Two women judge
for love of the law
If the Senate of Texas approves, two
women soon will become judges of district
courts here. They will be the first to serve
Harris County on that judical level. Ruby
Kless Sondock and Nettie Joe Kegans were
nominated by Gov. Dolph Briscoe.
Chronicle Staff Writer Zarko Franks presents this special report an the nominees
with contrasting lifestyles but wi h common
love for and knowledge of the law.
Ruby Kless Sondock, even with sniffles, no makeup
and a red nose, has an appealing little girl look.
She's 50, five three, 103 lbs., size 6, a grandmother,
and yes, the little girl look is very much there.
That's when you see her at home; she's fighting a
cold, and she's semi-relaxed.
Ruby Kless Sondock. on a district court bench, in a
black robe, is another ball game.
Young lawyers have been known to stammer and
tense up before her. Justifiably so.
One lawyer recalled the other day she made him
Rewrite a judgment five times before it met her
; After four years on a domestic relations court
bench, she has been appointed to a recently-created
4ivil district judgeship.
■ ;Her appointment by the governor is subject to
4 H the impression is left that there are, in reality,
too Ruby Sondocks, the impression is accurate.
3 There's Sondock, the judge, the public servant, nine
$p five on the bench, logical, coldly competent.
There's Sondock, the housewife, the very private
person, the doting grandmother, the gracious hostess,
Jhe summertime trout fisherman with her husband,
iMfelvin, in a boat around the Galveston jetties.
* As for Ruby Sondock's Qualifications for the bench,
perhaps the best evaluation came from veteran trial
lawyer Fred Parks, for whom she worked for seven
years after she got her law degree from Bates
College of Law, University of Houston, in the early
"I've had a number of lawyers work for me over
the years,'7 said Parks, "And she was head and
Shoulders above all of them."
.Her mind works, said Parks, like the mind of a
good lawyer. "She thinks like a man. I took a
brilliant woman and gave her an opportunity."
• Her long swfc, said Parks, is-her ability to reason
logically, "not to let emotions interfere with facts;
some men I know can't do that."
Parks, as his-colleagues know, isn't one to blow
smoke or puff another lawyer.
But back to Ruby Sondock. Why, relatively late in
life did she turn to law?
MI aske<l myself one day what would happen to me
if anything happened to Soupy," her nickname for her
husband, president of Brook Mays Co. here.
"1 really wasn't equipped to make a living," she
recalled. "And I never had to work. You see, I was
brought up like most girls in my time. Go to college,
get married, have children, go to the seashore and
live happily ever after."
So she enrolled at the University of Houston law
school, led her class academically, and passed her
state bar exam before she graduaited with the class of
She was born here, on 21 Reisner St., in me
Washington Avenue area, one of three daughters of
Mr. and Mrs. H. L. Kless. Her father was a master
machinist and a-tool designer. She attended Dow
Elementary, Marshall Junior High, and Jeff Davis
before graduating from San Jacinto High.
She attended Cottey College, in Nevada, Mo., on a
After four years on a domestic relations court
bench, hearing endless stories of broken hearts and
broken homes, she distills the requisite of a good
judge in two words: good judgment.
A highlight in her role as a lawyer, she said, was
when a lawyer called to thank her.
"His wife had come to me for a divorce," recalls
Sondock, "And I talked her out of filing."
She likes to work, she likes to cook, she's knowledgeable on good wines.
You get a glimpse of the little girl in her again as
she lovingly fondles a bottle of Lafitte Rothschild,
"Isn't it beautiful," she addresses the ruby red
wine, "But my favorite is really Montrachet.
4'You know when we get a gift bottle of wine, we
always like to have the person who gave us the wine
over for dinner to enjoy it."
Therein lies a glimpse into the two lives of Ruby
Sondock. In her private life, the suspicion lingers, her
three grandchildren, her two daughters' tots, enjoy
They are Josh, 3, son of Michael and Marcia Cohen
of Boston; and Jason, 3, and David, 1, sons of Howard
and Sandy Marcus, of Houston.
