Amarillo has an issue with its law firms.
Before I go any further in this article, let me point out some things. I have met several of lawyers from the firms that I am about to mention. Personally, I have never had any issues with any of these lawyers. This article is not casting doubt on whether any of these lawyers are nice people. This article is also not an attack on any one lawyer. Rather, this article will be an examination of a real issue that is facing Amarillo today.
Plain and simple, two law firms in Amarillo today have too much influence. Brown & Fortunato and Underwood Law Firm have attorneys who have sought public office, have held public office, have held appointed office and have played roles in governmental affairs. In these capacities, particular lawyers from these firms have had an opportunity to run the show and make big decisions that affect people from all walks of life.
Michele Fortunato and Richard Brown have both held leadership roles on the Amarillo College board of regents and the Amarillo Local Government Corporation, respectively. In his capacity, Brown helped develop the idea for the "downtown catalyst project" and the MPEV. Michele Fortunato was one of the members of the board of regents that agreed to sign a letter from Amarillo College to the City Council urging support of the downtown projects. These two lawyers helped pioneer the downtown projects, while using influence in their roles to make these things happen.
Underwood Law Firm also holds influence in many capacities. The influence held by Underwood Law Firm's top lawyers is different from that of Brown & Fortunato. While Brown & Fortunato holds positions within governmental bodies, Underwood's lawyers operate as supporters of the bodies. Alan Rhodes, one of the partners at Underwood, gave $10,000 to Amarillo Matters, a political action committee that helped elect all five members of the city council and helped re-elect Michele Fortunato. A portion of Amarillo Matters' donations also came from lawyers at Underwood.
Certain officials within the City of Amarillo and Amarillo College have been employees of Underwood Law Firm in the past and some ex-employees have joined the law firm. In fact, Mayor Ginger Nelson is a former employee of Underwood Law Firm
Today, an attorney from Brown & Fortunato announced that they would be seeking a judicial spot during the 2018 county elections. While the Amarillo Pioneer will not endorse candidates, I would personally like to urge voters to consider how much influence is too much.
-Thomas Warren III, Editor-In-Chief
*Note: A previous edition of this editorial said the Mark White was a former employee of Underwood Law Firm. White was an employee for Sprouse, Shrader, Smith.