by Nathaniel Miller
On a Thursday morning in May in a law office in downtown San Antonio, Roy Barrera Jr. (B.A. ’72, J.D. ’75) greeted people, happily introducing them to a sharply dressed man standing beside him.
This man, Barrera continued, is his father, 96-year-old Roy Barrera Sr. (J.D. ’51), and he’s coming back to the office to assist on an upcoming case.
Proudly, the son compares his father’s willingness to return to work to that of a famous National League Football quarterback who retired only to return and play the following season.
“He’s the Tom Brady of lawyering,” Roy Barrera Jr. said. “He really is the GOAT (greatest of all time).”
Both men, along with nearly a dozen other family members, have obtained either an undergraduate degree, a law degree or both from St. Mary’s University. Graduates from the School of Law include Roy Barrera’s Sr.’s other son, Robert J. “Bobby” Barrera (B.A. ’80, J.D. ’84), his nephew, Gilbert C. Barrera Jr. (B.A. ’77, J.D. ’88), Stephen A. Barrera (J.D. ’82), Stephen C. Barrera (J.D. ’05) and Robert E. Arellano (J.D. ’10).
Barrera Sr., a San Antonio native, graduated from what is now Fox Tech High School and immediately enlisted in the U.S. Army, serving in the Philippines and Korea.
While overseas, Barrera was thrown from a truck and lost his left ring finger when his high school ring snagged on a nail. Losing a finger meant he could no longer play the clarinet in the Army band.
“So that was basically the end of my military career,” Barrera Sr. said.
Upon his return, Barrera Sr. planned to become a mechanic. However, his mother convinced him to use his GI Bill to attend law school because he “loved to talk.”
While a law student, Barrera Sr. worked with the Bexar County District Attorney’s Office as an investigator, working alongside Pat Maloney, J.D., until 1951, when he became an assistant district attorney upon passing the bar exam.
In 1957, Barrera Sr. and Anthony Nicholas, J.D., then an assistant criminal district attorney, left to open their practice, Nicholas & Barrera. Their partnership celebrated 50 years together in 2007. Though Nicholas died in 2011, his name is still on the downtown building where the Barrera family continues to work.
That same year, Barrera Sr. argued in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in Alcorta v. Texas. The Court ruled Alvaro Alcorta was denied due process because the prosecution’s main witness withheld crucial information during the trial. Barrera, an assistant district attorney during the initial trial, argued the case for the state at the request of Bexar County District Attorney Hubert Green.
Roy Barrera Sr.
“The Supreme Court was just another case where you get to argue before judges. Even to this day, I enjoy the atmosphere and environment of the courtroom.”
“I have always been rather confident about what I can do, and what I like to do is argue cases,” Barrera Sr. said.“The Supreme Court was just another case where you get to argue before judges. Even to this day, I enjoy the atmosphere and environment of the courtroom.”
Barrera Sr. was approached by Texas Gov. John Connally in 1968 to serve as secretary of state, making him the first Hispanic man to hold the position.
Barrera Jr. said while he watched his father work in the courtroom most of his life, there was no pressure for him or his siblings to become attorneys. The love of the law, he said, is what led him down the same path.
“He used to tell us, ‘You need to follow your heart and do what makes you happy,’” Barrera Jr. said.
Barrera Sr. founded an endowed scholarship for the School of Law in 2008 to provide “assistance to a Hispanic student who has excelled in the area of criminal law and who exhibits need.” Following his father’s lead, Barrera Jr. also established an endowed scholarship for law students in 2009.
“My siblings and I were blessed to have a father whose career could finance our education 100%,” Barrera Jr. said. “Many young, deserving students who aspire to practice law don’t have the same advantages my father provided to us, and I felt it was incumbent on me to contribute.”