She was on a diet, she said, not to preserve her
beauty and charm, but out of respect for her
pocketbook. Tailoring or a new wardrobe, she said,
can cost a ton. And the Lord knows, there are too
many calories in Cutty Sark.
Earlier that day, the governor's office had called to
confirm a release that he had appointed her to one of
the new criminal court benches here.
So now, Nettie Joe Kegans, red hair aflame, a
jumbo emerald ring on one finger, a matching uncut
emerald pendant around her neck, was a judge,
subject to Senate confirmation.
As her colleagues came by to wish their best, you
could see she was turned on. This was her day. "She
beamed, yes radiated, not unlike a queen reviewing
"So we can't call you a redheaded broad, any-
more." said Anthony Friloux in mock awe, but still
choosing his words with care.
This was heady stuff for any mortal.
And Joe (named for her late father, a Waco
printer), suddenly said she reckoned she'd had her fill
of orange juice.
She switched to Scotch and nibbled it slowly,
savoring it and the conversation around her.
She was with people she was comfortable with.
Friloux and Jack Stovall and Vince Rehmet, and a
young girl named Caroline Garcia, an intern in
Kegans' law office, 305 Houston Bar Center Building.
The intern, a hot-eyed sorceress' apprentice,
made no effort to hide her delight that Kegans had
got a judgeship.
"Wow, what a dynamite lady," said the intern.
Caroline Garcia should have seen Nettie Joe Kegans
20 years ago around the courthouse. Lordy, lordy,
what a baby dumpling.
Fresh out of the South Texas College of Law, class
of '57. Even then, before she got street wise through
representing purse snatchers, rapists, killers and
thieves, her voice was sort of raspy and gravelly.
That's before other lawyers began referring to her,
out of respect for her toughness in the courtroom, as
Ma Barker or Black Maria.
A number of her colleagues in the criminal field,
the bread and butter regulars like Jimmy James,
Ralph Chambers, Charles Melder, Bob Hunt, agree on
one point: she's one helluva lawyer.
Which, strangely enough, fits Joe Kegans* opinion of
Joe Kegans: 'Tm a good lawyer and I make the best
corn bread in town."
She's 49; her husband, Conda Perry Kegans, an
engineer, died of cancer about two years ago. Their
two children, son Perry Kegans III, 26. Houston, and
daughter, Mrs. (Betty) George W. Ricks of Neder-
land, have been gone from home several vears now.
She lives alone except for an unfriendly Dobermann
named J. Frank Dobie in a two-story home in the
As most lawyers, she can easily recall the details of
her first case. Her client, Willie Lee Anderson, was
charged with the ice pick killing of Anderson's paramour, Judge Michael, Sr., during a lovers quarrel.
Kegans and another lawyer named Al Taylor were
appointed by Judge Ed Duggan to represent Anderson.
The defense was self-defense.
The prosecution was headed up by Frank Briscoe,
then the chief capital prosecutor, and a young man
named John Hughes.
They were then, as they are today, courtroom
Kegans, the freshman lawyer, listened in awe as
Hughes described to the jury the meaning of malice
as it was deemed applicable in the state's case:
"Malice, a heart regardless of social duty and
fatefully bent on mischief, the existence of which is
shown by acts done and words spoken."
Unbeknownst to Kegans, Hughes was reading
straight from the court's charge to the jury.
"What a command of the language Hughes has,"
"You goose," a friend told her, "Hughes was
simply reading the charge."
As Kegans tells it today, "That's how dumb I was
in those days."
Anyway, Willie Lee Anderson, wasn't convicted of
murder with malice. She was convicted of murder
without malice and given five years in a state prison.
It's safe to predict there will be little pomposity in
her courtroom. Propriety yes, and informality at
propitious times, but never stuffiness.
Because that's the redheaded lady's style. And
whether you like it or not, that's the way she'll run
Appeared in the Houston Chronicle Sunday, March, 6, 1977. Submitted separately by
Jessica Plowman, Elizabeth Randall, Salli Jeffrey, John Marshall
PAGE 11 • MAY 1977 • HOUSTON BREAKTHROUGH
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