Bullying, boxing turned Mark Griffith into freedom fighter
The Ellis County Press
WAXAHACHIE - It’s hard to imagine a scrappy criminal defense lawyer put on boxing gloves, arms and biceps bulging and within minutes, watching over as a stretcher pulls off his knocked-out opponent, but Mark Griffith is not an ordinary attorney.
Griffith, one of the most prominent - some would say expensive - defense lawyers in Ellis County, single-handily argued a case last year before Judge Gene Knize and a seated 12-person jury that resulted in a not-guilty verdict for his client in a record four minutes.
The boxing feat, done when Griffith was 32 in 1997, set a record for his age category.
Hobbies imitate real life for Griffith, whose downtown office stares directly at the historic county courthouse’s northside clock tower and whose staff handles client traffic as if Griffith dispensed prescription drugs instead of justice.
"Nobody wanted to coach me because of my age," said the father of two four-year-old twin boys and a one-year-old daughter who live with him and wife Michelle in Waxahachie.
Much like in the boxing ring, Griffith stands a little under six feet but carries a presence so powerful that Ellis County/District Attorney’s Office staff "now get the message," a reference to almost 50 motions for recusal Griffith filed last year in the 40th District Court, the bench Knize, whom the Dallas Observer cited as the "Bully on the Bench" in a five-page feature in April 2007, has manned for nearly 20 years.
The DA’s office accused Griffith of "harassment." Fellow lawyers said his legal career would be ruined after shaking up the Ellis County legal establishment.
"I filed them [recusal motions] because I felt the [visiting] judge was not allowing me to make the record I needed to protect my clients," said Griffith.
"I would file them again if the same situation occurred because I thought it was what I needed to do to protect my clients.
"I don’t file things to antagonize anybody, that is never the point, the point is that I must never miss doing something out of fear that my client needs done. If I every let fear keep me from doing what I know is right for my clients I will quit doing this, and I have no intention of that every happening."
As the "Griffith" in "Griffith and Associates" - former Ellis County prosecutor Monica Bishop, the taller, more attractive lawyer, rounds out a stellar cast that includes Venita Phillips, Ashley Neal and private investigator Bill VanSyckle - the defense lawyer who graduated from St. Mary’s University as Valedictorian in 1989 with a Bachelor of Arts in Latin American Studies merges fighting for justice with his niche hobby lifestyle.
The best way to learn Spanish, he thought, was to spend a few months in Mexico.
"During my time at Saint Edwards I spent six months in Merida, Mexico so I could be immersed in the culture and truly learn the language," said Griffith, who grew up on a cattle farm in Ennis and was raised Catholic, a faith he still practices today.
"It was one of the best experiences of my life. I volunteered [at a] ‘seniors home’ where I help tend to the elderly. A truly humbling experience. The nuns that ran the home were living saints. The temperature was easily 100 degrees during most of the time I was there and they, the sisters, wore full habits and never did anything but care with true love and selflessness, it was so beautiful to watch human beings giving so fully of themselves and so happy to do it.
"I received college credit for the trip by taking an advanced oral examination in Spanish when I returned. It is amazing how easy it was to pick up the language when your only option is to speak their language or sit in silence."
To get rid of his fear of heights, Griffith - as evidenced in three massive photos in his downtown Waxahachie, hardwood floor-covered office near the Texas Theater - went skydiving.
A random adventure seeker, Griffith answered an ad to train with Navy SEALS, finishing with seven others in a class of 32 at White Rock Lake in Dallas one crisp morning at 4 a.m.
"...the workout only concluded after either everybody quit or everybody vomited," Griffith said. "I am proud to say I did not quit and I was the second to last to vomit, an Army Ranger was the last.
"Of the 32 people that signed up to complete the program only eight finished. The intensity of those workouts were amazing and the instructors did everything we did for the two and a half hours and when we were so worn out we could not move they ended the class to begin their workout.
"They were amazing and completing that course was another of the things I could mark off my list.
"I have ridden bulls," said Griffith, who received his law degree from Baylor University in 1992, sitting for - and passing - the Bar exam a year after. "Not a really bright thing to do but it was on my list."
"The activities I do now are continue to do intermittent boxing workouts, ride my road bike, and hunt," said Griffith, who’s east-side office wall would make a taxidermist jealous.
"I love hunting and both of my sons have already shown great interest in it. The joy in doing something like hunting with your son is hard to match. They obviously dont shoot at their age but just to be out doing it with your sons is amazing and I would guess that [daughter] Tatum will be a hunter too.
"Much of my time now is parenting when I am not at work; family is so important to me and I could not have asked for a better family, they are a joy. My wife should be given some sort of medal for the work she does, I admire her greatly."
His wife Michelle, a former Child Protective Services caseworker, helps raise Luke Joseph and Jake Allen, as well as Tatum Ann when not tending to grueling work schedules.
Griffith is now sought after for more family law cases, though his prominence catapulted in 16 years of trying murder and drinking while intoxicated cases.
"I am a trial attorney," he said. "I handle almost exclusively criminal defense cases and have since I started my practice 16 years ago. I never worked as a prosecutor, I have always represented the accused. I was told by many people, including professors at law school, that I would need to work for a firm or for a district attorney to get the proper experience to try cases. It was like telling me that ‘you cant do it like you want to.’
"My father was right, cant never could. I did it my way and have successfully tried cases to ‘not guilty’ verdicts from murder to driving while intoxicated and almost any case in between. Something draws me to doing criminal defense. It is helping the underdog, the man or woman that is facing off against the government and all its resources. That gets my juices going because I know it will be a fight and for some reason, a fight really is where I belong.
"Criminal trials are wars and I consider myself the underdog fighting the mighty government as the voice for my client. It gives me great satisfaction. I have had clients who lost their case to the jury hug me and thank me because all they wanted was someone to truly fight for them.
"A trial attorney in the line of criminal defense is a fighter or the attorney should be doing something