‘Always Strive For Better Justice’

Michael J. Ritter’s quest to fulfill the Texas Young Lawyers Association’s mission of public service begins with an education on the courts.

Interview by Eric Quitugua

Photo by Ana Isabel Martinez Chamorro.

The justice system exists to remedy wrongs, Michael J. Ritter said while discussing one of his favorite Texas Young Lawyers Association projects, And Justice For All. That project, created in tandem with the State Bar of Texas and the Texas Bar Foundation, culminated in a website that educates attorneys and the public on wrongful convictions. Now officially at the helm of TYLA, Ritter wants to again focus on the functions of the justice system—this time with a spotlight on the judicial system. His signature project, How Texas Courts Work, does a deep dive on the judiciary to educate virtually anyone from attorneys to clients to the media to students or potential jurors. Having worked in the Texas appellate court system for eight years, Ritter knows a thing or two about judicial literacy and its importance during politically and emotionally charged times.

Ritter, who was sworn in as president of TYLA on June 10, 2022, spoke with the Texas Bar Journal about How Texas Courts Work, representing the LGBTQ+ community, and reinvigorating young lawyer bar associations across Texas.


What is the main thing you want to do as a lawyer and why is that important to you?
As a lawyer, the main thing I want to do is to help other lawyers. I’m fortunate to be able to do this both at work and through TYLA. At Schmoyer Reinhard, I serve in an appellate role helping trial lawyers both at the firm, and outside the firm, with researching and writing, which has been my passion even before law school. In Texas, we’re quite lucky to have lawyers with different passions and strengths because of the efforts made to promote diversity in the legal profession. With more diversity in backgrounds, skill sets, and passions, we can better help each other in tailoring our practices to match our passions to improve the overall quality of legal services that Texas lawyers provide to clients and in serving the public.


You’ve got a few “firsts” now as an openly LGBTQ+ attorney at the bar and TYLA—do you feel a bigger purpose to be a representative to the community?
Absolutely. It’s not a matter of me representing the LGBTQ+ legal community as a whole, but rather about showing attorneys in the LGBTQ+ community that we can be involved in bar service and leadership—and be successful—without having to hide who we are. During my campaign, I made the distinction that I’m not the first LGBTQ+ lawyer to run for a statewide bar position; I was just the first to do it openly, by including pictures of my husband and me, talking about diversity, and highlighting my service in LGBTQ+ bar associations. Many attorneys might have “limiting beliefs” that they can’t accomplish a professional goal because of who they are or something they haven’t done yet. Oftentimes that’s not having certain legal experience, but other times it’s one’s identity; an example of a limiting belief is: “I can’t be TYLA president because members won’t accept someone who’s gay.” The reason why we say “representation matters” is because, by disproving these limiting beliefs, we open the doors to more people to participate in bar service, which helps the bar find the best representatives and leaders in the legal community, regardless of their identity and background.


TYLA Pres Profile Ritter
ABOVE: From left, Michael J. Ritter with his husband and two dogs; Ritter with fellow San Antonio Young Lawyers Association members receiving an award for a Hurricane Harvey Assistance Program from State Bar Executive Director Trey Apffel (middle); Ritter with friends. Photos courtesy of Michael J. Ritter.

?In a Q&A you did on the bar blog a couple years ago, you said And Justice for All is your favorite TYLA project. Why is the subject of wrongful convictions something important to you?
Despite being primarily a civil appellate attorney, the topic of wrongful convictions is important to me because, as one of the severest failures of our legal system, wrongful convictions remind us that our justice system is imperfect and that we, as lawyers, need to constantly consider how to improve the justice system however we can. Wrongful convictions exist despite what we consider to be a full panoply of rights—the rights to notice of charges, a jury trial, a fair and neutral judge, and the effective assistance of counsel, as well as the right to confront accusers, among others. But continued wrongful convictions show that these rights, and others, can be implemented more effectively, as I argued in my recent law review article, “Resolving the Anders Dilemmas.” The justice system exists to remedy wrongs, not create them. While we may never be able to reach perfection, we should always strive for better justice.


What do you want to accomplish this year?
Everything, everywhere, all at once. More realistically, I hope to help lead the TYLA board to do what can be done this year to fulfill our mission of public service, given the pandemic’s residual impacts on young lawyers, especially bar leaders. Sadly, many local young lawyers’ associations in Texas have gone inactive. In addition to our public service projects, I want to help inform and remind young lawyers throughout Texas of the benefits of bar service, bar leadership, and community engagement. I know that, at the very least, we can work together to make progress toward reenergizing our members to pursue excellence in their careers and to seize available opportunities to help others through service.


Tell me about your signature project. What is it designed to do?
How Texas Courts Work, a project graciously sponsored by the Texas Bar Foundation, will help educate Texans about the role, functions, and independence of the Texas judiciary. This project will consist of a multimedia website that provides an overview of Texas courts, a video series about what litigants should expect in some of the most common types of cases filed in Texas courts, a video to be played for prospective jurors about jury service prior to voir dire, how to hire an attorney for in-court representation and factors to consider in the process, a guide that contains tips for members of the media who report on trial proceedings and judicial decisions, and a media literacy program for students that simulates the role of a jury in critically analyzing sources of information to resolve disputed issues of fact.


Why did you choose this as your main project? Has your experience in appeals shaped it in any way?
I worked in the Texas appellate court system for eight years. I interned at the Supreme Court of Texas, served as a briefing attorney for the San Antonio Court of Appeals and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, and then worked as a staff attorney back at the San Antonio Court of Appeals. During that time, I realized that the role and independence of the judiciary in Texas is not well understood, even by many lawyers. To improve understanding of the Texas appellate courts, I created my appeals blog, Appeals to Authority, to help shed light on the functions, as well as the human side, of Texas appellate courts. With the ubiquity of politically charged news stories designed to elicit emotional reactions from their audiences, rather than to inform them, objective and accurate information about the judiciary, even at the state level, is needed now more than ever.TBJ

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