Speaker Biographies

Stay tuned. We will update this page with more information as we put together the 2018 Institute. The Speaker Biographies from the 2017 Institute are below.

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BRANDY AUSTIN is a founding member of the firm. Her firm specializes in personal injury, family law, small business litigation, and wills and probate. Brandy attended East Carolina University in Greenville, N.C. for her undergraduate degree. She majored in both English and Political Science. She went on to attend Baylor Law School and successfully completed Baylor’s prestigious Practice Court program. She was part of Baylor’s National Client Counseling Team and participated in their Moot Court Competition. Brandy has defended clients sued for medical malpractice, products liability, and personal injury. She has represented numerous clients at depositions, hearings, and trials. However, she wanted a closer partnership with her clients and decided to open her own practice to build a closer relationship with clients and the community.

DON FEARE practices civil litigation and criminal defense in Arlington. He regularly handles a large volume of animal law cases, including: an action against a gun club to prevent the sport shooting of pigeons; an in-depth review of the fatal shooting of Jabari, the lowland gorilla at the Dallas Zoo; and a variety of dangerous dog seizure and dog bite related cases. Don also counsels numerous rescue organizations and has represented counties in animal cruelty seizure hearings involving large numbers of animals, both domestic and livestock; he served as the trial attorney in the largest animal cruelty seizure in history (27,000 animals). Don is a past member of the legislative committee of the Texas Humane Legislation Network.  He is also a photographer and writes about animal law and waterfowl behavior and diseases and also has authored many papers on animal law and is a regular speaker at TXALS’s annual Institute.  In addition, he speaks to civic and animal groups throughout the country.  Don is also an adjunct professor of animal law at his alma mater Texas A&M University School of Law.

SALLY HERNANDEZ was sworn in on January 1, 2017 and is serving her first term as the Travis County Sheriff. Sheriff Hernandez was raised in Llano, Texas and received her bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice from St. Edwards University. Serving Central Texas for 35 plus years in law enforcement, she has built community partnerships, worked to prevent crime and kept neighborhoods safe in Travis County. In 1981, Hernandez began working with the Llano County Sheriff’s Office as a night dispatcher. In 1988, she moved to Austin and began working as a deputy with the Travis County Constable Precinct Three. In 1992, Hernandez was hired as a sergeant investigator by former Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle. She was later promoted to Chief of Investigations in 2005. In 2013, she was elected and took office as Travis County Constable Precinct Three. On November 8, 2016, Hernandez was elected Sheriff of Travis County. (bio & pic forthcoming)

CHARLES JANTZEN is currently assigned to Harris County Precinct 5 Constables Office, Animal Crimes unit. Sergeant Jantzen has attended a vast range of animal related courses such as the National Cruelty Investigators School, National Equine Cruelty Investigations School and a variety of Law Enforcement Academies. Throughout his 15 year career, investigating crimes against animals, Sergeant Jantzen has investigated thousands of animal cruelty cases. These cases have involved a range of animals including companion animals, farm animals to exotics.

FELICIA KERNEY has been a prosecutor with the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office since 2011 where she has prosecuted a number of misdemeanor and felony cases ranging from driving while intoxicated to Aggravated Assault with a Deadly Weapon. In 2013, Ms. Kerney was placed in a specialized unit where she prosecuted solely domestic violence cases; it was here that she came into contact with her first animal cruelty case.  Ms. Kerney’s desire to protect our four legged friends as well as educate the community about animal abuse inspired her to apply for the position of animal cruelty prosecutor and in March, 2015, Ms. Kerney was hired as the new animal cruelty prosecutor.  Ms. Kerney knew that she had some big shoes to fill but she welcomed the challenge. As Ms. Kerney began to settle into her new position she began to realize more and more that the abuse of animals was more than just that.  There was a link between animal abuse, child abuse, elder abuse and domestic violence. While in her new position, not only  did Ms. Kerney make it her objective to make sure  that those who harm animals are appropriately punished, she  also made it her mission to educate the community about animal cruelty by speaking at different conferences and events.

MELISSA LESNIAK primarily practices animal law and criminal defense in San Antonio, Bexar County Texas. She received her undergraduate degree at Oakland University, Michigan. After working as a paralegal for five years, she attended St. Mary’s University School of Law earning her Juris Doctorate. She is the current president of the South Central Chapter of the Texas Humane Legislation Network. Ms. Lesniak founded the St. Mary’s School of Law Student Animal Legal Defense Fund chapter. She received the St. Mary’s University School of Law Student Marianist Service to Community Award for educating the community on various animal issues, including the legal issues that arise with guide dogs and instruction on the care of animals. Ms. Lesniak earned honorable mention in the First Annual State Bar of Texas Animal Law Section Student Writing Competition for her article “Commingling Canines and Other Unique Considerations of the Legal Rules of Professional Conduct in Cases Involving Animals.” She has spoken about animal law at various conferences and events. Ms. Lesniak is a member of the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyer’s Association, and the San Antonio Bar Association. She has been named one of the top 100 attorneys in SA Magazine for 2013, and 2014.

