Alan Albright

Alan Albright

Alan D. Albright, an Austin attorney and former federal magistrate, was confirmed by the U.S. Senate Thursday and will become the new federal judge in Waco.

The Senate approved Albright, 58, as President Donald J. Trump’s appointment to replace U.S. District Judge Walter S. Smith Jr., whose retirement in September 2016 was hastened ignominiously by a prolonged investigation into reports he groped female federal employees in his chambers and lied to investigators about it.

The vote on Albright’s nomination was on the Senate calendar a few times in recent weeks but was delayed by tributes to U.S. Sen. John McCain after his death Aug. 25 and Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on Judge Brett Kavanaugh, Trump’s nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court.

Albright said he hopes to be sworn in early next week.

“I am incredibly honored that the president nominated me on the recommendation of Texas Senators (John) Cornyn and (Ted) Cruz,” Albright said Thursday after the Senate vote. “I am thrilled at the opportunity to serve as a United States judge, and I am honored that I will get to serve in the Waco, Texas, division. I look forward to being sworn in as quickly as possible and beginning my service.”

Albright, a partner with the Bracewell law firm in Austin, was born in Hershey, Pennsylvania, and moved to San Antonio with his family when he was 5. He grew up in San Antonio and graduated from Trinity University and the University of Texas Law School.

After his stint as a federal magistrate in Austin from 1992 to 1999, he went to work at Bracewell, working in the areas of patent litigation, licensing, protection and enforcement of trade secrets and other matters confronting technology companies.

Senior U.S. District Judge James R. Nowlin has postponed his retirement so he can have the pleasure of swearing in Albright, his former law clerk that he hired while Albright was a law student.

“This makes me feel really old, and I am really old,” Nowlin said. “I am 80, and it is hard for me to accept, and it makes me feel even older to have what I call a kid who was my law clerk 32 years ago become judge.

“Alan is exceptionally smart. He is a voracious reader and, yes, he is a pretty normal person. He is a big runner. When he worked for me, he ran, he rides bikes, he is a big exercise freak. But above all, he is a really good guy with a great sense of humor. He has a very even temper and he is exceptionally bright in the law. I think he will be a great judge,” Nowlin said.

Don Everett, a history professor at Trinity University who taught both Nowlin and Albright, called Nowlin in 1982 and suggested he might want to hire Albright, a third-year law student, as his law clerk.

“Dr. Everett said Alan is the brightest student he has ever had,” Nowlin said. “I thought about that a minute and said, ‘Wait, I was one of your students,’ and he paused and said, ‘Yes, Alan is the brightest student I have ever had.’”

Nowlin, who was appointed federal judge in 1981 by President Ronald Reagan, was chief judge of the Western District of Texas when Albright was appointed a federal magistrate in Austin. Albright was runner-up to succeeding Nowlin when Nowlin took senior status, Nowlin said.

U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman, of Austin, who has been handling the majority of the Waco docket since Smith’s retirement, served as U.S. attorney for the Western District of Texas while Albright was magistrate.

“Judge Albright and I have been close friends for 25 years, and I am beyond confident that he’s a great fit for the Waco legal community,” Pitman said. “He has considerable trial experience, both as an attorney and a judge. He know what’s important. He lets lawyers do their jobs. He places a premium on civility and will set the tone for the courthouse to be a positive place for lawyers, court staff and litigants alike.”

Jeffrey C. Manske, who has served as Waco’s federal magistrate for 17 years, said Albright will bring a wealth of legal knowledge and federal judicial experience to the bench.

“I think Judge Albright will be an excellent addition to the federal courthouse and our community,” Manske said. “He possesses the appropriate judicial temperament in that he is compassionate, open-minded and extremely courteous. I am excited to have him as a colleague on the bench and look forward to continuing our friendship.”

Albright was interviewed by Cornyn and Cruz, and they forwarded his name to the White House as their nominee for the vacant judgeship. Albright was interviewed by White House counsel in July 2017 before he underwent a thorough Justice Department background investigation.

“An experienced civil litigator and former federal magistrate judge, Alan Albright will be an excellent addition to the district court,” Cornyn said in a statement following the confirmation. “I’m grateful to my colleagues for supporting his nomination and look forward to getting him seated as soon as possible.”

Cruz said he is grateful to his colleagues for confirming Albright.

“Texans will be well served by Alan’s professionalism, experience, and commitment to the rule of law,” Cruz said.

Albright met with the Waco-McLennan County Bar Association in May and said he is eager to become part of the Waco community and pledged that he will hire at least one clerk from Baylor University Law School.

“I intend to come here and serve as long as I am physically and mentally capable of serving Waco,” he said. “That’s one thing that is very important. Two, I want to be a lawyer’s judge. If you see me out on my bike riding in Cameron Park — I do a lot of running and stuff like that — I hope you feel like you can come up and talk with me. I don’t know what the relationship was here with Judge Smith or the way it is in Austin and other places, but I want to be somebody who you feel is very approachable. Yes, I guess I am going to be a federal judge, but I would hope that under no circumstances would anyone be able to divine that by the way I’m acting.”

Staff writer at the Waco Tribune-Herald covering courts and criminal justice. Follow me on Twitter @TSpoonFeed.

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