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The Honorable Sylvester Turner

State representative and lawyer Sylvester Turner was born on September 27, 1954 in Acres Homes, Texas. His mother was a maid at the Rice Hotel and his father, a commercial painter. Turner was raised with eight brothers and sisters. In 1973, he graduated as the valedictorian of Klein High School. Four years later, Turner received his B.A. degree in political science from the University of Houston, after which he attended Harvard Law School, where he received his J.D. degree in 1980.

Turner was hired at the Houston-based law firm Fulbright & Jaworski. After three years, Turner left and formed his own law firm with partner Barry M. Barnes. Barnes & Turner specialize in corporate and commercial law. In 1984, Turner ran for a Harris County Commissioner seat, but he lost to El Franco Lee. In 1988, he won the seat in the Texas House of Representatives for District 139, a mostly minority district. Turner also taught at the Thurgood Marshall School of Law at Texas Southern University, the South Texas College of Law, and at the University of Houston Law School’s continuing legal education program. He also ran for the mayor of Houston twice, once in 1991 where he lost in a hotly contested race, and again in 2003, where he lost to Bill White. In 2003, Turner became the Speaker Pro Tempore in the Texas House of Representatives, a post he held until 2009. His major legislative accomplishment, HB 109, expanded access to the children’s health insurance program and was passed in 2007.

Turner sits on the State Affairs committee and is the Vice Chair of the Appropriations Committee. He is also on the Subcommittee on the Current Fiscal Condition. He is a member of Brookhollow Baptist Church and has one daughter, Ashley Paige Turner.

Sylvester Turner was interviewed by The HistoryMakers<\em> on August 15, 2012.

Accession Number

A2012.156

Sex

Male

Interview Date

8/15/2012

Last Name

Turner

Maker Category
Marital Status

Divorced

Schools

Harvard Law School

University of Houston

Klein Forest High School

Garden City Elementary and Junior High School

Klein Intermediate School

First Name

Sylvester

Birth City, State, Country

Houston

HM ID

TUR07

Favorite Season

Spring, Summer

State

Texas

Favorite Vacation Destination

South Africa

Favorite Quote

I Can Do All Things Through Christ That Strengthens Me.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Texas

Birth Date

9/27/1954

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Houston

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Spaghetti, Ox Tails

Short Description

Mayor, state representative, and lawyer The Honorable Sylvester Turner (1954 - ) represented district 139 in the Texas House of Representatives from 1988 to 2016, when he became the mayor of Houston, Texas. He also founded the law firm of Barnes and Turner LLP.

Employment

Texas House of Representatives

Barnes & Turner

University of Houston

South Texas College of Law

Texas Southern University

Fulbright & Jaworski

City of Houston, Texas

Favorite Color

Blue

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of The Honorable Sylvester Turner's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - The Honorable Sylvester Turner lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - The Honorable Sylvester Turner describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - The Honorable Sylvester Turner describes his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - The Honorable Sylvester Turner remembers working with his dad

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - The Honorable Sylvester Turner describes his parents' personalities and who he takes after

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - The Honorable Sylvester Turner talks about his roots in Chappell Hill, Texas

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - The Honorable Sylvester Turner lists his siblings

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - The Honorable Sylvester Turner remembers the Acres Homes community in Houston, Texas

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - The Honorable Sylvester Turner talks about his experiences of school integration in Houston, Texas, pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - The Honorable Sylvester Turner talks about his experiences of school integration in Houston, Texas, pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - The Honorable Sylvester Turner talks about African American political representation in Houston, Texas

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - The Honorable Sylvester Turner describes the African American community in Houston, Texas

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - The Honorable Sylvester Turner describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - The Honorable Sylvester Turner remembers the Bethel Baptist Church in Houston, Texas

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - The Honorable Sylvester Turner recalls his influential teachers

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - The Honorable Sylvester Turner remembers being bused to an all-white school

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - The Honorable Sylvester Turner describes his experiences of school integration

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - The Honorable Sylvester Turner talks about his early ambitions

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - The Honorable Sylvester Turner describes the demographics of Klein High School in Houston, Texas

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - The Honorable Sylvester Turner recalls his influences at the Bethel Baptist Church in Houston, Texas

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - The Honorable Sylvester Turner talks about his community in Houston, Texas

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - The Honorable Sylvester Turner remembers his valedictorian speech

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - The Honorable Sylvester Turner remembers his father's death

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - The Honorable Sylvester Turner recalls his decision to attend the University of Houston in Houston, Texas

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - The Honorable Sylvester Turner recalls his early aspiration to become a lawyer

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - The Honorable Sylvester Turner talks about his decision to attend the Harvard Law School

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - The Honorable Sylvester Turner remembers his friendships with Leroy Hassell

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - The Honorable Sylvester Turner talks about his social life at Harvard Law School

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - The Honorable Sylvester Turner remembers Derrick A. Bell, Jr.

