Born in Abilene, military brat Brandon Ball, has lived in numerous countries. He was a correctional officer for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) while attending Sam Houston State University before becoming a parole and probation officer for the city of Las Vegas. He is a graduate of the Thurgood Marshall School of Law.
Q: What was it like being a correctional officer at TDCJ?
A: It’s an institution. It wasn’t like I dreamed it was because it wasn’t about the rehabilitation. It was about running the numbers and getting the right number of people moving along. People there are trying to do their job and not make waves. People go along to get along. I saw a lot of things that I did not like there. It’s not like in the movies where it’s easy to do the right thing. It’s hard to be brave.
Q: What did your job as a parole and probation officer in Las Vegas teach you?
A: It’s not easy being on parole. When someone gets released, they would be rated on whether they would reoffend. My idea was that I wasn’t planning to send them back to prison. I was trying to help them and focus on the rehabilitation. But it’s not easy for them to integrate back (into society) because the resources are limited. They don’t come out with a job and they don’t come out with a vehicle. They don’t have that family support system that a lot of us have.
Q: How has your experience with the inmates and parolees helped you in your criminal defense work?
A: The only difference between you and them is they got caught and you didn’t. They were stupid and didn’t think and got drunk and made a mistake. Someone who’s a juvenile misses school and gets suspended and then they fall behind and get expelled. Then they can’t get into college and because they didn’t go to college, they can’t get a job. It becomes a cycle. The indigent defense system is set up for you to fail. You read about these lawyers who represent hundreds of defendants a year. There’s no way they spent any amount of time on those cases. Someone who gets a conviction on their record for an assault family member is going to spend the rest of their life being known as a criminal. People judge you and that judgment hinders them from future employment. It becomes a cycle.
Q: Why did you want to go to law school?
A: My mother always believed that if you spoke things aloud, it comes to existence. When I was little, my mother told me I would grow up to go to college and be a doctor, an engineer, or a lawyer. I wasn’t any good with math, so I couldn’t be a doctor or an engineer. Matlock was one of my favorite shows and people kept telling me I should go to law school because I loved to argue. I applied to 18 different law schools and didn’t get in the first time and was going to give up. Then my friend, Chaunte Sterling, encouraged me to reapply and I reapplied the next year and got accepted.
Q: Did you plan on becoming a criminal defense lawyer?
A: I didn’t plan for what I was going to study before law school and I didn’t plan after. I knew I had a background in criminal justice and I wanted to do something different. So I graduated and did some family law and heard about the FACT program (Future Appointed Counsel Training Program) and Gideon’s Promise and it changed my views. Before, I was scared to do criminal defense because I didn’t have a mentor coming out and didn’t want to send someone to prison for five years because I didn’t know what I was doing. The FACT program and Gideon’s Promise showed me that indigent defense is the new civil rights. The amount of people who don’t get adequate representation is astonishing. From that point on, my viewpoint on wanting to practice criminal defense changed and I’ve been focused on that area since.
Q: What do you wish the older and more experienced attorneys would know about your generation?
A: It’s different now for new lawyers coming out. Twenty-five to thirty years ago, it was easier to get cases and clients and take cases to trial. I wish they would be more patient with us and give us more of their time. It’s hard to be that young attorney that’s being annoying because they want a mentor. It’s not easy asking someone for help. To get a real mentor, you have to annoy the person: you’re asking them questions, you’re constantly calling them, sending emails. I wish they understood that it’s hard for the younger lawyer to want to be that annoying.
Q: What lessons do you live by as a young attorney?
A: All you have is your name and word. If you say you’re going to do something for a client or another attorney, and you don’t do it, they remember that. To that person, you’re going to be put into the category as someone that can’t be trusted. Once you lose their trust, that’s it. Read case law. It’s important to learn what the law is and the caselaw changes. As a young attorney, you don’t know anything and one place to start is to read caselaw. It helps you know and recognize what you don’t know. Never stop learning and never be afraid to learn. The law changes; the facts change. You forget things. Twenty years ago, DWI cases, DNA and eyewitness identification cases were not getting tried the same way as they are today. Social media wasn’t around. Society is always changing and we have to adapt and apply it to the courtroom.
Q: Do you think the criminal justice world treats black attorneys differently?
A: From the standpoint of potential clients, yes. If you put a black lawyer next to a white one, without knowing anything about either lawyer, the white lawyer will get picked more often than not. The same is true regardless of whether the client is black or white. It is the same for women versus men lawyers. That’s just how it is. As a black attorney, I understand I can’t afford to slip up like one of my white counterparts. Some folks don’t want to talk about that but I think it’s a healthy discussion.
interview by Thuy Le