Living Archives 1996-1997
Women on the Bench, with Judge Ruby Sondock
(This was initially to be a panel including Texas First Court of Appeals Judge Michol O’Connor, but she bowed out minutes before the start.
Interview with Judge Ruby Sondock – very badly transcribed by someone who seems not to know the name of the interviewee at some points, not others.
Then saved in an old format, hence odd symbols strewn throughout.
Introduction (many parts of it inaudible, hence the *)
. . . represents * women's lives in Houston and the struggle and
changes * Houston. This year's * an extension of the program
women's * Houston, which our students *. We'll * Texas women and
the * of Houston area women's organizations. The Living Archvies series provides a means of focusing public awareness on the need to document this history as well as the Women’s archive. We're planning * March, Women's History Month,and if you're interested in working with some of that, please seek me out. After the interview tonight, there will be questions from the
audience, and after that there will be a small reception in the *.
* co-sponsors this evening, the Association of Women Attorneys and*.
Tonight Judge * Garcia. Judge * Sondock will be interviewed. Our interviewer
this evening is Judge Garcia, who presides over the 151st District
Court *. She's in her sixth year of service *. She writes and speaks *
jury selection and evidentiary *. She * in creating some of the
archives for women in law. Judge Sondock is the first woman judge *
Houston, when she was appointed to Domestic Relations Court * in
1973, and she remained the only woman judge in Houston until 1977. She
became judge in the 234th District Court in 1978, and in 1982 was
appointed to the Texas Supreme Court to fill the term of the late
Justice James G. *. Judge Sumner was the first full-time woman
member of the Texas Supreme Court. After serving her term, she
returned to Houston. She's now in private practice as a mediator. Please
join me in welcoming *.
End of Intro--
Garcia: Thank you, Dr. Gregory. I'm honored this evening to share with you
a little bit of the life of Ruby [Glass] Sondock. I'm going to try
to call her judge most of the evening, but I will slip into Ruby
occasionally because we've known each other for many years, and
fortunately she wore a ruby suit so I will probably slip into it
more often than I
Sondock: You can remember my name that way.
Garcia: That's right. Ruby Sondock is the former Justice of the Texas Supreme Court. She was the first woman to ever serve in that capacity except for three women who were appointed very briefly in 1925 to hear one case. It was a case that involved the Woodmen of the World. In 1925 most of the Justices-- all of the Justices on
the Supreme Court belonged to the Woodmen of the World, therefore
they could not hear the case, and there were no other male-- there
were not other judges in the state--and all of them were male--who
were eligible to hear the case that would not have otherwise been
disqualified. So the then governor appointed three women to hear
that case, but as soon as the case was over, they were gone. Judge
Sondock was also the first woman in Harris County to serve on a
trial bench in 1973. She was appointed by then governor Dolph
Briscoe. Preston Smith. Preston Smith. I'm sorry. Because she was appointed by three
governors, actually. Preston Smith appointed her to serve on the
Family Court bench and then some four, seven, seven years later...
Sondock: Four years later.
Garcia: Four years later. These years all get mixed up. I'm sorry. She
moved to the 234th Civil District Court. I think at the time she
was appointed she was, and remained, the only woman judge in Harris
County for another four years before 1977 when she moved to the
234th Civil District Court. Judge Jo Keegans was then appointed to
the Criminal District bench.
Sondock: First woman to sit on a Criminal District bench.
Garcia: Judge Sondock has the distinction of having been appointed by three
different governors to three different judicial positions, and one
of them, one of the governors was a Republican and two of the
governors were Democrats. So her selection to serve in the
judiciary was basically apolitical, which is a story I'm sure Judge
Sondock will tell us a little bit more about shortly. If we'll see
the first image of the future Justice of the Supreme Court. Ruby
tell us about the time that this photograph was taken.
Sondock: Well I was twelve years old, and that's what I used to do when I was twelve years old.
Garcia: And that image and we have one when you were actually younger.
Sondock: Well actually I could have, I had an opportunity to go to New York
and live with a man named Michael [Mordkin] who thought I had
potential and was going to make a dancer out of me.
Garcia: Had you thought at that time that you might go to law school and be
on the Texas Supreme Court?
Sondock: I didn't even think I would go to four years of college in those
Garcia: Let's show the other photograph of Ruby as a child, and you might
be able to identify some of the other folks. Ruby has the ribbon on
her hair in the second row, toward the end. And this was a, Was
this a school photograph?
Sondock: No, that was a birthday party photograph. In those days in Houston,
Texas, Actually the large papers, this was either the Post or the
Chronicle ran birthday pictures of little children.
Garcia: So this was a photograph that appeared in the newspaper?
Sondock: Yes, uh hmm. And I think it was the 6th or the something like
that. I don't know if I can tell if my teeth are in. It must be my
seventh, otherwise it's the sixth. That's how we could tell the difference.
Garcia: Well tell us for a moment how is it that you decided, Your husband
is here this evening...
Garcia: and perhaps you could introduce him to the audience.
Sondock: He'd rather I didn't.
Garcia: Okay. Then let's not.
