Andrew Leon “Jeff” Jefferson, Jr., judge, was born on August 19, 1934, in Dallas, Texas, to Andrew Leon Jefferson, Sr., and Bertha (Harrield) Jefferson. He had one sister and two brothers. The family lived in Crockett, Texas, for a short time and then moved to Houston in 1936.
As a young man Jefferson graduated from Jack Yates High School in 1952 and went on to earn a bachelor of arts degree from Texas Southern University in Houston in 1956. After receiving his law degree from the University of Texas in 1959, he soon joined fellow UT Law School graduate George Washington, Jr., in opening a firm, Washington & Jefferson, in Houston. Jefferson married Mary Brown, a public school teacher, and the couple had two sons—Andrew III and Martin.
Jefferson’s professional career expanded when he became the first black assistant criminal district attorney for Bexar County in 1961. He then became assistant United States attorney for the Western Judicial District of Texas in August 1962; he was promoted to chief of the criminal section in 1964 and then to lead assistant in 1967. Afterwards, Jefferson worked as trial and labor relations counsel for Humble Oil and Refining Company (which later became Exxon) from 1968 to 1971. He also served in the Judge Advocate General Corps in the United States Army Reserve where he was honorably discharged with the rank of captain.
Jefferson became a pioneer in the courtroom when he was appointed by Governor Preston Smith in 1970 to preside over the Court of Domestic Relations Number 2 in Harris County; he was the first black judge in the state of Texas above a municipal level. He was later elected to a full four-year term in 1972. Jefferson was next appointed to the 208th District Court by Governor Dolph Briscoe and then elected to the position in 1974. During this time he also served on the judiciary committee of the Texas Constitutional Revision Commission.
Jefferson eventually returned to private practice in October 1975. As a partner in the law firm of Jefferson, Sherman, and Mims, he was admitted to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth, Sixth, and Eleventh circuits, as well as the United States Supreme Court. Jefferson also served on the board of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, Houston Branch, as well as the Texas Southern University Foundation. In 1979 President Jimmy Carter nominated Jefferson to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, but a Republican White House victory in 1980 blocked the appointment. Jefferson continued his career as a key attorney and mediator in the Houston area and was very active in civic affairs. He served on the Presidential Search Committee of Texas Southern University in 1986 and 1987. Among his many professional memberships, Jefferson was selected to join the International Society of Barristers, an organization of trial lawyers chosen by their colleagues “on the basis of excellence and integrity in advocacy,” in 1996. Texas Southern University’s Thurgood Marshall School of Law established the Andrew L. Jefferson Endowment for Trial Advocacy in Jefferson’s honor in 2005.
During his career, Jefferson held many organizational offices. He was a member of the Federal Reserve Bank, Houston Branch (chairman, board of directors); Texas Southern University Foundation (chairman of the board); University of Texas Law School Alumni Association; National Urban League, Houston; Council on Human Relations (president, 1974–1976); KPRC Television Advisory Committee; State Bar Insurance Trust (board of trustees); Downtown Rotary Club–Houston (1974–1975); Standard Savings and Loan Association (Houston board of directors); Texas Southern University Board of Regents- 1969–1974); and the YMCA South Central Branch (board of managers).
Jefferson received numerous professional awards including: United States Attorney General Meritorious Service Award (1967); Department of the Justice Sustained Superior Performance Award (1967); Anti-Defamation League National Torch of Liberty Award (1975); Forward Times Community Service Award (1975); Charles A. George Community Service Award (1975); League of United Latin American Citizens National Community Service Award (1975); Community Service Award–La Raza (1975); Order of the Coif–University of Texas (honorary, 1980); San Antonio Black Lawyers Association Award (1988); Delta Sigma Theta African American Achievement Award (2000); Jack Yates Alumni Affairs Award (2001); Keeton Fellow, University of Texas Law School (2002); Houston Area Urban League–Marguerite Ross Barnett Leadership Award (2003); Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award (2006); Texas Association of Civil Trial and the Appellate Specialists’ Lifetime Achievement Award (2006); Houston Association of Legal Professionals Scales of Justice Award (2009).
At the time of his death Andrew Jefferson was a member of the State Bar of Texas, Houston Bar Association, Houston Lawyers Association, Houston Trial Lawyers Association, Texas Bar Foundation (Fellow), Texas Trial Lawyers Association, American Bar Foundation (Fellow), National Bar Association, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity, Phi Alpha Delta Legal Fraternity, Houston Area Urban League, NAACP, National Conference of Christian and Jews, International Society of Barristers, and the American Board of Trial Advocates to name a few.
Jefferson passed away on December 8, 2008. His funeral was held at Pilgrim Congregational United Church of Christ in Houston’s Third Ward, where he was a longtime member.