When it became apparent to the newlyweds that the professional demands of a two-litigator household would become even more challenging with children in the mix, McClure formulated a plan that would allow her to continue to practice law and yet be present in her home for their children. Motherhood soon followed and with it, major changes.
McClure transformed her litigation practice into an appellate practice to gain more flexibility in her schedule. The beauty of appellate work, she explains, is that “reading briefs and writing arguments can be done anytime, day or night.” The shift to appellate work enabled the new mom to spend her days with the couple’s young children. Working from home, says McClure, she developed a thriving statewide appellate practice—the more brief writing she did, the more referrals she got. Oral arguments rarely presented a problem because she could fly in and out of any city in Texas in a single day. The appellate practice was an ideal fit for her skill set, and the appellate pace was an ideal fit for this season of her life.
For most professional women, achieving balance is an aspiration. For Ann McClure, it is an accomplishment. As a young professional, wife, and mother in the 1980’s, she managed to make it all work amid the rigor and stress of modern law practice. Operating out of her house, McClure was both “at home” and “at work.” Though she had dual missions, she was singularly focused on one mission at a time—fully present for her children during their waking hours and fully engaged in appellate work at various other times. Taking this purposeful approach, McClure was able to find the sweet spot where she could meet the needs of both family and clients.
When the McClures’ younger child reached school age, husband and wife merged their respective law practices, forming the law partnership of McClure & McClure. Partners in law and life, the McClures worked side by side building both a successful law practice and a happy home. Having experienced firsthand the challenges and rewards of balancing marriage, family, and career, Ann McClure knows well the value of honoring priorities and living with purpose. She reports that their children are now “wonderful adults”—daughter Kinsey is the general manager of the original Reata in Alpine, Texas and son Scott is a third-year resident in emergency medicine. Married for 31 years, Ann McClure—wife, mother, and professional—is a living testament to the “both/and” model.
When Ann McClure won election to the Eighth Court of Appeals in 1994, she and her judicial colleagues held the distinction of being “the youngest appellate court in the country.” Since taking the bench twenty years ago, she has maintained the same high level of energy and production she demonstrated in private practice. During her long tenure on the El Paso-based court, she has authored more than 2000 opinions.
In speaking of the role of an intermediate court judge, Chief Justice McClure stresses the function of error correction and following the directives of the state’s two high courts. She also emphasizes the importance of honoring the intent of the legislature, noting that the court is not in the role of a policy maker, though she believes that courts should suggest changes in rules when adjustments would enhance practice or procedure. The thing she likes most about being an appellate judge is the ability to effectuate positive change through judicial writings. For her, it is especially gratifying to see modifications come about as a result of matters she addressed in her opinions.
When it comes to court administration and docket management, Chief Justice McClure has a knack for seeing a need and finding a solution. Her keen insight and ideas have helped Texas courts of appeals plan for strategic disaster recovery. She has sought to strengthen her court’s presence throughout its jurisdiction by holding oral arguments at various locales from El Paso to Ozona. Hers was the first court to utilize video conferencing. Tech savvy, Chief Justice McClure has embraced technological advancements with gusto. Under her leadership, the El Paso court is migrating all of its backup files to the cloud. The court is near-paperless and the judges are equipped with iPads. The Chief reports that she reads briefs on her device and makes liberal use of all its functions.
Chief Justice McClure is quick to note that she has benefitted from the sage advice of many judicial mentors. One was the late Max Osborn, who had just retired as the Chief Justice when McClure first took the appellate bench. A self-described “bar junkie,” McClure credits Osborn with instilling in her a fervent desire to participate in bar projects and events. Osborn, McClure explains, felt it was important for both lawyers and judges to be active in bar associations because the work of these groups is only relevant if their members are geographically represented. Osborn encouraged McClure to stay involved in bar activities because judicial participation is essential to maintaining strong ties between the bench and bar. McClure took the advice to heart. Over the course of her legal career, she has served in many leadership roles in various bar associations at state, local, and regional levels, and was president of two.
A prolific author of educational materials in family and appellate law, McClure has turned out more than a hundred legal articles. Though she writes on a variety of subjects, she especially enjoys writing on professionalism and legal ethics and often speaks to audiences on matters addressed in her articles. Creative and entertaining in her presentations, she is constantly seeking and finding new and innovative ways to make these subjects interesting to her audiences.
Chief Justice McClure has received heaps of honors and awards for her work on the bench and in the community. With all of her achievements, responsibilities, and commitments, one might wonder if the Chief Justice has any time for leisure or recreation, but she is quick to give assurance that down time is part of the equation. She knows the importance of carving out spells to rest and recharge. A freshwater fishing enthusiast, McClure gets animated when talking about her favorite fishing spot at the headwaters of the Rio Grande in Creede, Colorado. She is an avid recreational reader, with a strong preference for fiction. The Chief Justice also enjoys just being at home. Though their children are grown and out of the nest, the McClures are hardly alone. Gracie, a black Labrador retriever and Molly, a Brittany spaniel are their longtime companions. Four “grand-dogs” bring their current canine count to six.
The Chief Justice is a proud Texan but she has strong family ties to Kentucky. (Both of her parents are natives of The Bluegrass State.) McClure and her husband and both of their children are duly commissioned Kentucky Colonels, an honor bestowed by the Governor of Kentucky after nomination by the state legislature. The tradition was established by the commonwealth’s first governor, Isaac Shelby, who dubbed his trusted militia members “Kentucky Colonels.” Many associate the honorary title with leadership and dedication to the welfare of others. Being commissioned as a Kentucky Colonel is part of the Chief Justice’s family tradition now in the fourth generation. True to her family’s Kentucky roots, the McClures have plans to attend the 2015 Kentucky Derby.
The Chief Justice’s true passion is writing poetry. Her award-winning poem “Heartbeat,” written to her husband before the two were married, was merit-selected for publication in an anthology of poems along with the works of other artists. For McClure, the highpoint of the experience was not the literary accolades but the elegant act of presenting the published work, giftwrapped, to her beloved spouse.
Whether she is writing poetry, modeling new work paradigms, grappling with difficult legal issues, educating the bench and bar, or overseeing the operations of the Eighth Court of Appeals, Ann McClure lives life with purpose.