Sondock: But he's one of the two gentlemen in the audience. The other is my brother-in-law.
Garcia: And you were married in 1944.
Sondock: Yes, uh hmm.
Garcia: So that's been 26 years? No. I'm kidding.
Sondock: That's my age. Yeah. You get confused.
Garcia: I know, I know.
Sondock: Been fifty-two and a half.
Garcia: Fifty-two and a half years is a long time
Sondock:Almost to the day.
Garcia: * great commitment. And so you and your husband were married at the time that, and had children...
Garcia: ...at the time that you decided to go to law school. Tell us about
Sondock: Well actually when we married I had two years of college, and in
those days that was what a respectable Southern lady had. In most
cases we had two years of college and then we got married. I did
what we were supposed to do. And after a while, Well actually I
got a phone call from a friend one day, and she'd been married ten
years and she was shocked me to tell me she was getting a divorce
and to remind me that she and I could not get jobs and make as much
as we did when we were fifteen and sixteen, we both lied about our
age a little bit to get the jobs in the summer time, and it was
frightening. So I decided I would go back to college and get a
degree, and I decided I would come out with the best degree that I
could. And uh I knew medicine was out of the question, so I
decided to go to law school, and never intending to go to work.
Garcia: What did you think you'd do with a law license or a graduate degree from the law school?
Sondock: Well I thought that if I had a law degree, I had worked as a
secretary for one of the big oil companies in the summer and had
done quite well and I thought then I could be the best legal
secretary in town, only to find out when I graduated law school,
from the fellas, that they wouldn't have hired me as a legal
secretary, and so I tell them that's their loss. But it was only in the event something happened to my husband and
I was, would be left with the necessity of having to rear two
children. I wasn't fortunate enough to have been born with a silver
spoon in my mouth, and I knew it would be my responsibility, and
that was, that was frightening after speaking with this friend of
Garcia: So how did you manage your family, your children, college, and law
school in those years, which was uh in law school you were probably
among the few women in school altogether.
Sondock: Very few.
Garcia: How many do you remember were in your class or in the school?
Sondock: I had one class the entire time I was, Well let'see, no, I had two
classes the entire time I was in law school where I was not the
only woman. I don't think there were more than five of us, that's
for all the three years. I think I was the only one in my class.
There may have been one other. We were very close, there were so
few of us that of course we couldn't join the fraternities in those
days. We had a very active, small, but very active sorority, and
it was a treat. We all, we had very limited, all of us had very
limited time, and we got together at each other's homes once a
month on Saturdays, and it was a very, very pleasant experience. I
think the ones today who join the fraternities perhaps they've
Garcia: When you were in law school, I remember you telling me a story
about all the initials that were lectured about in the class and
perhaps the audience would enjoy the SOLs and the FLs and CLs.
Sondock: My first day in law school We have nobody in our family who's in this business, and as I say I didn't think about ever going to law
school and I, my, John Branstetter was my debate coach in high
school, and he always used to say, Ruby, you'd be a great lawyer,
but I, I never gave it any thought whatsoever. Bless his heart, he
reminded me of that when he came up when I sworn into the Supreme
Court he came to the ceremony. But, when I, my first day in law
school I had a professor from Duke University, and he spoke in
initials, which today wouldn't have bothered me, but he the first
lecture he talked about SF and SL. I didn't know the difference.
There's a lot of difference, folks. One's statute of frauds and
one's statute of limitations. He talked about BFP and ALP. One is
a legal principle and is a book. And I didn't know the difference.
So the fellow next to me I started at mid-term, The fellow next
to me at the end of that class said, Did you understand a word he
said? And I said, No. He said, Well what are you going to do about
it? And I said, Well I'm going to the library and try to find out
what he said. What are you going to do about it? He said, I'm going
to drop this class. And he did.
Garcia: Well I, I assume that eventually you found out what all of that
meant because you were first in your class when you graduated.
Sondock: I was fortunate enough, yes. It was worse than that for me. I
started taking a course called torts and I had never heard that
word before. I had to look that word up too.
Garcia: And were you, Do you think the professors and your other
classmates dealt with you any differently than any of the other
Sondock: No, I was very fortunate. There were stories of other colleges in
Texas, women would tell, such as professors who would announce at
the first session, Women will be seen but they will not be heard.
I never had that experience. From day one I've been very, very
Garcia: Were the other women in your class subject to that?
Garcia: Or were you just sort of got special treatment.
Sondock: No. I went to the University of Houston locally, and there was just
simply no discrimination. There were so few of us maybe they didn't
notice us. But there was really no discrimination whatsoever. For
any of us. I'm sure everybody would agree to that.
Garcia: I remember you told me about taking the bar exam and how your
friends helped you and supported you in getting ready to do that, and I think the audience would certainly enjoy hearing that story.
Sondock: I drove up to the, to the, We took the bar in those days in Austin, and I drove up with a friend and I had two local friends,
one of whom had made me a red velvet pill box hat, that was the
style in those days. And one of them made me a corsage. The hat
wasn't bad, but the corsage was a mess. And she came over and she
pinned this corsage on me and I was so kind of out of it that I
wore the thing. And uh,
Garcia: It was made of vegetables, wasn't it?
