HPOU Legal: Mary Nan Huffman, the tough-minded Montgomery County prosecutor, joins vaunted HPOU Legal after impressive record with DA Brett Ligon

Tom Kennedy

HPOU Legal always seems to find the brightest and best to handle the Union’s representation of its vast membership.

As Sally Ring goes into private practice, a lawyer with the rare name of “Mary Nan” comes on board as her successor, joining a long-serving group of dedicated legal minds known for expertly navigating the morass of legal technicalities that go with policing the nation’s fourth largest city.

Chided about her name, Mary Nan Huffman told the Badge & Gun that she knows of no other “Mary Nan” in the world but her grandmother. An examination of her growing-up background and impressive resume clearly shows she has truly made a name for herself.

 

Public Service Orientation

 

And she has already hit the ground running on the Second Floor at HPOU.

Huffman hails from a family of public servants, her having initially chosen the true calling of a prosecutor who worked nine years with an HPOU Legal alumnus – Montgomery County District Attorney Brett Ligon.

The path to Ligon’s Conroe office and now HPOU Legal began in Huffman’s hometown of Denton in North Central Texas and traipsed through stops in Norman, Okla. (Oklahoma University), San Antonio (St. Mary’s University School of Law) and Fort Worth (TCU and the Tarrant County DA’s office).

Let’s start with the Denton story.

The daughter of commercial real estate lawyer Richard Hayes and his wife Helen, Huffman was one of five siblings, three girls and two boys. Mrs. Hayes was a nurse who “went on maternity leave for 30 years” raising the children. It was made clear in the Hayes family that each of the kids should “earn two degrees.”

“All of my brothers and sisters are in public service,” Huffman pointed out, which citing the education achievements of her and her siblings.

The record shows they took seriously the education goals recommended by their parents.

Besides Mary Nan the lawyer there are sister Caroline Seward, director of Recreation for the city of Denton; sister Kathleen Borchardt, M. D., an obstetrician/gynecologist at Methodist Hospital; brother Richard Hayes II, a Galveston County prosecutor (now in private practice; and brother William Hayes, who is studying to be a priest at Catholic University.

Besides her Juris Doctorate, she has earned a political science degree from OU and studied communications from TCU in Fort Worth – also the venue for her first job as a young prosecutor and marked a major turning point in her professional life.

She initially felt she would go into private practice but found, “I didn’t care about money; I wanted to work for the government.” She interned in the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office in the summer of 2009. She took to prosecuting criminals and wanted to stay in Fort Worth to make her mark.

However, Eli Huffman, the man she met and married in law school, got a job in Houston. He became in-house counsel for Lone Star Production. If the missus wanted to become a prosecutor, it would be in Southeast Texas. She applied to two people – the Harris County DA and the Montgomery County DA.

Ligon, the brand-new DA in Conroe – some 40 miles to the north – hired Huffman, who now says she grew to love her job so much she didn’t mind the daily commute. Bear in mind that this was before she gave birth to sons Eli IV (now 3) and Hayes (15 months).

She undertook her new job on Jan. 1, 2009, the very day Ligon began his first term. “I came on with him,” she recalled, smiling. “Because he was such a good boss I kept driving from Houston to Conroe for nine years. I loved the job as a prosecutor.”

That record shows she was an excellent at her job in that county north of here. Eyeing her resume, one loses count of the number of felony trials in which Huffman served usually as the lead prosecutor after stridently stepping up the ladder of the DA’s office, going from chief of the Misdemeanor Division to the job she really loved – chief prosecutor of the Internet Crimes Against Children Division.

 

Putting Away Child Abusers

 

Huffman discovered her real niche was the prosecution of child abusers. When she reflects on her record, you hear the dedication of a true, police-oriented, dead-on prosecutor.

She elaborated:

“The reason I fell in love with child abuse (prosecution) had to do with children being the youngest victims in society. They need somebody to be their voice. I felt like this was something I could do for them. Sometimes they can’t talk and won’t tell you what’s wrong.”

Of course, there are “war stories.” The first one that came to mind happened during her internship in Fort Worth and involved a six-year-old female victim. Huffman was at the stage where she could participate in jury trials under the supervision of assistant DAs. The early stage marked “the first opportunity to get to talk to these victims and families and see the whole process, what they were going through. It’s probably one of the most horrible experiences a family will have to go through from the abuse to the trial.

