Judge Ben Powell was the first editor of the student newspaper then known as “The Texan” at the University of Texas at Austin, where he studied literature and law. Following graduation, he joined a firm in his hometown of Huntsville, Texas and later served on the district court bench. He resigned the bench in 1919 to join a Houston law firm, but the commute proved untenable, so Judge Powell returned to Huntsville to open his own practice. However, within a few months, he was appointed to the Commission of Appeals in Austin, an adjunct of the Texas Supreme Court. After multiple reappointments, Judge Powell established his private practice in the Littlefield Building at 6th and Congress. Joined by a young associate, John Rauhut, Judge Powell participated in most of the significant oil and gas regulatory cases then pending in the courts and before the Texas Railroad Commission.
Judge Powell was instrumental in the creation of the State Bar of Texas, with mandatory membership for all Texas lawyers. His leadership and mentorship were mainstays of the firm well into the 1950s. When Judge Powell passed away in 1960, the editors of the Austin newspaper summed up his influential career thusly: “Judge Powell was one of the truly great lawyers and jurists whom Texas has known, one of the finest minds which has adorned his profession, one of the kindliest men whose lives have inspired and ennobled the spirit of those about him.”
Senator Alvin Wirtz is remembered for his vision, drive and support for young people interested in public service. Wirtz is also remembered for tremendous influence on President Lyndon B. Johnson, from his earliest days in public life all the way to the White House.
Prior to joining forces with Judge Ben Powell, Wirtz had been elected to the Texas Senate, where he served as President of the Senate and Chairman of the powerful State Affairs Committee. Upon his return to his Seguin law practice, Wirtz became a tireless champion for the development of the dams along the Guadalupe and Colorado Rivers, representing public utilities and construction firms before the Texas Railroad Commission and other state agencies. He was passionate about taming the Colorado River and later would be instrumental in the creation of the Lower Colorado River Authority.
One of Wirtz’s most notable cases came when he helped defend Maury Maverick, then Mayor of San Antonio, against criminal allegations that he was buying poll taxes for democratic voters. (This campaign technique was widely practiced but nonetheless illegal.) Wirtz delivered the closing argument and, after a brief deliberation, the jury acquitted Maverick of all of the charges against him.
Wirtz served as U.S. Undersecretary of the Interior, trading on his LCRA experience in supervising other federal dam projects, including the Grand Coulee and Shasta dams in the Pacific Northwest. He later returned to Austin to work on Lyndon Johnson’s unsuccessful first campaign for U.S. Senate, ultimately rejoining the firm and also serving President Franklin Roosevelt in an advisory capacity on federal power issues.
There is much that can be written about the relationship between Wirtz and LBJ. It’s fair to say he’s one of the few men whose opinion the President sought eagerly throughout his life. Wirtz was Johnson’s mentor and friend until he died in 1951. True to form, Alvin Wirtz passed away right in the middle of a Texas-Rice football game at Memorial Stadium, leaving everybody wanting more.