Sondock: It was made of vegetables, it was horrible. I guess she though she could get a laugh out of me or something because she new how uptight I was, and so I put the think on me, she put it on me, and I walk out the door and we get up and start pulling up to the hotel in Austin and * turns to me and says Ruby would you do me a favor, and I say What and she says take that hat off and that corsage. And he says cause if we run into anyone in the lobby, you know, I'm gonna be embarrassed. And would you believe he was from Bay City and would you believe that we did run into somebody from Bay City in the lobby. But by then I had taken off the hat and I had removed the corsage. And when I got in my room there was a telegram waiting for me from the friend who had given the corsage and it was from the, she was president of the International Worriers Club, she wanted me to know they were worrying so I didn't have to. I stuck that think of the mirror, I'll never forget it.
Garcia: So you got through that bar exam ok, how did you hear about your bar results?
Sondock: MY bar results came our on April 21 and for your information that's a holiday in Texas, so normally the school would notify you immediately, but since the school was closed, I, that morning my husband for reasons I didn't pay any attention, got up and went and got a newspaper. I guess I should have thought it was strange but, cause we had a newspaper in the house. But my mother had called and a cousin had called very early in the morning, I mean maybe before six, really very early and said I passed the bar. Well it was in the newspaper but * wanted to be double sure so he went out and got the, and apparently it wasn't in the paper we subscribe to, and he got the paper, make sure my name was there, but actually the school didn't notify us until the next day, so uh, that was a traumatic experience.
Garcia: So after passing the bar, you did take a job, and in fact, you had a couple of job interviews, where many other women at those years didn't have much in the way of job opportunities.
Sondock: No, in those days women were not even offered interviews. A lot of the young girls today, not so much today, but a few years ago, they used to complain that they went on interviews and they didn't feel that the interviewers were serious about hiring them, but at least they had interviews. I have a, my friend that also finished first in her class, the year before I graduated, and went on an interview and it was so bad that a very prominent lawyer in town came out to see the person he was to interview and when he realized she was a woman he said, I never dreamt they'd send a woman. And she said, Well I finished first in my class, and he said I don't care if you have the wisdom of Jobe, get out of my office. And that's what the younger women today, who think they have a hard time, don't realize. I was much more fortunate. I had a wonderful friend who asked me what I Was going to do and I said, to call them before I made arrangements. Well I wasn't going to make arrangements, First of all, I took the bar with only seventy-three hours, so I
had to go back to law school. In those days you could take the bar
and get a license before you got your LLB degree. I don't know if
you can do it today or not. But they didn't encourage you to do it
because of course you were fifteen hours short. And the odds, the
percentages of those who passed like that was not wonderful. But
because I had a family and because I feared not only having
difficulty if I got sick, I worried about what would happen if
somebody in the family got sick. So at least I wanted to get a
license if I couldn't get my LLB. But, you know, I said I'm, you
know, I'm not going to make any arrangements, which I wasn't going
to do, and he was on the committee that you had to go for your, who
did your interviewing before you could take the bar. The day I got
back from the, The night I got back from the bar, Well let me
tell you kinda, what kind of support I had. My sister, who's also
in this audience, came over the night I was coming back from the
bar, after that three day ordeal, and had fixed dinner for me. And
it was in the oven, and I had the fellow who drove me up there, I
had him come in and gave him my dinner and I literally, folks,
threw up. Fed him, gave him his dinner, and I went to the back and
I threw up. That, In those days it was, it was tough for a woman.
It really was.
Garcia: So the dean sent you out on another interview, even though you had
committed to taking a position.
Sondock: Uh, the University of Houston in those days, we're talking over
thirty years ago, did not get the opportunity to have its graduates
interviewed by the big firms, and we finally got a call. Today,
today we've got it made. But in those days we got the first call
from one of the big firms in Houston, and the dean wanted me to go
out on the interview. And I explained to him I had three strikes
against me. Woman, age and a couple of other things. So he said,
No, that he insisted I go because he said if he didn't send me he
didn't have anybody he wanted to send. So I left the school, went
home got dressed. You know you're not going to buck the dean too
Garcia: Did you get your hair fixed?
Sondock: Got my hair fixed. And uh, uh. Well they used to tease me. When I
study real hard I pull my hand through my hair and it didn't look
so good. But anyway I went on the interview and believe it or not
the firm offered me the position.
Garcia: So how long had you been in practice before you got the first call
from the governor's office about serving in the judiciary?
Sondock: The first call probably came when I had been practicing, oh I guess
it was about ten years.
Garcia: And what was the process like when that call came?
Sondock: Actually it wasn't a call. The first thing I got, unbelievably, was a letter out of the clear and blue that came from what purported to
be the governor's office, and in those days it was so shocking that
I called the person who signed the letter and I explained to him
that I, he probably thought I'd lost my mind, but or perhaps
someone had played a sick joke on me because I was reading this
letter that was inquiring whether or not I had any interest in
going on the bench. And he said no it wasn't a sick joke and yes
the letter was real and uh uh I, they wanted me to come to Austin
and meet the governor. So uh I did. We also had a wonderful friend
who helped me in that regard and uh went and met the governor on
that occasion. It was a couple of years before the appointment
actually came through.
