From soldiering to the courtroom
From playing high school football to team roping to soldiering in Operation Desert Storm, longtime Odessan Ronald Clark Griffin trod a long, challenging road on his way to becoming U.S. magistrate judge in the Western District of Texas’s federal district court in Midland.
Named to an eight-year term last August by U.S. District Judge David Counts, Griffin was delighted to find himself back in the offices where he was a law clerk for Magistrate Judge Stuart Platt from 1999-2001.
Noting Platt is now an official in the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility in Washington, he said, “I draw from things I remember him doing.
“Judge Platt is a common sense, respectful, down-to-earth person who was a great model. He got an old robe out of storage and sent it to me and I had it altered because he is much bigger than me. I’ve worn it several times.”
Griffin is a 50-year-old Fort Stockton native who wore the Panthers’ blue and white as left cornerback, going 5-5 as a senior in the 4-A district with Sweetwater, Big Spring, Monahans and Lamesa. He attended Sul Ross State for two years, graduated from Army Airborne School, made 25 parachute jumps and was a satellite radio operator in Kuwait from January to March 1993.
“The thing I remember about jumping is not the sensation of falling but the prop blast,” he said. “There was a tremendous amount of hot air and jet fuel smell. You’re not out there very long because the chute opens in four seconds. Then you’re just flying the chute to get to the ground.”
Griffin was a team roper in high school rodeos and for a while afterward and he still rides occasionally at step-father Fred Pearce’s ranch between Tatum and Roswell, N.M.
He got a Texas Tech political science degree and graduated from the Oklahoma City University School of Law in 1999. He moved to Odessa after serving Platt and worked for 13 years at the Shafer, Davis, O’Leary & Stoker law firm, mostly defending insurance companies and representing Ector and Pecos counties, the City of Odessa and Medical Center Hospital.
Griffin was MCH’s general counsel, succeeding State Rep. Brooks Landgraf, from late 2014 until his appointment as magistrate judge.
Growing up, he was a welder’s helper for his dad Ronnie and other welders, cowboyed on ranches and worked in Fort Stockton’s Ste. Genevieve Vineyard. He has a brother, a sister and two step-brothers. His mom’s name is Marsha. He is single.
Presiding over civil suits and mediation settlements, issuing search and arrest warrants, arraigning defendants and adjudicating misdemeanor trials, Griffin said, “It’s deliberate and I want to make sure I’m doing it correctly, dictated by the statutes or cases.
“Whatever the circumstances, everybody needs to be treated with respect. You need the temperament of being respectful and maintaining decorum in the courtroom. It’s more formal than the state courts. The lawyers talk from a lectern. I expect them to do what they’re supposed to do and by and large my expectations are met.
“It was humbling and a big privilege to come back here in this capacity. I was sworn into the State Bar by Judge Platt at the Lucius D. Bunton Courthouse in Pecos, the Western District of Texas here by Judge Royal Furgeson, the Northern District by Judge Robert Junell and as magistrate judge by Judge Counts.”
The only other attorney in his family is his second cousin Clint Griffin of Eldorado, 45 miles south of San Angelo.
“Growing up, if we wanted to go shopping or go to a movie or the orthodontist, we went to Odessa,” Griffin said. “It doesn’t look like Dallas or Fort Worth if you’re coming in from the outside, but you’re selling it short if you just go by the looks.
“Odessa has good people who are business-minded and entrepreneurial. There’s a lot of opportunity.”
State District Judge Denn Whalen said Griffin “has such a well-rounded background that he is perfectly suited for the position he is in now.
“Ron has an extensive civil background and is a good complement to Judge Counts, who will be one of the best judges we’ve ever had,” Judge Whalen said. “He is a driven guy with a good work ethic. He’s very bright and has a great sense of humor, which you need on the bench.
“I don’t think Ron will forget what it’s like to be a practicing lawyer in front of a judge. He is respectful and I think he will remember what he liked in the judges he practiced in front of. He is a what-you-see-is-what-you-get kind of guy. There is no pretence.”
Judge Stacy Trotter said this is the first time the Permian Basin has had a magistrate and a federal judge from this area, Counts having been magistrate judge in Midland from 2009-17. Counts is a 57-year-old Knox City native who was an assistant U.S. attorney in San Antonio prior to his appointment as magistrate by Judge Junell, who became a senior judge in 2015.
“Ron is extremely bright and a hard worker,” Trotter said. “He has a broad background in a lot of areas of the law. It’s a rare occasion to have an opportunity to serve in the federal judiciary. You go through an extensive background check and you won’t be remotely considered if you don’t have impeccable character and ethics.”
Trotter said Griffin “is laid-back and easygoing” in private as well as patient and fair-minded in court, but that doesn’t mean he is an easy touch for aggressive attorneys. “Ron is not a pushover,” the judge said.
“You can’t be. If the lawyers don’t know, they soon find out that they can’t expect to walk into his courtroom and dictate how the proceeding plays out.”
Odessa Chamber of Commerce President Renee Earls and her husband Rich attended Texas Tech games at the College World Series last year in Omaha, Neb., with Griffin and his girlfriend Vanessa Brisco. “It’s fun to have Ron as a fellow Red Raider,” said Earls, adding that the couples have adjacent seats at Tech home football games.
“When he was up for that position, an FBI man came to my office and asked me all these questions. They were very thorough and talked to a lot of people from his past. I’m proud to have an Odessan in that position.”
Griffin’s hobbies are hunting, fishing, reading and following Tech athletics. He was absorbed in the western novels of Louis L’Amour as a youngster, reads John Grisham’s legal thrillers and enjoyed “The Last Picture Show,” “Terms of Endearment” and “Lonesome Dove” by Larry McMurtry.
With his black labrador retrievers Miga and Bela, Griffin hunts dove, quail and pheasant in the Permian Basin and Panhandle and he shot Impala and Blesbok in South Africa in 2009 and ’11. He fly fishes in New Mexico, Colorado and Utah.
“I grew up being outside,” said the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church member. “I like the fresh air. It gives you time to reflect and think on things. I enjoy getting a firsthand experience with God’s creation.
“I believe God puts people in our lives and puts us in people’s lives for a reason.”