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Community Icon, STCL Houston Alumnus Forges Pathway to Justice and Redemption

Home Law School News Community Icon, STCL Houston Alumnus Forges Pathway to Justice and Redemption

Influential Houston Bishop John D. Ogletree, Jr. ’79 was among the first Black students to attend a desegregated high school in the Dallas suburbs. That experience set the stage for decades of soul-searching for his true calling through college, a stint in law enforcement, South Texas College of Law Houston, and his family law practice.

Education and justice were pillars of Ogletree’s upbringing. His mother was a teacher, and his father was a Baptist pastor. He always knew education is essential to justice, and he diligently pursued his own studies.

Ogletree received a Bachelor of Arts in government from the University of Texas at Arlington in 1973. He found his voice as an undergraduate, where he served as vice president of Student Congress.

After completing his undergraduate degree, Ogletree went into criminal justice, working for the Dallas County Sheriff’s Department. But he continued struggling with nagging doubts that he was on the path to his true calling.

“I wanted to help people deal with the issues that occur on a day-to-day basis,” he recalled. “I always had an interest in the law.” South Texas Law attracted Ogletree with its reputation for excellence and rolling admissions. He soon uprooted his wife and son from Dallas to Houston and enrolled in night classes.

Ogletree’s foray into law was exhausting by any measure. With his young family at home, he was determined to earn a living and his law degree as quickly as possible. Despite his grueling schedule as a full-time student and full-time messenger at Fulbright & Jaworski, Ogletree thrived as a law student. 

During his year at Fulbright, the firm still surged with adrenaline fueled by Special Prosecutor Leon Jaworski’s epic battle for access to critical evidence the U.S. Department of Justice sought concerning the Watergate scandal. The firm buzzed excitedly as Jaworski secured a U.S. Supreme Court decision that forced President Nixon to produce the infamous White House tapes. Ogletree’s desire for his law degree was stoked. 

Later, as a 2L and 3L, Ogletree worked down the street from South Texas Law as bailiff of Harris County’s 308th Judicial District Court, earning respect and making friends along the way. 

Some aspects of law school unnerved Ogletree, and he admits that speaking in front of a crowd was difficult at first. With only a handful of Black students in his classes, Ogletree often felt that same oppressive weight of representation he had felt as a high school student. “Nothing can prepare you for the Socratic method,” Ogletree said.

But despite his doubts, Ogletree’s tireless work ethic earned admiration from peers and professors alike. The fellowship among his classmates encouraged Ogletree, whose agenda teemed with countless daily obligations. The candor in the classroom and the grace with which Dean T. Gerald Treece handled controversial constitutional law topics inspired Ogletree to keep pushing forward.

Thanks to South Texas Law’s no-nonsense programming, Ogletree graduated early by attending full time and over the summer. Because he had graduated with a network of family law attorneys and judges from his time as a bailiff, opening a family law practice seemed a natural progression. 

However, after only two years in practice, Ogletree found himself doubting his chosen path. His vision for justice had not been fulfilled by his work in law enforcement or law practice. Family lawyers notoriously see clients at their worst, and Ogletree often felt urged to counsel clients on faith in addition to lawsuits. 

Ogletree soon answered his higher calling. In 1985, he was ordained in Antioch Missionary Baptist Church. A year later, he and his wife, Evelyn, founded First Metropolitan Church. Three of the couple’s four children have since entered ministry as well. 

Ogletree relinquished his law practice in 1992, but not his ideology. First Met’s mission is to transform lives through education, fellowship, compassion, and prayer. The minister found that the skills he acquired at South Texas Law applied equally well to the pulpit and the courtroom. “I believe law and ministry do have parallels because the goal of each is to right wrongs,” Ogletree said. “Thank God we’re in a system where someone who has been wronged can hire a lawyer to seek justice.”

From his early days as a bailiff in the family law courts to his eventual transition into ministry, Ogletree’s dedication to justice has been evident in every aspect of his work. In addition to leading First Met, Ogletree has played key roles in Union Baptist Association, Baptist General Convention of Texas, and the African American Pastor’s Fellowship. 

Ogletree also devoted 18 years to the Cypress Fairbanks ISD Board of Trustees, overseeing the adoption of a district-wide diversity initiative in 2020. His goal as a board member was to ensure every student was valued and received a quality education, and he took to heart the district creed, “Opportunity for All.”

For Ogletree, justice cannot be siloed into partisan or professional labels, and he still swells with pride over the transformative time he spent at South Texas Law. “I felt my education was top notch,” he said. “South Texas Law remains in your system.” 

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