Garcia: And so in that interim period were there any other things that you
were asked to do, any interviews or anything related to being
Sondock: Just before the appointment came, the governor again, the governor
did call then and asked me to uh, I went back to Austin and he
asked me to go see twenty people in Houston. And I explained to him
that I didn't mean to be presumptuous or anything, but if I were to
see twenty people in Houston, the word on the street would be that
I was shopping a bench, and I wasn't shopping a bench. I was
perfectly happy in my practice. And he said, well, you're right,
will you go see three. And I said, yes, that's a very reasonable
request and I went to see three co, I did three what you call cold
calls on strangers.
Garcia: And what did those three people ask you about serving on the bench
and did you then go back to see the governor?
Sondock: No, the governor called. And he said that he had heard from the
three people and that two of them were very favorable and he
laughed and he said, The third one said you were the typical female
fluff. And he said, You know, Ruby, that's the best recommendation
you could get, because the one thing I knew was, you were not the
typical female fluff.
Garcia: And so then you got your first appointment to the bench.
Garcia: And where did you serve?
Sondock: I served on what was then the CDR number five. Today it's the three
twelfth District Court.
Garcia: CDR is Court of Domestic Relations.
Sondock: Court of Domestic Relations in those days. In those days they were
not fully funded by the state. They were funded only by the county.
They had all the level, same level and same jurisdiction they have
today but it was slightly different. And I served on the Court of
Domestic Relations number five from January '73 until April of '77.
Garcia: And in, Was your practice then in family law? Were you given a
choice on appointments? How was it you came to the Domestic
Sondock: I had a general civil district, I mean a civil litigation
practice. I had some family, yes. I liked it. No, I was not given
a choice. That was the bench that was offered.
Garcia: And the only...
Sondock: I was very, very happy that that was the bench that was offered. Garcia: The, the other justices, Well there were no other women serving on
the bench at all, so all the, all the judges in the Court of
Domestic Relations dealing with family matters, dealing with
divorce, dealing with custody were all male judges.
Sondock: Yes. And they were, they remained males judges after I left for
twenty years before another woman went on the family bench, which
to me is inconceivable considering fifty percent of the litigates
in those courts are women.
Garcia: And in your service on the family bench did, was there anything
remarkable about the way the litigants treated you versus the way
you observed them treat your male colleagues, or was it the same?
Sondock: The only thing remarkable was there was no difference. When I went
on the bench I expected, you know, I expected to be tested. But the
bar was just wonderful to me. From day one they, I was just very,
very fortunate. Still are wonderful to me.
Garcia: So how did you get to the Civil District Court?
Sondock: Simply by an appointment by Governor Dolph Briscoe, whom I had
never met. Never met nor spoken with. And the appointment came.
Garcia: And was,
Sondock: Again because of, because of one particular friend who thought I should move to the District bench.
Garcia: And when you moved to the District bench in 1977, we have an
evaluation poll that was done. Tell us about that particular bar
poll and how it's different from the examinations that are done
Sondock: Well we, a few years, a few years after I was on the bench we
began, the Houston bar began doing some bar polls. But uh, and
I'm very, very happy with the results of them. I was always happy
with the results of them. But they were done, They're simply sent
out to the entire membership of the Houston bar, some of whom never
go to the courthouse, because the litigation, Those who really
litigate represent a very small percentage of the lawyers in the
city. But one of the papers did, well obviously now it tells you
which one, But one of the papers did a poll, the only one to my
knowledge that's ever been done at the courthouse, only of lawyers
who actually frequent the courthouse very often. So this was not by
what other people told them, this was done from the people who
actually were there and who were in the trenches.
Garcia: So the results
Sondock: And it was a time when there were not as many judges as there are now. Uh huh?
Garcia: The results of this poll in 1988 showed you to be the most favored
of the judges. You had the highest ranking of anyone on the bench
on the uh, on the civil side and perhaps on both sides. The entire
pieces in the book that we brought here that uh, and in some of the
newspaper articles. And, and I didn't notice to look at that, but
I think you were certainly the highest rated of the civil judges
and perhaps the highest rated of all the judges.
Sondock: I repeat, the bar has always been very good to me.
Garcia: Well you've apparently been very good to the bar, and that's one of
the reasons for it. And that's an interesting contrast, because the
results of that were from a personal interview
Garcia: with the lawyers. Yes. And so they had to have some personal knowledge of dealing in your court in order to respond to it or they didn't become a part of the
Sondock: The young lady from the paper explained to me that it was actually
done, that they did it by stopping them in the lobby of the Civil
Garcia: Why don't we turn that off. Tell us about getting your call for the
Supreme Court. Was that a telephone call, a letter? How was it you
found that you were being considered for such a position?
