Author Archives: MaryBeth

240th Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence

In an historic event in honor of our nation’s 240th anniversary, Mary Beth Harrell will lead local lawyers in Readings of the Declaration of Independence starting at noon at the flag pole in front of the Bell County courthouse in Belton. Bell County lawyer will join with lawyers around the lone star state who will lead Readings in all 254 counties. This event has been organized by the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association. It was first held in 2010 in just a handful counties.

declaration of independenceThe Declaration of Independence is our nation’s most cherished symbol of liberty embodying our stand against tyranny. Our founders resisted the illegal and immoral practices of the crown. Today, we continue to fight against the abuses of government: police and prosecutorial overreaching and misconduct. Prosecutors continue to withhold evidence, courts persist in plea mills, police abuse our citizens, and appellate courts engage in intellectual dishonesty to achieve a desired result while disregarding rules of law. Our readings are our reminder to all in the criminal justice system that abuses of power will be exposed and fought by the defense bar.

Please join us in honoring our nation’s most sacred document in the spirit of independence.

Successfully Suppressing a Search Warrant in Federal Court

As published in the Voice

The Facts

Mary Beth Harrell attorneyMy court-appointed client, Jermaine Jones (JJ), a career offender, had been indicted in the U.S. District Court for the Western Dis­trict of Texas, Waco Division, for possessing just shy of 46 grams of crack cocaine and a loaded .45 handgun. Four Deputy U.S. marshalls (DUSMs) and three Texas Department of Public Safety Criminal Investigation (DPS CID) agents arrested JJ on local state warrants for felony possession of a controlled substance and money laundering. The agents found the drugs, gun, and a wad of cash in his apartment while conducting a protective sweep for dangerous persons after his arrest. Okay, he’s done, you might say. Let’s pull out the sentencing guidelines and do the math. He’s looking at a lot of time.

Stay with me. It gets interesting.

Prior to executing the warrants, the DUSMs and DPS CID agents conducted surveillance of the apartment where JJ and his girlfriend, Marcy, were known to reside. Marcy was named on the lease but JJ wasn’t. JJ’s silver Mitsubishi car was parked out front, and the license plate came back to JJ’s mom, who owned it. While conducting surveillance, the agent in charge called his confidential informant (CI). The CI told him if the Mitsubishi is there, then JJ’s inside. Agents did not observe any drug trafficking activity; no one was going to and from the apartment.

After a while, agents saw Marcy leave the apartment, drive to Popeye’s, pick up two meals and two drinks, then return to the apartment. Agents did not speak to her, did not detain her, and let her re-enter the apartment. A few minutes later, Marcy left the apartment again, got in the car and started to drive off. One marshall and one agent got into their respective cars and blocked her exit. The agent in charge then interviewed Marcy. Marcy didn’t have any warrants. She told the agent that JJ was in the apartment, gave the front door key to the agent and permission to use it to enter the apartment. Marcy was detained outside the apartment.

With guns drawn, the agents and marshalls approached the apartment door and opened it with the key. JJ was not in the front room. The agent called JJ by name to come to the door. It took a minute for JJ to respond. No doubt he was rather surprised and needed a second or two to think it through. He wasn’t a novice nor a fool, so he slowly emerged unarmed from the back bedroom, shirtless and carrying a pair of shorts with his hands in the air. He cooperated and complied with their orders. He was arrested at the front door. The agent searched JJ and found a small amount of marijuana in the pocket of his shorts. They did not find any drugs or weapons on his person or within his immediate reach, nor in plain view in the front room. They did not ask JJ for permission to search the apartment.

The agents and marshalls then conducted a “protective sweep” of the entire apartment for “dangerous persons.” The agents looked underneath the bed in the back bedroom, where they observed the drugs and cash. Then the agents asked Marcy for permission to search the apartment. Marcy refused. The agent in charge prepared an affidavit for a search warrant, which was granted by the local district judge. The agent returned to the apartment with the search warrant and confiscated the drugs, gun, and money from under the bed.