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - The Honorable Sylvester Turner talks about the faculty of the Harvard Law School

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - The Honorable Sylvester Turner remembers his club football team at Harvard University

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - The Honorable Sylvester Turner recalls hearing a female preacher for the first time

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - The Honorable Sylvester Turner recalls his internship at Fulbright and Jaworski LLP in Houston, Texas

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - The Honorable Sylvester Turner describes a memorable legal case

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - The Honorable Sylvester Turner remembers founding Barnes and Turner LLP

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - The Honorable Sylvester Turner remembers losing his first political campaign

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - The Honorable Sylvester Turner remembers his campaign for the Texas House of Representatives

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - The Honorable Sylvester Turner recalls his election to the Texas House of Representatives

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - The Honorable Sylvester Turner talks about his interest in healthcare reform

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - The Honorable Sylvester Turner recalls arguing a civil suit against the Phillips Petroleum Company

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - The Honorable Sylvester Turner remembers his first campaign for the mayoralty of Houston, Texas

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - The Honorable Sylvester Turner talks about the aftermath of the 1991 mayoral election in Houston, Texas

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - The Honorable Sylvester Turner remembers Lee P. Brown

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - The Honorable Sylvester Turner talks about politics in Texas

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - The Honorable Sylvester Turner talks about political redistricting in Texas

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - The Honorable Sylvester Turner describes his legislative achievements

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - The Honorable Sylvester Turner remembers his second campaign for the mayoralty of Houston, Texas

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - The Honorable Sylvester Turner remembers the passage of Texas House Bill 109

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - The Honorable Sylvester Turner remembers meeting President Barack Obama

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - The Honorable Sylvester Turner describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - The Honorable Sylvester Turner talks about his work in the Acres Homes section of Houston, Texas

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - The Honorable Sylvester Turner reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - The Honorable Sylvester Turner talks about his family

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - The Honorable Sylvester Turner reflects upon his life

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - The Honorable Sylvester Turner describes how he would like to be remembered

