As Elaine Nolan of the HPOU law office retires after 20 years as the Union’s formidable administrative legal assistant, we learn that she never once wanted to call in sick to avoid a dreadful jobsite or bossy people.
“Of all the places where I’ve ever been employed, I’ve never awakened in the morning and said that I dreaded going to work,” Nolan told the Badge & Gun. “The U. S. Attorney’s office before I came here had been my favorite.
In-house Law Firm
“You feel so needed here. It’s such a good feeling to have that feeling and work here.”
Nolan, 74, has seen a number of association or union presidents come and go, along with board members, Legal Committee chairmen and the lawyers in what she refers to as “the Union’s law firm.”
She came to the Houston Police Officers Association (HPOA) in September 1995 only to see it become known as the Houston Police Officers Union in March 1996 under the leadership of President Hans Marticiuc.
The new HPOU sought to effectively overwhelm its then-competitor, the Houston Police Patrolman’s Union (HPPU) with its improved legal services for every member.
“I’ll never forget telling Hans that we needed to make this legal department a law office – not just a ‘legal department’ for the Union, but the law office of the Union.
“We wanted it to be more like a private law office. And Hans said to do whatever it takes. And we did whatever it took to make the police officers proud to be a part of HPOU and that they were getting good legal treatment in a more professional way.”
The new “firm” provided in-house lawyers 24/7 for each member, a far more personal treatment than ever before.
Nolan sees this change as probably the biggest, most positive maneuver she’s experienced in her 20 years on or around State Street. “That’s probably the major thing – more personal treatment from having an in-house law firm,” she said.
The highly-praised woman with the legal mind hails from jobs providing ideal life experiences for the job she has perfected. Born in Philadelphia, she was the daughter of a steel worker father and a mother who became the city of Brotherly Love’s first-ever female school crossing guard. Although not a commissioned police officer, she worked for the city as a “police crossing guard” for 15 years and later became a disciplinarian at Nolan’s alma mater, Frankfort High School, where she retired at age 72.
The recollection prompted the daughter of the steel worker and school disciplinarian to remark, “I come from good stock; we all worked.”
Part of that work record was Nolan’s service with the National Labor Relations Board in Philadelphia, specializing in union elections. She married Jack Nolan and transferred to the NLRB’s Houston office when Jack accepted a job working here with National Cash Register.
Shortly after the couple made the Bayou City their home, Elaine was tapped to tout a teamsters’ election in Orange by literally going to the pits. She recalled that the teamsters’ election was held in a gravel pit where truck drivers came in for jobs. “They were picking up their gravel and voted,” she remembered, saying that she supervised the election from a chair deep inside the gravel pit.
She and Jack moved back to Philadelphia in 1968 but found themselves longing for the milder weather in Houston as Elaine served as a stay-at-home mom for John Nolan Jr., the couple’s only offspring, and Jack was a probation/parole officer.
In their second tour of duty here Jack helped his brother Thomas with Monarch Pools in west Houston, while Elaine went to work in “the box with those little square windows,” also known as the Federal Building. She served as a legal assistant for U. S. Attorney Anthony J. P. Ferris and his legion of assistants. She was assigned to the Criminal Division and took on the awesome chore involving paperwork to such cases as one involving HPD wiretaps.
Elaine also remembered standing on the balcony in the building and watching a controversial conscientious objector renamed Muhammad Ali (aka Cassius Clay) come through the courthouse for a court session. “We were at the edge of a balcony as you entered the Federal Building,” she said, “and you could almost lean over and touch the top of his head he was so big.”
Nolan grew to know many of the assistant U. S. attorneys, among them Ron Waska, who became chief of the Criminal Division. When Waska went into private law practice, Nolan came with him as a legal assistant, serving in that capacity for 16 years.
The year was 1995 when the route of her legal work in Houston led to State Street. Another lawyer she worked with was Ron Tonkin, special assistant U. S. Attorney for the Southern District, who served as chief of the Major Narcotics Conspiracy Section. Previously, Tonkin had served as attorney general of the Virgin Islands.
The Bielstein Influence
Tonkin was friends with a retired Houston police lieutenant by the name of Sandy Bielstein. Bielstein had earned a law degree and was serving on the Houston Police Officers Association’s Shoot Team, which consisted of outside lawyers hired to represent HPD officers involved in shootings. Bielstein knew Nolan through Tonkin and thought she would be an ideal fit for the association’s legal team, which basically consisted at the time of a retired HPD Robbery sergeant named Bob Armbruster and another lawyer named Fred Keys.
“I knew her through Ron,” Bielstein said in an interview, “and Ron was changing his practice. Elaine had worked for him and another lawyer. I made the comment that HPOA was looking for people.
“She’s a great, great secretary and paralegal. She knows what she’s doing; HPOU is going to lose a great right arm, I’ll tell you that. If I could have stolen her from HPOA, I would have.
“She knew what she was doing and would make any lawyer look good. She is why ‘Bubba’ Armbruster made it through this entire thing. Bob is a first-class lawyer.”
For the record, Bielstein retired from HPD in January 1990 and served on the Shoot Team for a while. Today he is the incumbent judge in County Court at Law No. 4 in Fort Bend County, a position he has held since 2001.