The search warrant affidavit stated: The agents went to the apartment to execute the state warrants, conducted surveillance, saw JJ’s Mitsubishi, watched Marcy leave the apartment, drive to Popeye’s, return with “two meals and two drinks,” and enter the apartment. She was later detained when she exited the apartment again and returned to the vehicle. The agent questioned her, and Marcy confirmed that JJ was in the apartment and provided her apartment key. Agents detected the odor of marijuana inside her vehicle. Agents used her key to enter the apartment, JJ emerged from the back right bedroom, “was taken into custody near the door,” agents searched the shorts in JJ’s hand and found a useable amount of marijuana in the pocket. Officers entered the residence, “conducted a protective sweep for other persons,” looked under the bed in the back right bedroom, observed a ziplock bag containing cash and a quantity of suspected crack cocaine, and observed marijuana residue on the nightstand.

As I read the search warrant affidavit and looked at the apartment photos taken by the agents, my instincts told me that the protective sweep didn’t pass the smell test. So I called Marcy’s retained lawyer. He told me that the protective sweep was allowed and would survive my challenge. I wasn’t so sure, so I called my friend, Stan Schwieger, an appellate lawyer who’s way smarter than I am. Did I have a viable motion to suppress the sweep, the search warrant, and the contraband? Stan wasn’t sure either, but he believed it was worth pursuing. Stan and I spent several hours sorting through the facts and identifying legal issues. Stan re-acquainted me with Wayne LaFave. As you may recall from your law school days, LaFave literally wrote the book on search and seizure.

I don’t know any trial lawyer who enjoys researching and writing a brief in support of a motion to suppress, including me. So I knuckled down to the painful task, thinking it an exercise in futility, but you gotta do what you gotta do. After all, my client was a career offender.

Stan’s assistance was invaluable. He edited my motion and brief for logic, substance, style, and form. He’s my Yoda. If you don’t have a friend or mentor like Stan, find one real quick.

The Brief

A. Protective Sweep of Persons

A protective sweep for dangerous persons incident to arrest may be a permissible exception to the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against unreasonable search and seizure, depending on totality of circumstances—including the scope and duration of the sweep. The Supreme Court has placed limits on the circumstances, scope, and duration of the sweep. First, law enforcement must have entered legally and for a legitimate law enforcement purpose. Second, officers must have a reasonable, articulable suspicion that the area to be swept contains (a) a person, and (b) that person poses a danger to those on the scene. Third, the protective sweep must be limited to a cursory inspection of only those places where a person may hide, not a full search of the premises. Finally, officers must conclude the sweep once they have dispelled their reasonable suspicion of danger, and they may not continue the sweep after they are no longer justified in remaining on the premises.Maryland v. Buie, 494 U.S. 325, 334 (1990); United States v. Mata, 517 F. 3d 279, 285 (5th Cir. 2008).

1. The facts in this case do not justify a “protective sweep for persons” in Defendant’s residence.

A “protective sweep” made in connection with an arrest will be upheld in circumstances such as the following: The location is a major narcotics distribution or manufacturing point, or police believe that others within may be engaging in more serious conduct at that location, or the arrestee is unlikely to be a solo participant, or that others are seen or heard running into other parts of the premises, or it is located in a violent or dan­gerous neighborhood. Mata, 517 F. 3d at 287, 288; United States v. Charles, 469 F.3d 402 (5th Cir. 2006).

Here, surveillance did not disclose any articulable facts that could give rise to the reasonable belief that any other individuals, besides Marcy and JJ, were residing in the apartment or that criminal activity was being conducted in the apartment either before or during the arrest. The officers were there to arrest JJ for Hill County warrants, where the criminal conduct was alleged to have occurred. JJ resided in McLennan County. The dep­uty U.S. marshall observed Marcy exit the apartment alone and return alone with only two meals. Marcy cooperated with the lead agent and disclosed that JJ was in the apartment alone. She gave her front door key to the lead agent and permission to enter. JJ surrendered to officers at the door and was arrested at the front door. There was no suggestion that the apartment was in a dangerous or violent neighborhood. The agent offered no articulable or specific facts particular to JJ in the search affidavit to justify the protective sweep for persons. The agent did not articulate facts giving rise to exigent circumstances that would require or permit law enforcement to conduct the prior protective sweep.

