Standing out is something Art Brender learned to do early in his legal career.
So it wasn’t surprising that he received the Blackstone Award this month at a ceremonial Law Day dinner at the Fort Worth Club.
The Tarrant County Bar Association calls the Blackstone its most prestigious award, given in recognition of a career that exemplifies professional aptitude, integrity and courage.
“It was really a shock,” said Brender, who began practicing law in 1973 in Fort Worth after graduating from the University of Texas at Austin. “It is really something to be recognized by your peers. And my peers in Tarrant County have more respect for the law than in any other part of the country that I’ve visited. The people here are genuine, smart, and they truly hold each other in high regard.”
For his work in civil rights, Brender received the Outstanding Service in the Field of Civil Rights Award by the Texas Branch of the NAACP and was named a “Good Guy” by the Texas Women’s Political Caucus.
Brender counts two decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court among his most far-reaching achievments. In an employment discrimination case, Watson v. Fort Worth Bank & Trust, Brender helped convince the court in 1988 to allow employees to use statistical evidence to prove bias; and in Trevino v. Texas in 1992, Brender won his argument that it was unconstitutional to allow attorneys to strike potential jurors based on their ethnicity.
Brender is still fighting one of his biggest cases, involving the use of the intravenous vitamin E supplement E-Ferol.
The solution, given intravenously to help prevent blindness in premature babies, was marketed and administered without U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval. Federal officials recalled the drug on April 11, 1984, after about five months on the market, as death reports mounted.
Dozens of children had liver and kidney damage after taking the drug.
Nearly 26 years after E-Ferol was brought to market, a federal judge in Wichita Falls approved a $110 million class-action settlement in 2010 against the manufacturer and distributor of E-Ferol, which was responsible for killing at least 38 babies in the mid-1980s.
“We still have one last insurance company that is refusing to pay into the settlement,” Brender said. “We have 369 class members in 43 states. It [E-Ferol] was really dose specific, and it depended on how much was administered. If you got too much, you were doomed. There was no way you could reverse the damage because it caused progressive liver disease.”
Brender said the real fight was getting hospitals, many of which were represented by some of the most prestigious law firms in the country, to agree to release the data they had compiled about administration of the supplement.
The next generation’s Blackstone Award recipients will have to be more committed and fight harder to redress the wrongs their clients face, Brender said.
Tort reform in Texas was only the beginning, Brender said, adding that corporate America is lobbying lawmakers to write waivers into legislation to prohibit people from taking them to court.
At the same time, law school graduates saddled with huge debts often can’t offer their services to clients who lack the resources to pay them upfront, another roadblock to seeking justice for those who lack money, Brender said.
“It’s a real attack on the courts, the great leveler in our society, ” Brender said. “We’ve developed two systems of justice in our country. There are a lot of cases that you cannot bring anymore because of the way things have changed.”
Mitch Mitchell, 817-390-7752
Other Law Day Award winners include:
Chief Justice Terrie Livingston won the Silver Gavel Award which is given to a member of the judiciary who has served on the bench for at least ten years and who has made a substantial and noteworthy contribution as a result of their service. .
Sharon S. Millians won the Professionalism Award which is given to a member of the bar who has displayed outstanding professional conduct.
Jared Harrell won the Outstanding Young Lawyer award which is given by the Tarrant County Young Lawyers Association to a young lawyer for their proficiency, service to the profession and service to the community.
Judge D. Michael Lynn won the Outstanding Mentor Award which recognizes an attorney or judge who has demonstrated a commitment to mentoring young lawyers in the legal community.
Source: Tarrant County Bar Association