Sondock: It was a call on the afternoon break. I used to take fifteen,
twenty minutes between three and three thirty. And again another
friend called and informed me that Justice Denton had died and it
was not unusual for me to get calls inquiring about the competence
of other people who were being considered for the bench. And I
didn't know Justice Denton well, but I felt bad about it, and she
said the governor has to appoint a replacement. And I said, Of
course. And she said, He's thinking about appointing you. And I
said, You've got to be kidding. She said, Are you sitting down? And
I said, Yeah I'm sitting down. And she says, I'm not kidding.
Anyway, so I said well let me talk with my husband tonight and I'll
call you tomorrow. She said, No, we need an answer now. And I said,
Well I'm on my break. She says, I know it, we've been waiting. And
I said well let me see if I can get hold of Soupy and I called him.
And he said, We'll talk about it tonight. I said, No, they want an
answer now. He says, Well tell them yes and we'll talk about it
Garcia: I guess it ended up being yes after you talked about it that night.
Sondock: Well, they, they called when we got home and we talked about it.
And they wanted me to be there early in the morning, and I said I'd
check the plane schedule. My husband said, No, we'll be there,
'cause we drove.
Garcia: So you got called one afternoon and drove to Austin the next day and were announced that morning?
Garcia: This was in June of 1982. Yes. And Governor Briscoe, not Governor Briscoe, I'm sorry. Governor Clements, who was the Republican governor,
Garcia: ..is the one who made the selection. Here's a letter from his
office going to the Secretary of State to inform of the
appointment. There was a very small window of time apparently
during which you could be,, anyone could be appointed to that
bench. Wasn't there like a ten day period?
Sondock: My understanding is there was a very, very small period when the
governor could do it as opposed to having the parties do it. My
mother had died in January of that year, and I will always be
convinced that my mother was responsible for it. Well when, Now I'm grateful to Judge, to Governor Clements, but he had to
know my mother.
Garcia: When uh, when you went to Austin to meet with Governor Clements,
did, had you considered and had you discussed with him or with his
office or with anyone whether or not you would run for election to
Sondock: No. That had never crossed my mind. I had no intention of doing it
and they knew that when I got the appointment.
Garcia: But that was after you got to Austin?
Garcia: And so the unexpired term of Justice Denton would have been from
June until December
Sondock: Just the end of the year. And I was able to come back to a full,I was on the ballot unopposed for a full term on the bench that I had left.
Garcia: So you were on the Democratic Party ballot for the 234th..
Garcia: ..for re-election.
Garcia: And you were appointed by a Republican governor to serve the
unexpired term on the Texas Supreme Court and declined whatever
opportunity there was to run for that statewide office by either
Sondock: Yes, and I..
Garcia: Apparently both would have gladly taken you as the candidate.
Sondock: And I also declined an opportunity to remain for another reason on the bench on the court longer than, than that period of time.
Garcia: So when you were on the Texas Supreme Court, this was really the
first time that the other justices had had to, had a female
colleague serve in the court. Now many of us always wondered what
it was like in the conference room when the justices got together
and it was just the guys. I don't know if they smoke cigars and
spit or what. Talked about football. Did they do that with you?
Sondock: One of them smoked cigars.
Garcia: No spitting. You told me a story about, I don't know if it was to your first conference, but a conference when you were looking for dates.
Sondock: Oh, oh. Chief Justice Greenhill is a very special person and on the
first case I was to report on it was easier to understand the facts
if you did it with some dates chronologically and so when he called
on me, I said, Just a moment I'm looking for some dates. And
without hesitation, no delay, he said, I'm available. And it, he
broke the ice. I mean, you know, what more can I say.
Garcia: I, I think it's a, we need to share some of the images from the,
your swearing in ceremony and the announcement of Governor
Clements. This is a newspaper article that I know that in the
scrapbook that we have there are newspaper articles from most
cities in Texas and around the nation there were announcements because of you being the first woman in Texas for being a woman on the Texas Supreme Court, so this is but one example of, I guess the attention that was paid to your appointment and the importance of your appointement. In the ceremony, we've got a photograph of Governor Clements, which I thought was wonderful of him selecting you in a group and brining you up to the lecturn where you would shortly be sworn in. We have some of the governor's words which I think would be, were really a-pra-po(?), when he introduced you to the audience and to the other justices on the court. He said, Good morning, I want to introduce all of you to Judge Ruby Sondock who's from Houston Texas and she has just accepted my appointment to the Texas Supreme Court. And Judge Greenhill is here to endorse and welcome her as one of the judges to the supreme court. She has an outstanding record starting back in 1973 in Houston, she is recognized as an outstanding judge in Houston. I've heard it said by qualified observers in Houston that she is without any question the premier trial judge of Harris County. I hasten to add that she did not seek this position, we recruited her. I did not even know her until this morning when I met her and her husband. I'm pleased that this appointment, in effect, makes Texas history, from the standpoint of appointing a woman to the Texas Supreme Court. She is a democrat. She has been elected a democrat in Houston and Harris county. She's on the ballot his year as a democratic candidate this year unopposed in Harris county. And at the same time I have to say that she is a democrat who is essentially, in her duties as a judge, apolitical. She's had a very low profile in Houston and Harris County in political matters. I'm very proud to make the appointment. And of course Governer Clements goes on and talks about your wonderful qualifications. The dress you are wearing on the day of your appointment, the dress has a story, and you actually don't look very much different today than you did then. Is your mother still working magic somewhere?