“The trial had no one sitting on our side. The defendant had his whole family, even his wife and the mother of the victim sitting on the father’s side. The victim had no one – just us.”

The mom in the case had adjusted to the new, upper-level lifestyle offered by her successful new husband, the step father who abused the six-year-old.

Huffman described the two lead prosecutors as “the best of the best on those (child abuse) cases.” As the third-chair intern, she saw for the first time a grueling trial that proved to be tough on the young victim – all from start to finish for her first time.

The verdict? Guilty!

At the end of the trial, the young victim still wore the look of one of society’s most vulnerable as she sought out the prosecutors, including Huffman, the intern. The little girl spoke up, saying, “Thank you for believing me. I said what really happened. I said the truth.”

A decade later, Mary Nan Huffman said, “That’s where my passion started.”

Under Ligon, she became the passionate representative of the youngest victims, aged three months on up. Prosecutor Huffman – no relation to Houston State Sen. Joan Huffman – always sought and almost always was successful in getting maximum sentences.

Some war stories are easier to recall. Huffman recalled several.

A single mom with two daughters, ages 4 and 6, agreed to move in with a seemingly caring neighbor who was able to keep the kids while Mom worked nights. Soon this individual was having the girls perform sexual acts with each other and with him.

“The mother discovered what was happening. At 4, the smaller girl didn’t really know it (the sex) was wrong. But the 6-year-old said, ‘This isn’t right.’ The 4-year-old daughter was drawing pictures using stick figures.” The stick figures were drawn in sexual positions. The mother asked the obvious questions and one of her daughters said, “This is what I do with Mr. Dean.”

 

Family was Flood Victim

 

Huffman prosecuted the case. On the day of the trial she produced another stick-figure drawing of the suspect having sex with the victim who drew the picture as well as pornographic videos the suspect had the girls watch.

Bingo! The suspect pled guilty and received 25 years “day for day” without a chance for parole.

The 4-year-old later approached Huffman and said, “When I grow up I want to be a doctor just like you.”

“But I’m not a doctor,” the prosecutor said.

“Yeah, you are. You fix broken hearts.”

Huffman took a deep breath and then said, “I was hooked.”

She has grown to know numerous police officers just as any person in her position would. Many HPD officers will identify with her beliefs about child abusers.

“Those people can’t be fixed or deterred,” she said. “I think they’re born that way. At one point we were attracted to children: twelve-year-olds are attracted to 12-year-olds and 14-year-old are attracted to 14-year-olds. Later, 30-year-olds like 30-year-olds.

“Sex offenders stay stuck on an age. Everybody else is moving forward and they don’t get stuck on an age. They wouldn’t choose that. If you could choose, no one would choose being attracted to children. It would be such a terrible thing.”

David Vincent Akins Jr. was found to be one of these individuals attracted to children. In Montgomery County he was charged with filming himself raping his three-month-old biological daughter. Huffman prosecuted the 38-year-old defendant before a jury in February. The jury found him guilty and state District Judge Kathleen Hamilton sentenced him to life without parole.

“What a case to end my career on,” HPOU Legal’s newest staff attorney said. “It was the last case I tried.”

She still has roots in Conroe. She is a member of the Board of Directors of the county’s Children’s Assessment Center and will serve as the board’s next vice president.

The question crops up: How did she get from being a star prosecutor to becoming a member of the vaunted HPOU Legal Team?

She and husband Eli reside in Memorial and – to put it bluntly – “we got flooded in Hurricane Harvey.” They spent the past year hopping from one rent house to another. Finally, on Labor Day weekend, they were able to move back into their remodeled home.

Ligon didn’t want to lose Huffman but realized her family was growing and needed a mom who didn’t have to be away commuting. He knew there was a vacancy on the staff where he once served with Bob Armbruster, Chad Hoffman and Aaron Suder – the long-serving members of the team.

“These jobs don’t come open very often,” Huffman said. “I jumped at the opportunity.”

It’s a good fit.

“I’ve seen all sorts of cases,” she said about her first months on duty. “Mostly policy violations. I may not see the criminal aspects I saw as a prosecutor. Sometimes there might be a DWI, things like that. Policy violations are punished by the chief of police.

“I think that’s the reason why like doing this job. I’ve met lots of police officers over the years. Most are great people who do the right thing. It’s not the money and it’s not that they like being shot at. They can get a 30-day suspension and we can help them get it down to something lower and get them back on the streets doing their job – which is what I love to do.”