2. While a search of the place adjoining the arrest is per­mitted, the search of Defendant’s entire residence, and spe­cifically the back bedroom, exceeded the place from which an attack could be launched against officers.

The Supreme Court held that police may “as a precautionary matter and without probable cause or reasonable suspicion look in closets or other spaces immediately adjoining the place of ar­rest from which an attack could be launched.” Buie, 494 U.S. at 334. In this case, the agent and other officers arrested JJ at the front door. Officers then traveled down a hallway to a back bedroom and looked under a bed, which did not immediately adjoin the place of arrest. It is difficult to imagine how an attack could be launched against officers by an individual presumably hiding under a bed in a back bedroom.

3. While officers may search Defendant’s person and the area within his immediate control for a weapon or contra­band, the protective sweep exceeded the area within the Defendant’s con­trol.

Courts have held officers may conduct a search incident to arrest to prevent the arrestee from accessing a weapon or destroying evidence. But the search is limited to the arrestee’s per­son and to the area within his immediate control. United States v. Green, 324 F.3d 375, 378 (5th Cir. 2003)(citing Chimel v. California, 395 U.S. 752, 763, (1969). In this case, the deputy U.S. marshall searched JJ’s person then took him outside the apartment. The space under the bed in the back bedroom was not under the JJ’s immediate control. The protective sweep for persons in the apartment and the area under the bed was a pretext to search for contraband. It was only after the baggie was found under the bed that officers asked Marcy for consent to search, and when that was refused, they sought a search warrant.

B. Sufficiency of the Search Warrant Affidavit

1. If the Court finds the “protective sweep for persons” in this case violated the Defendant’s Fourth Amendment’s rights, then the untainted information remaining in the affidavit would be insufficient to show probable cause to search the Defendant’s residence.

If it is shown that some of the information in the search affidavit presented to the magistrate was acquired in a prior illegal search, the warrant is nonetheless valid if it could have been issued upon the untainted information in the affidavit. United States v. Hearn, 563 F.3d 95, 103 (5th Cir.2009) (stating that it is sufficient that probable cause is shown by affidavit after the illegally obtained information was purged); United States v. Veillette, 778 F.2d 899, 904 (1st Cir.1985)(holding that the police should not be put in a worse position than they would have been in had they not violated the law).

In this case, the search affidavit stated: “Affiant and other officers entered the residence and conducted a protective sweep for other persons. The deputy U.S. marshall looked for persons under the bed in the right back bedroom and observed a ziplock bag containing U.S. currency an (sic) unknown quantity of crack cocaine,” and observed “marijuana residue” on the bedroom night stand.

The only other information cited in the affidavit was a “useable amount of marijuana” found in the right front pocket of JJ’s denim shorts, “which he carried in his hand” when he was searched incident to arrest at the front door. That information alone would not have been sufficient to show probable cause to search the residence. If the tainted information is removed, the court must decide whether the magistrate would have issued a warrant given only the lawfully obtained information.

“This is not a case where the tainted information which is included in an affidavit along with untainted information is trivial or insignificant or merely cumulative. It is a case where the tainted information is of such major importance that its absence creates grave doubt that the warrant would have issued without it. If we are to uphold the fundamental purposes of the Fourth Amendment and the exclusionary rule by which it is implemented, it is my belief that the practice indulged in by the officers in this case must be condemned and the tainted evidence upon which appellants were convicted suppressed.”United States v. Nelson, 459 F.2d 884, 895 (6th Cir. 1972).

2. Information gained during the illegal, warrantless pro­tective sweep for persons prompted the officers to seek a search war­rant.

The Fifth Circuit has noted: “[U]nlike the objective test of whether the expurgated affidavit constitutes probable cause to issue the warrant, the core judicial inquiry before the district court on remand is a subjective one: whether information gained in the illegal search prompted the officers to seek a warrant to search. In the best of all possible worlds, of course, there will be statements or other evidence directly probative of motivation or effect. But in the usual case, in which direct evidence of subjective intent is absent, a court must infer motivation from the totality of facts and circumstances.” United States v. Restrepo, 966 F.2d 964, 972 (5th Cir. 1992).