Sondock: When I got this appointment I had a lot to do before, you know, to clean up and... called a cousin of mine who's a great shopper and I said, I need a new dress. And she said, I hadn't worn this dress for years, it's a ribbonet dress that I had made, and don't know what made her think about it, she said, Why don't you wear that dress that you made, and I said, I haven't worn it for years, and she said I think it would be fine. So that's what I wore. I didn't even have a new dress for the occassion.
Garcia: So probably, the first woman justice on the Texas Supreme Court, probably the only justice on the Supreme Court who made her own clothes.
Sondock: I don't know, I'll have to ask Justice Spector and the other justices if they've made their own..
Garcia: I feel sure they have not.
Garcia: The next photograph is the robing part of the ceremony once you're sworn in. There's a formal robing. And
there's Soupy helping you on with the robe. And there was some I
guess a quote from the Bible that you used in your remarks to the
Texas Supreme Court. And I'm going to hand them to you or you can
read them from there. Perhaps you can share with us how you made
Sondock: I used a, I used a quote, * quote. I didn't, don't..
Garcia: Can you see it or is that..
Sondock: I don't remember it. But obviously they have a record of it.
Garcia: Here let me hand this to you. Can you read it from that? Didn't know if that was in your way.
Sondock: That's what it's about.
Garcia: Well it's a,
sondock: I used a, I know I used a quote of [Hillel], the one that says
time is short and the task is hard. Anyway. I remember
Garcia: Well so that the tape has a recording of that. I'll read it. Ye
shall not respect persons in judgment. Ye shall hear the small as
well as the great. Ye shall not be afraid of the face of man for
the judgment is God's and the cause that is too hard for you, bring
it unto me and I will hear it. Which is a wonderful prayer for a
judge to make and a terrific commitment. Your speech is actually
in the book that's here and everybody can look at it when we have a break.
Sondock: This book came a couple of years after I was off the court. My
secretary did it for me and sent it to me. Well I thought you were very organized to put it together and now
that we know the truth. No, those who know me know that I didn't do that.
Garcia: What did you expect when you began to work on the Texas Supreme Court?
Sondock: I really didn't know what to expect. I, It was just a job and I
did it. But I hadn't, It happened so fast and literally in a
matter of days. As I say I didn't have time to get a new dress. But
Judge Greenhill took me that day, Actually he took me the day that
I was, the announcement was made, showed me around the court,
explained things to me and actually gave me, got me started
working, as he said.
Garcia: From the first day.
Sondock: That's right.
Garcia: And how did you, Did you commute back and forth from Houston?
Sondock: Yes. Uh hmm.
Garcia: Your children were grown?
Sondock: Oh yes.
Garcia: ..and out of the house by then. So did you go back and forth every day,
Garcia: ..or twice a week or what?
Sondock: I would leave early Monday morning and I would come back either,
well either Wednesday night or sometimes on Thursday, and on Friday
I would pick up my work in Galveston, Texas at the bus station and
I would do it on the weekend and then Monday morning start the
routine back again.
Garcia: And so you did that every week for the entire time that you served?
Garcia: How many opinions did you offer.
Sondock: Had twelve writings in that, in that short period.
Garcia: And I don't know if you want to share any of those cases with us
or, We don't have any of those opinions that are with us in any of
the books that we have or if there is anything of, any big changes
in the law that came about in that brief period of time.
Sondock: As far as the changes, I just had occasion, just today I referred
to one because I said I©© was a [percurium] opinion, which means we
don't really know who wrote it, but I knew who wrote that one.
Anyway uh uh I don't know that any changes uh I think, I think I
wrote one that was a change at the time, but I'm not so sure. I
think [Robisho]'s been overruled hasn't it? I'm not real sure. But
anyway I don't know that I wrote, There was and oil and gas case, that's, that I understand is taught in the schools. And there's a family law case that I know is taught in the college, in the law
Garcia: So even in that brief six month period there were some very
memorable opinions. What's the funniest thing that ever happened on
the court with the other judges or perhaps in picking up your work
in Galveston or whatever in serving in your job.
Sondock: The funniest that I remember I think is uh, is that, I'll
never forget Judge Greenhill that first time. Saying he was available? Oh, that, that was, that breaking the ice for me was just such a wonderful experience.
Garcia: Were all your other experiences in dealing with the other male justices equally as wonderful.
Garcia: ..or just different personalities?
Sondock: Well Justice Barrow is the chocoholic par excellence. Anyway, they
were just wonderful. They really were. The majority of them.
Nothing's perfect, but the majority of them were just simply
wonderful to me.
Garcia: And do you keep in touch with those gentlemen today?