DAWN REVELEY has practiced law for twenty years and is licensed in Texas and in Michigan. She has twelve years of complex commercial litigation experience.  Dawn currently has her own practice, which she opened in October 1996.  She practices business law and litigation representing small businesses, most of which are animal care providers. Dawn is one of the founding members of the Animal Law Section and has spoken nationally on animal & equine law issues and on the establishment of state bar animal law sections. She serves on the Texas State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners and is active in animal-related businesses and hobbies. She has bred, trained and shown horses and golden retrievers for over thirty years.

SUSAN SKINNER has served as judge for County Court at Law no. 14 in Bexar County, Texas since January 1, 2015. Before joining the bench, Judge Skinner gained seven years of experience as a criminal defense attorney in private practice, sixteen years as a Assistant District Attorney for Bexar County, seven years as an adult probation officer and supervisory in Bexar County, and additional experience as a former Child Protective Service case worker and foster parent. She received her Juris Doctor, cum laude, from St. Mary’s University School of Law, Masters in Social Work from Our Lady of the Lake University, and Bachelors in Social Work from Texas State University.

BELINDA SMITH is a former assistant district attorney with the Harris County District Attorney’s Office. In 2006, Belinda convinced her supervisors to allow her to specialize in prosecuting animal cruelty cases; soon Harris County District Attorney’s Office became Texas’ first prosecutorial agency with a unit dedicated to animal cruelty prosecution. Belinda retired in 2013, but during her tenure she prosecuted high profile animal cruelty cases including Operation Dead Game, a multi-state, multi-jurisdictional undercover dog fighting sting. The sting resulted in numerous arrests and convictions and it was the impetus for state legislators to change Texas law and increase the penalties for dog fighting. In late 2012, Belinda filed felony charges in Texas’ first animal crush video case. In addition to prosecuting cases, Belinda is committed to community outreach, and in her career she trained law enforcement officers and animal control officers throughout Texas. She has appeared on Animal Planet and episodes of “Animal Cops Houston.” Belinda is active in the Houston legal community where she co- founded and currently chairs the Houston Bar Association Animal Law Section. She is a member of HSUS Law Enforcement Council and also serves on the Board of the Houston Humane Society. In 2014, Belinda was named one of America’s Top Animal Defenders by the Animal Legal Defense Fund. Belinda is a graduate of the University of Houston & received her Juris Doctorate from South Texas College of Law Houston.

ERIC TORBERSON is a criminal defense lawyer, DWI defense attorney and a Dangerous Dog Attorney with several years of experience. His office has represented many people who thought they were ruined. Eric enjoys persevering with his courtroom experience and knowledge getting a client their life back. Eric also help animals out by handling Dangerous Dog Hearings. Some animals, including dogs, have cases in court as well and need proper representation.

RANDY TURNER is a personal injury trial lawyer in Fort Worth who also practices animal law. He is board certified in personal injury trial law and civil trial law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization.  He is a certified trial specialist by the National Board of Trial Advocacy and an elected member of the American Board of Trial Advocates.  He is past-president of the Tarrant County Trial Lawyers Association, a founding member and past-chair of the Animal Law Section, past-president of the Texas Humane Legislation Network, and past-vice president of the Humane Society of North Texas.  Randy represents rescue groups, humane organizations, animal rights activists, and others who help animals. He is a frequent lecturer and writer on animal law.  He has worked as a volunteer with orangutan rehabilitation in Borneo, Indonesia, elephant conservation in Kenya, and black rhino conservation in Zimbabwe.  Randy represented the dog owners in the Texas Supreme Court case Strickland v. Medlen where he argued that pet owners should be allowed to recover the sentimental value of companion animals that are wrongfully killed rather than just their market value.

JILL WARREN focused her law practice on equine and agriculture law for several years before joining Allstate Staff Counsel. At Allstate, she advised on many animal litigation issues within the company and now continues to handle animal related claims as a defense attorney at Tribble & Ross. Jill graduated from Texas A&M University. She also has an MBA from University of Houston and a JD from South Texas College of Law. She previously served on the Board for the Greater Houston Hunter Jumper Association, has served as Treasurer for the Texas State Bar Animal Law Section and as Secretary for the Houston Bar Association Animal Law Section. Currently, Jill is on the Board of Directors for the Texas Humane Legislation Network. Jill has published many articles on equine legal issues and has served as a guest speaker on these topics at the PLRB Claims Conference & Insurance Expo and Equine Marketing and Development classes at Texas A&M University.

EUGENIA “GENIE” WRIGHT is the judge for the Bexar County Court at Law No. 7 in Texas. She was first elected to the position in 2010 and was re-elected on November 4, 2014, for a term that begins on January 1, 2015, and will expire on December 31, 2018. Prior to her judicial election in 2010, Judge Wright worked as a private practice attorney specializing in family and criminal law. Judge Wright earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Georgia and graduated from the University of Iowa College of Law with a Juris Doctor in 1992.