The protective sweep for persons under the bed was a pretext to search for contraband. It was only after the baggie was found under the bed that officers asked Marcy for consent to search, and when that was refused, they sought a search warrant. In this case, the information obtained in the illegal search did motivate the officers to seek the warrant.

3. The magistrate did not consider the affidavit purged of tainted evidence.

The Fifth Circuit Court went on to find “we seriously doubt that it is appropriate to apply the deferential, substantial basis standard of review to the issuing magistrate judge’s decision when the magistrate judge never considered the warrant affidavit purged of tainted information.” Restrepo, 966 F.2d at 969.

4. Independent Source Doctrine

When announcing the “fruit of the poisonous tree” doctrine, the Supreme Court limited the exclusionary rule to evidence the police could not trace to some independent and lawful source. Wong Sun v. United States, 371 US 471, 488 (1963). The burden of proof is on the prosecution to establish an independent source. United States v. Leveringston, 397 F.3d 1112, 1115 (8th Cir.2005)(“When the government seeks to rely on the independent source doctrine in a case involving a later-obtained warrant, it should present specific evidence that officers were not prompted by allegedly unlawful activity to obtain the warrant, and should seek a finding on that point”—not done here).

My brief did not address “inevitable discovery” because the facts did not support it. The agents did not obtain consent to search after the protective sweep. Neither JJ nor Marcy made incriminating res gestae statements after the search was performed and the drugs were found—isn’t that amazing?

The Hearing

On cross, I asked the agent in charge (to the best of my recollection—this is not a transcript):

ME: Prior to entering the apartment, did you ask Marcy if there was anyone else in the apartment besides JJ?
ME: But you asked her if my client was in there?
ME: You testified that you’ve been doing this for 16 years, correct?
ME: Marcy had just left the apartment, so wouldn’t you normally ask that question before you enter the apart­ment?
ME: For officer safety?
ME: After all, she was cooperating and gave you her key and permission to enter, right?
ME: So odds are, she would tell you the truth if you asked her who else was in the apartment, right?
ME: But you didn’t ask?
AGENT: I guess I forgot.

Let me say that the Judge did not appear to be favorably impressed by his answers.

ME: You previously testified—when asked by the prosecutor—that you arrested my client at the door, didn’t you?
AGENT: It was inside the apartment.
ME: It wasn’t at the door?
AGENT: No, it wasn’t at the door. It was near the door but not at the door.
ME: How far from the door?
AGENT: Maybe 30 feet.

The Judge interrupted my cross and challenged the agent. The Judge told the agent that he had previously testified—when an­swer­ing the prosecutor’s question—that he arrested the defendant at the door.

AGENT [to the Judge]: No, I don’t think I said that, Judge. I don’t think so. It was inside the apartment.

The Judge challenged the agent again: “No that’s not what you said on your earlier testimony. You said you arrested him at the door.”

I asked a few more questions. Then Judge interrupted me to tell me he was granting my motion to suppress. Nice.

The Court’s Opinion

The Judge granted my motion to suppress and found:

After entering a residence to execute an arrest warrant, of­fi­cers may conduct a limited search for their own protection.United States v. Blevins, 755 F.3d 312, 325 (5th Cir. 2014); United States v. Jackson, 596 F.3d 236. (5th Cir.), cert. denied, __ U.S. __, 131 S.Ct.90, 178L.Ed.2d247 (2010). This “protective sweep” doctrine allows government agents, without a warrant, to conduct a quick and limited search of premises for the safety of agents and others present at the scene. U.S. v. Albarado, 555 Fed.Appx. 353, 357 (5th Cir. 2014), cert. filed No. 14-8787 (Aug. 6, 2014). Evidence found in plain view while conducting the security sweep is admissible, but evidence recovered beyond the scope of the protective sweep is not. Id.; United States v. Virgil, 444 F.3d 447, 451 (5th Cir.), cert. denied, 549 U.S. 879, 127 S.Ct. 365, 166 L.Ed.2d 138 (2006). A protective sweep may occur even after a suspect is arrested. Id.