Sondock: Not as much as I would like. I had occasion a few years ago to ride on a plane with Justice Pope, and I just saw Justice Barrow at the
judicial conference last month. And I'm going to work in a, in a
private appellate situation with Judge, Justice Greenhill. The case
that we're supposed to handle is actually being tried privately as
Garcia: So you're talking about a case that is going sort of around the
regular system and is being tried privately, not by a, not in the
regular court system.
Sondcok: That's right.
Garcia: By a private judge so to speak.
Sondock: As we speak. Uh hmm.
Garcia: And whatever the decision is will be appealed to you and Justice Greenhill.
Sondock: That, Now that assumes that the decision will be appealed, and if
it is appealed Justice Greenhill and I and [Fidas] Callan are
schedule to do, to handle the appeal privately.
Garcia: That's very interesting. Does that happen very often.
Sondock: They tell me that's the first time that will, that the, It is not
that unusual, Well it is unusual, but there are cases that are
tried to what they call Rent-A-Judge, a private judges, but the
people who talked with me about doing the work said it was the first time to their knowledge if there had been a private appeal. Maybe Justice O'Connor can tell us if she's ever heard of it. I
have never, and Justice Greenhill has not, I understand, I have not
spoken with him directly, but I understand he, he's not aware of
it. And they tell me it's the first time it will ever have been
done in Texas.
Garcia: I've never heard of it before. I've heard of the private judges
but trying cases but not on the,
Sondock: Well that assumes that they're going to appeal the case.
Sondock: But we'll know that shortly.
Garcia: Now when you retired, so to speak, from the Texas Supreme Court and
at the end of 1982 you returned to serve on the trial bench in Houston.
Sondock: Same bench I left.
Garcia: And remained there for another six years?
Sondock: Retired in October of '89.
Garcia: What was it like for you to go back to the trial bench after serving on the Texas Supreme Court?
Sondock: Well you can come back home. They told me I couldn't, but it was,
it was just as though I had never been gone. All we did was just
Garcia: Did, which did you prefer? Did you prefer the trial bench or the
appellate court bench?
Sondock: I enjoyed both, but I'm a people person and so I enjoy the, the
interaction on the trial bench. You have more freedom of time on an
appellate bench. You're quite confined on a trial bench. But I like
the interaction with the, with the people.
Garcia: And they enjoy the interaction with you. So when you retired, you
didn't go home and make some more dresses.
Garcia: Although you have traveled a bit more in the past several years
than you did while you were on the trial bench. So what, Tell us
what you're doing now.
Sondock: When I retired, I went with a firm that again was a wonderful,
wonderful experience in Houston and I stayed with them for four
years. Wild, Godshall, and Manges, it's a New York, basically its
a New York firm but they have lovely offices in Houston. And I had a wonderful four years with them. You can't really rell me when * left, cause it was such a wonderful experience. But I opened up my own office, I developed a full time mediation and arbitration practice while I, was there again, just by accident. I opened my own office a few years ago and that's what I do everyday, arbitration or mediation, mostly mediation but arbitration is a growing field.
Garica: And you settle some of the most difficult cases, not only in Harris county, but all over the state. I know that every time I open the file drawer and I see a monster in it, I call you up and send it to you.
Sondock: Why don't you send me the easy ones for a change?
Garcia: No. The easy one's I can handle, it's the hard ones I want to send you. And routinely I know I have and I know the lawyers probably and judges have, sent you flowers and candy and whatever for settling the impossible cases.
Sondock: I have a beautiful bottle of wine that came today.
Garcia: What advice would you give to young women who might see this video next year, 5 years, 10 years, 15 years, about making some career choices and making some personal choices in developing their career? What kind of advice would you give?
Sondock: They have to know that they are very serious when we say that the law is a jealous mistress, it really is. It's tough if they want to try to practice law and have a family. More and more are beginning to realize that some of them started what we call to become the mummy track, not working. It's just tough, very tough. They have to make choices, some of them are deciding to try to make partner first and then have one child. It's just not easy and it's not getting any easier. It's a field that's becomming very very crowded, competition is almost to the point where it's cut throat, and it's, I think they have passed the time when there is any discrimination, that's not true, that's not true, there is still some discrimination against the women, but it's certainly not as bad as it once was, but in turn they have to deliver just as many hours as the men do and for a woman who works full time, be it as a lawyer or whatever, it's, and has a family, you've got two full time jobs in a 24 hour period and to explain what practicing law means...when I was fortunate enought to have this job offer when I came back from taking the bar, * had to go back to finish law school, the gentleman who hired me asked if I could work full time and I said no. His next question was, Can you work 40 hours and I said no and he was good enough to go on and give me an opportunity to work so long as I made a visible contribution to the office, that was my only limit. But the fact that those were his first two questions should have let me know then what it was all about and that's really true. A woman who expects to do any good in the legal profession is probably looking at a minimum of a 60 hour week. And that's not easy folks, if you try to rear a family.
Garcia: Well obviously it can be done. Because I think unquestionably
everyone would say that your family is first.
Sondock: There are always choices to be made. But it's difficult. Difficult.
Garcia: And probably will remain so as long as women choose to have
Sondock: There's no other way.
Garcia: Well do you have any parting words to close?