DASession

1$1

DATape

5$5

DAStory

2$8

DATitle
The Honorable Sylvester Turner describes a memorable legal case
The Honorable Sylvester Turner recalls arguing a civil suit against the Phillips Petroleum Company
Transcript
Now, is there a memorable case from that period of time that you can tell us about?$$I guess it's, it's one in particular. The plaintiff was a guy by the name of Willie Harris [ph.]. I guess it is memorable since I still remember it, and that's been years ago. But, anyway, Willie was an entrepreneur, African American, and he was in his company's truck, and he was coming over the Ship, Ship Channel Bridge [Sam Houston Tollway Ship Channel Bridge, Houston, Texas]. And this 18-wheeler hit him, and he was seriously injured, and he sued the 18-wheeler. I represented the company. And, and I made him an offer through his attorney, and he did not, he did not accept the offer to settle. It end up--it went to trial. I made him another offer, and his attorney did not accept it. And, quite frankly, you know, I had, I had much more to give, okay. And, but, and so, we went to trial. During the trial, I made him another offer, attorney didn't accept it. And then, the attorney came to me during the trial, and asked me, was the offer still on the table? And I said, "Well, if you accept it now." Now, mind you, I had a lot more to give. And in many ways, I said to myself, the attorney is crazy as hell (unclear) to be accepting--I mean, I represent my client, so if, you know, and so, I say, "Yeah, if you, if you accept it now, it's on the table." This is during the course of trial. And he went over and talked to Willie, and I could, and I could kind of hear and see the exchange, where Willie was not liking the offer. And his attorney kept talking to him, kept talking to him, kept talking. And Willie finally relented and said, "Okay." And the attorney came to me and said, "We'll accept." And in my mind, I was saying, "You're crazy as hell but, okay, no problem." So, when he stood before the judge to announce that the case had settled, and the judge said, "All parties in agreement?" I said, you know, "It's the best terms for the defendant, judge, yes, I'm in agreement." Asked the other attorney, the attorney said, "Yes." And the judge asked Willie Harris. "Mr. Harris, are you in agreement with the settlement?" And he kind of said, "Oh, well," and said, "You should, well, you don't have to--are you in agreement with it?" And attorney, his attorney looked at him, and he finally said, "Yeah, yeah." And she said, "Okay, all parties in agreement. This case is dismissed." It's over. So, I was packing up, and Willie comes over to me. And he said, "Mr.," he said, "Mr. Turner [HistoryMaker Sylvester Turner], you know, I'm hurt, you know, I'm hurt, and this does not cover me for my injuries," and stuff like that. And I said, I said, "Mr. Harris, I'm not your attorney. I represent, I represent my client, and I did my job." And he said, "But, brother, you know, I'm--," he said, "Brother, you know, I'm hurt." I said, "Mr. Harris, I'm not your attorney. I represent my client. I did my job." And, and my client and I got up, and we walked out. That one, that one stands out because it's one of those deals that, yeah, you know, he had a poor lawyer. Had a poor lawyer, but it's not a case where I can be the lawyer for my client, and be the lawyer for his client as well. Okay. Now, subsequently, a few years later, I'm no longer at Fulbright [Fulbright and Jaworski LLP], and now I'm in my own shop [Barnes and Turner LLP; Barry Barnes and Associates PLLC, Houston, Texas]. Willie comes to me, and became my client, you know, but that one stands out. And, and, and because it's nothing like having a good lawyer. It's nothing like having somebody that's going to advocate for you, and fight for you, and get everything that's on the--that's potentially is on the table for you. Nothing like having a good lawyer. And in his case, his lawyer fell short, and he paid the price.$$I heard such cases before when cold--cold aspects of law sometimes, you know, the people don't know. They--$$You know--$$--don't give, give a thing (unclear).$$Right, but you can't be, you know, the way the system is designed, you know, I can't be the lawyer for my client, and be the lawyer for you at the same time. And my job is, as a lawyer is to represent my client, and represent my client zealously, and do the best I can, so but it points out the importance of having quality representation, and not only quality representation, you've got to have people who are willing to advocate for you.$$Okay.$$And if you don't have that, you'll fall short.$Now, in 1989, you sued Phillips Petroleum [Phillips Petroleum Company; Phillips 66]. That's when the big Phillips plant explosion--$$Um-hm.$$--okay, that's the Phillips plant explosion case. Tell us about that.$$(Cough) I represented Janet Little. She was an employee at Phillips Petroleum. Interesting story on how we met--I was speaking at a, at a church association banquet in--I want to say, in Sealy, Texas. And she and her parents were in the audience. Later, goes the Phillips Petroleum explos- explosion. And her mom calls me here at the firm and says--she introduced herself, Ms. Foy, and she says, "My daughter has been seriously burnt. And there are a lot of lawyers that are around here at (unclear). But she asked me to call you because she wanted, she wanted the lawyer that spoke at the banquet, and that was you." And then, we--I met with them and signed on, and represented her, and I had a very favorable outcome. She's been a client with this firm ever since. From the proceeds, her father [Charles H. Foy] was a pastor in Dickinson, Texas. And from part of the proceeds, she, she built, she constructed a new church in Dickinson [Mount Carmel Missionary Baptist Church] and paid for it herself, which is one of the, one of the largest churches now in Dickinson, Texas. You know, it was, it was, it just started the ball, the ball just--things just started changing in the, in the life of the firm.$$So, the plant was caused by some negligence of Phillips?$$Yeah, they were, they were negligent and then caused the explosion. And I represent Anna Brooks [ph.] and her, and a couple of other people. Ironically, the people that were defending, the lawyers that were defending Phillips came from Fulbright and Jaworski [Fulbright and Jaworski LLP]. And one of, and one of my mentors, Blake Tartt, was the lead attorney.$$That's, that's interesting.$$Yeah. And we were in, we were in a conference room which it was a settlement meeting. And we were talking and, you know, and Blake says, "Sylvester [HistoryMaker Sylvester Turner], are we going to get this case settled?" And I said, "I hope so, Mr. Tartt." He would call me Sylvester and I called him Mr. Tartt 'cause I'd looked up to him. And then, he asked me, how much was I asking for. And I, I wrote him a note on a sheet, on a sheet of paper, and I forwarded it to him. And he crossed it out, and sent a note back and, and I told him, I said, "If I accepted this, you would, you would lose all respect for me, and I would not be the, the student that you had taught well." So, I crossed it out, and sent him another note. And he said, "Done."