To be constitutionally valid, (1) “the police must not have entered (or remained in) the home illegally and their pres­ence within it must be for a legitimate law enforcement purpose”; (2) “the protective sweep must be supported by a reasonable, articulable suspicion . . . that the area to be swept harbors an individual posing a danger to those on the scene”; (3) “the legitimate protective sweep may not be a full search but may be no more than a cursory inspection of those spaces where a person may be found”; and (4) the protective sweep “may last . . . no longer than is necessary to dispel the reasonable suspicion of danger, and . . . no longer than the police are justified in remaining on the premises.” U.S. v. Roberts, 612 F.3d 306, 311 (5th Cir.), cert. denied sub nom., Booth v. U.S., __ U.S. __, 131 S.Ct. 839, 178 L.Ed.2d 570 (2010)(quoting United States v. Gould, 364 F.3d 578, 587 (5th Cir. 2004)(en banc), abrogated in part on other grounds by Kentucky v. King, ___ U.S. ___, 131 S.Ct. 1849, 179 L.Ed.2d 865 (2011)). In the present case, the officers possessed no reasonable, articulable suspicion that the apartment harbored any other individuals who would pose a danger to those on the scene.

        Accordingly, Defendant’s Motion to Suppress is GRANTED as to the evidence obtained from the apartment.

The Disposition

The U.S. Attorney dismissed the case against my client.

Motion to Quash 3 Grand Jury Subpoena Duces Tecum

I just won my Motion to Quash three (3) Grand Jury Subpoena Duces Tecum in lampasas county court houseLampasas District Court.  My client had not been arrested or indicted and the Lampasas County DA was trying to force him to produce evidence that might be used against him.  You can only win these motions if you file them and they are critically important to the client.

A Subpoena Duces Tecum, is a court summons ordering the recipient to appear before the court and produce documents or other tangible evidence for use at a hearing or trial.

Is this inmate being held illegally at TDCJ?

Legal Question: Is this inmate being held illegally at TDCJ? He entered a plea of no contest to aggravated assault – bodily injury.

Stay out of jail with Mary Beth HarrellThe caption on the indictment reflects states that the charged offense was “aggravated assault-bodily injury.” In the body of the indictment, it says “alleged aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.” However, the appellant waived the reading of the indictment and the trial court, both orally and in writing, admonished appellant that the offense with which he was charged was “aggravated assault-serious bodily injury.”

There is no mention in any of the documents contained in the clerk’s record-except the body of the indictment-or any discussion in any of the reporter’s records of a deadly weapon until the State filed its motion for judgment Nunc pro tunc. The 14th Court of Appeals vacated and set aside the Nunc pro tunc judgment and reinstated and affirmed the original judgment and sentence of 15 years.


No, the inmate is not being held illegally. The appellate court defeated the prosecutor’s attempt to add a “deadly weapon” to the original judgment when it vacated and set aside the Nunc Pro Tunc.  That’s a good thing because adding the deadly weapon finding to the judgment would have seriously hurt his ability to make parole.

As it is, he will probably have to serve close to 50% of his time before he’s eligible for parole. Recommend he stays out of trouble, takes lots of education classes, bible study, and goes to drug or alcohol treatment or 12 step meetings while in prison to help his chances of making parole sooner rather than later.

What type of attorney do I need for a child abuse case?

Legal Question: What type of attorney do I need for a child abuse case?

Mary Beth Harrell protects your legal rightsMy wife was accused of child abuse 4 years ago and they placed her on probation. Yet, she has not seeing her probation officer in a long time. Now her probation has been revoked and the case has been reopened and a hearing is scheduled.

Does she need a criminal or family lawyer? There are things that our lawyer needs to know in order to understand my wife’s case. First, the detective that charge her with abuse took her statement without a lawyer present and switch things around in her statement. Second, the probation office had her urine test twice a month knowing that she already had weed in her system and threaten to put her in jail.

Weed doesn’t leave your system for 30 days and we tried to tell the probation that but she did not want to hear it. My wife is a good person. What should we do?


Your wife has already pled guilty or no contest to the charge of injury to a child, and waived a trial and waived appeal — so she does NOT get a new trial or hearing on the facts concerning the original case.