Sondock: No, I just, It can be done. It takes some good friends along the
way. I guess in this profession like everything else sometimes it's
not really what you know, it's who you know. I've just been very
fortunate and my husband defines success as preparation meeting
opportunity. And if the opportunity is there and you have that one
good friend in the right place at the right time, then makes things
happen. I know, I'm living proof of it.
Garcia: Well if most of us who have known you for some time had ever had
to choose who would serve as the role model that you've had, I
don't think that we could have made any better choice than the
three governors who selected you to serve in the positions that you
did, to make the contributions that you have, and for all of us
that still serve on the bench, Judge Sondock has served as a
mentor. Invites us all to lunch and tells us how the cow ate the
cabbage. And it's something she doesn't have to do. But it's
something she chooses to do, which is something that I've always
been grateful for. So thank you, and good evening. Now ya'll can
ask her any kind of question * want.
Garcia: We're going to introduce Justice Michael O'Connor. She was
originally going to be with us this evening and we decided that
Ruby was too much to share, and so we're going to do Justice
O'Connor at another time. We're going to do a repeat performance. Okay. So we're happy to have her here and let's get another chair and ya'll can ask them questions.
Sondock: Just now. I'm coming to pieces I think.
Garcia: I can stand aside, I'm cool.
Sondock: Michael, move over. Or you want to sit in the middle?
Garcia: I know Muffy has a question.
Sondock: Muffy would have a question.
Muffy: May it please the court. Judge Sondock if you could wave a magic
wand and have any kind of selection system possible for our
judiciary in Texas, what would it look like?
Sondock: Nonpartisan. That's an easy one. I have been on record for some time as favoring
nonpartisan. In fact that I also remember I said at the court when
I was sworn in, said it then and meant it, and I actually carried
the bill many years ago trying to get nonpartisan election for
judges in Texas. I think they should be selected. You should vote
for judges as you do for a constitutional amendment. There's no
Democratic or Republican justice and it makes no sense to me that,
that people should vote according to party. I've said for years
that those who simply vote for judges by pulling the lever have
abdicated their right to vote for judges. They're kidding
themselves if they think they vote for the judge when they pull the
lever. It's difficult in the big cities, though, for people to know
the judges. I personally don't know them and I'm sure I speak for
Judge Garcia and Justice O'Connor when I say that, that they too
don't know them, and if we don't know them we can't expect the
public to. So when I say nonpartisan, Muffy, I have hope in my
lifetime of seeing nonpartisan election in the big cities. I do not
believe Texans will ever in small counties give up their right to
elect their judges any way they want. And it's fine there, because
they know them. They have coffee with them every morning, you know,
at the greasy spoon down the street or at the Busy Bee Cafe. But
for big cities it has been devastating and with, in my opinion,
and what the result has been on the judiciary. We've had sweeps in
all the big cities to where people, good people have been voted out
of office for no reason except they have, they're just members of
the wrong party at that particular time. And the irony of it is
that we have people who are elected, running as, as a Republican at
a given time or as a Democrat at a given time, who, at least once,
and in some cases many times, ran for the position on the other
party because they just guessed which party would win at that time.
That's just no way to elect the judiciary in my opinion.
O'Connor: Well I would take it one step
Sondock: I hate to go that long, that's a soap box of mine, so...
O'Connor: I would take it one step beyond that Ruby. I would say I'm for, I don't think, primarily what I want to happen is * money out of any judicial selection and I think the only way you can do that is go to an appointed system and you were the beneficiary of an appointed system and frankly no matter what kind of governor we have, a governor could not do as much damage to the judiciary in Harris county than the electorate did, a govenor did in four years, than the electorate did in one day. So last year all but two democrats were voted out of office.
Sondock: In Houston, my understanding is all of them were voted out in dallas.
O'Connor: Yes, that's right. I was one of the two democrats that survived here but it took $200,000 to do that. I don't think judges should be in the business of raising money.
Sondock: Well four years beforen that there was a sweep the other way and four years there was a sweep, so the pendolum is just gone, it makes no sense.
Garcia: One of the other effects of that has been, for years before that most judges served for 10 or 15 or 20 years and it became a career and so now the experience level when I began on the bench from 1991 has dropped from 10 to 15 years now to about 3 years average service, the average service of judges in Harris county has 3 years of judicial service and that counts from the oldest judge to the newest judge and that makes for some difficulties at the courthouse.
O'Connor: Well, in the 14th court of appeals, of the nine judges, 6 of them are new last election.
Sondock: For no reason except party affiliation, and that is, I repeat, no way to elect a judiciary. When I couldn't get nonpartisan through when I tried, I, for Harris county we have what we call petitions, and that at least requires some effort and some forethought with regard to running because we had had one experience in Houston I'm reliable told where men at the last moment gathered some money in a bar and walked in and 5 minutes before the deadline and filed and the state he was in caused him to file against a man with a similar name but he was not in any state to be too picky, I was told, and that was just a, it's not way to elect a judge or have people get on ballot. But today they can't do that, they can't walk in at the last minute because getting the names on the petitions is quite detailed and quite difficult.
Garcia: Other questions?