Nolan has nothing but high praise for the, shall we say, “folks in the firm” and in the Union.
“I love Hans!” she said of Marticiuc, the Union’s longest-serving president who took the lead to make the association the Union and the Meet-and-Confer agreement an HPD tradition. “Hans was dynamic. Hans and J. J. (Berry) and Ronnie Martin – sad that when I say his name I think of sad things happening, unfortunately – but they were the first ones to get the contract underway with the city.
“And Mark Clark! What a great leader in Meet-and-Confer.
“J. J. was a wonderful man, smart, gentle, very gentle and soft-spoken. I never saw Jay angry in the 20 years I’ve known him – the computer whiz and chairman of the Legal Committee before George Shaw. It’s now Doug (Griffith), baby Doug.”
(OK, Elaine has earned the right to use “baby” not as a literal term but a term of endearment).
As she made her heartfelt laudatory remarks, Nolan was as plain-spoken and candid as always.
“Mark Clark? He’s smart! He’s just a good all-around person. What can you say about Mark Clark? He’s done a helluva job for this Union in the Legislature. The Union owes Mark a lot. The police officers in the city of Houston owe a lot to Mark Clark and to the people who have been running this organization, not just Mark standing alone.
Like a Big Family
“Everybody who has run the organization has had a dramatic impact for police officers of the city of Houston. Every police officer has benefited from this organization that’s like one big giant family.
“Each president has made his mark. Gary Blankinship did everything to help the families of fallen officers. It was important to Gary to do that and the officers had to have seen that and known that.
“Ray (Hunt) is a really good Christian. When I think of good Christian men I think of him and Bob Armbruster. If he (Ray) says he’s going to do it, he does it. He doesn’t lead you on. For as long as I’ve known him when he was with TCLEOSE, Ray has been an excellent leader and I think he’s got a good group of young men around him – Joe Gamaldi, Doug Griffith and Tim Butler.
“He’s got young people to carry it through. They’re not afraid to speak about their religion. It comes through in everything he does and they do.”
Armbruster and Nolan (sounds like a pretty good “law firm partnership,” doesn’t it?) have been working side-by-side or hand-in-glove every day of Nolan’s 20 years at the Union. Any officer who has used their helpful services over the years will testify how well they work together.
Of Nolan, Armbruster said, “Ms. Elaine has been the backbone of this office. She has been the continuity and the glue that has held us together in the 20 years she’s been her.
“When she leaves it’s going to be like cutting off my right arm. Now that’s nothing against the other girls here. I’m probably going to catch flax over that remark, but that’s OK.”
Griffith, the HPOU’s first vice president, also ranks high on Nolan’s fan club membership list. “Ms. Elaine has been a rock for this organization and has provided a shining example of what we want our employees to be. She will be greatly missed. We wish her all the luck in the world for the future.”
A mother who will become a grandmother for the first time later this year, Nolan glows when she refers to “my babies.” In this case the babies are not just Griffith but also the lawyers in her firm.
And they are staff counsel Aaron Suder, Chad Hoffman and Sally Ring. Then you have to include Brett Ligon, an HPOU attorney until he became the district attorney of Montgomery County.
“They’re my babies,” the grandmother-to-be said with a smile. “They are my kids. I always tried to take care of them. I was blessed with one (child of her own) but ended up with more when I came here. They’re a real pleasure.
“When Brett pursued his election, they brought on Sally and she’s a wonderful girl. Chad is our office stud and Aaron is our office brain and wit, a very smart young man. By ‘stud,’ I mean that with whatever you want to put with it.” (More laughs).
Nolan also sang high praises for the HPOU Shoot Team, a reliable group of outside lawyers who take over cases involving officers when there is a perceived conflict of interest. They are Nicole DeBorde, Carson Joachim and the one and only Earl Musick.
Then there are the two people she called expert and highly worthy legal assistants, two other “babies,” Lynette Coles and Tina Drewke.
Nolan’s reminiscences over the past two decades definitely center on the difference between HPOA (the association) and its rival at the time (1995-96), the HPPU. The latter organization advocated strong legal representation for its members, even though it meant higher membership dues. HPPU considered HPOA “a social group” that always seemed to be partial to City Hall and the HPD administration.
Under the leadership of Marticiuc and Clark, that changed, with the association becoming “the Union” known as the Houston Police Officers Union, now the largest and strongest in the Southwest and recognized as one of the most effective among the nation’s largest cities.
Nolan was part of the HPOU negotiating team in the first-ever Meet-and-Confer contract negotiation in 1998. She recalled the event very vividly, it taking place in the conference room of the law office of renowned Houston attorney John Eddie Williams.
“1998 was the first contract,” the negotiating team’s legal assistant recalled. “The second was in 2002.”
Then she reflected on a Union practice that she believes takes place right up until this day – and tomorrow:
“Negotiations never stopped. They get it all written down and Mark and those guys are not just sitting around on their hands. They get one contract approved and they begin thinking about the next contract. They listen to their officers and find out what’s really important. They’ve always done that.”
The Union law firm’s retiring legal assistant is well qualified, well studied, well liked – and well spoken.