She is entitled to a hearing on whether or not she did in fact violate her probation and why she did it.

You should hire an attorney who will assist your wife in preparing for the hearing. The attorney will also talk with prosecutor to try to work out an agreement to continue her on probation. It is possible for her to remain on probation but she needs an attorney to help make that happen.


NTL Announces Mary Beth Harrell Top 100 Criminal Defense Trial Lawyers

Mary Beth Harrell 2015 Top Trial Lawyer

The National Trial Lawyers Announces Mary Beth Harrell as One of Its Top 100 Criminal Defense Trial Lawyers in Central and South Texas

For Immediate Release

The National Trial Lawyers is pleased to announce that Mary Beth Harrell, with the Harrell Law Firm in Killeen, Texas has been selected for inclusion into its Top 100 Criminal Defense Trial Lawyers in Central and South Texas, an honor given to only a select group of lawyers for their superior skills and qualifications in the field. Membership in this exclusive organization is by invitation only, and is limited to the top 100 attorneys in each state or region who have demonstrated excellence and have achieved outstanding results in their careers in either civil plaintiff or criminal defense law.

The National Trial Lawyers is a professional organization comprised of the premier trial lawyers from across the country who have demonstrated exceptional qualifications in their area of the law, specifically criminal defense or civil plaintiff law. The National Trial Lawyers provides accreditation to these distinguished attorneys and also provides essential legal news, information, and continuing education to trial lawyers across the United States.

With the selection of Mary Beth Harrell by The National Trial Lawyers: Top 100, Ms. Harrell has shown that she exemplifies superior qualifications, leadership skills, and trial results as a trial lawyer. The selection process for this elite honor is based on a multi-phase process which includes peer nominations combined with third-party research. As The National Trial Lawyers: Top 100 is an essential source of networking and information for trial attorneys throughout the nation, the final result of the selection process is a credible and comprehensive list of the most outstanding trial lawyers chosen to represent their state or region.

Contact: Andrew Findley  [email protected]g 866-665-2852

To learn more about The National Trial Lawyers, please visit:

Can you get two for one days for POSS CS PG 1 <1G

Criminal lawyer Marry Beth HarrellLegal Question: I have to do 180 days in the state jail I was wondering if I can get 2 for 1 days or if I can get work release?

Answer: You cannot get 2 for 1 credit in state jail and work release is not offered in state jail. However, if you served anytime in county jail before bonding out or being sentenced and transported to state jail then that time will be deducted from the 6 months. Otherwise it’s day for day while you’re in state jail.

You can apply for early release from state jail after you’ve served 80% of your time.  You must take a class and make a written application to be considered for early release. You will not be on parole or probation when you’re finally released.

Have you ever been convicted of a felony before? If not, then you should have been placed on a mandatory probation for possession of a controlled substance under a gram and you would not have gone to state jail. You could been placed on deferred adjudication probation and avoided a drug conviction too.

How, if even, would a retail store contact me if they have video of me stealing?

Mary Beth Harrell dismisses videoLegal Question: I have no excuse, nor do I know why I did, but, I stole a $3 item from a store. I told a friend about it (who worked for the retail store, he was not involved) about it. I had no idea why I stole it and just wanted at least one person to tell me something good.

A week later he called me and said he had heard that the store had become aware the object was missing (a wrapper). He doesn’t know how lost preventions handles such things, if at all. I could say what retail store, but this is a public forum so I will not.

However, I know there is probably video of me stealing the object. If they do come after me, would it be by police, certified mail…how would I get notified? This retail store has almost all my information. Address, name, date of birth, etc. because I worked for them year or so before this event.

Answer: If you’re convicted of Theft under $50, then the court can order you to pay a fine up to $500 plus court costs – but you cannot be sentenced to jail. However any type of theft conviction is considered a crime of “moral turpitude” branding you as a thief and a liar. The theft conviction is permanent and can never be erased. It will follow you the rest of your life and can make it very difficult to get a job or student loan. So if you’re charged with theft then hire a lawyer. And if you really don’t know why you shoplifted then consider enrolling in counseling now. The counseling may help you to correct your poor judgment so you don’t risk ruining your life again.

Motion to revoke Felony probation

Mary Beth Harrell helps with DUI arrestQuestion: I was on 2 years of probations and completed everything in 12 months. My parole officer told me she would send my file for early termination and then I got picked up the DWI. I am on a bond for a motion to revoke hearing plus pending charges for the DWI. If I am found guilty on DWI can I still reinstate my probation? My original probation charges were for “Theft.”

Answer: Yes it’s possible to get your probation reinstated but it will likely all depend on whether you’re convicted of the DWI. So keep reporting to probation, stay out of trouble and get a good lawyer.

Local group provides women lawyers opportunities to network & help each other

Posted: Sunday, July 5, 2015 in The Killeen Daily Herald by Jessica Pearce

organizer of Bell county Womens Bar AssociationCriminal defense lawyer Mary Beth Harrell has taken on a new challenge the last three months — launching the Bell County Women’s Bar Association.

The grass-roots association, which Harrell began through word-of-mouth and email chains, already has about 30 members.

In the past, the lawyers in the association met monthly during their lunch hours at local restaurants, including The Gin at Nolan Creek in Belton, to share a meal and focus on continuing education.

Bell county Womens bar gatheringSo far, the group has covered topics of interest including social media and the law, immigration law and advice from The Jury Whisperer, according to member Cari Starritt-Burnett, a family law attorney in Harker Heights.

The group had its first social event Monday at the Morgan’s Point Resort home of member Barbara Young, an attorney with Young, Libersky and Holbrook.

“(Harrell) put out the feelers,” Young said. “I like that we can get all the women together.”

BCWBA Mixer“We don’t always get to see each other at the courthouse,” Starritt-Burnett added. “You need that camaraderie.”

Anne Jackson, assistant district attorney for Henry Garza, said she missed the association’s first meeting, but has been a member since.

“It is easier for people with kids to attend the afternoon meetings,” she said. “But it’s also nice to have evening events like this.”

Carlson Law Firm attorney Rekha Akella, who also attended the social, has been instrumental in planning continuing education speakers for the association’s monthly meetings.

Akella is extending her practice into Williamson County. She said the association has been helpful in obtaining referrals.

Founded by Mary Beth Harrell“It’s an atmosphere for women to get to know each other, find similar interests and network,” Akella said. “It’s nice to put a name to a face.”

Akella has thought of ways for the group to reach out to middle and high school girls, encouraging them with the message that law “is not just a male-dominated field.”

Association member Savannah Stroud, who practices family and criminal defense law at Carlson Law Firm, has attended group gatherings since its start. She believes that “women act differently when it’s just them; there’s a camaraderie there.”

Harrell joined the conversation with members at the June social. She said the idea for creating the association has been a long time coming, stemming from her own education and community involvement.

Harrell first attended an all-girls’ high school, led by female educators.

“From them, I learned that being a woman and a leader was a very natural role,” she said.

Harrell then attended St. Mary’s University Law School in San Antonio, where she interned for a female judge at the Fourth Court of Appeals, composed almost entirely of women at the time. While interning there, she joined the Bexar County Women’s Bar Association.

“It was such a terrific experience, it stayed with me all these years,” she said.

Harrell’s extensive career in law includes serving as past president of the Coryell County Bar Association, teaching law at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor and specializing in criminal defense law for the past 16 years in her private Killeen practice.

Mary Beth Harrell“I got to a point in my career where I knew enough people and wanted to do something for the community,” she said. “Giving women the opportunity to lead each other is worthwhile. Women (members) learn not to be in competition, but to be part of a team.”

Harrell said several members are working together to form bylaws for the association and to finalize the structure of the group.

In addition to upcoming continuing education topics such as the use of cellphone records in court cases, the group also plans to serve the community in Bell County by running pro bono legal clinics for those who cannot afford legal services, Harrell said.

“I strongly believe it is critical for women to mentor, support, network and socialize with each other to achieve professional success and personal satisfaction,” Harrell said.

There are more than 100 female lawyers in Bell County, according to Harrell. She urges anyone who wants to find out more about the association to contact her at 254-458-2195 or [email protected].