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Judge Mary Lou Alvarez Discusses her Unique Journey to Law and Changes at the Courthouse
Episode 409th September 2021 • The Alamo Hour • Justin Hill
00:00:00 01:22:42

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Judge Alvarez joins us to talk about her path from San Antonio, to Stanford and back to San Antonio. She was educated and worked as an engineer before going to law school. After law school she had a few jobs before running for District Judge in Bexar County. Join us to hear her talk about her unique path and the great things happening at the courthouse.



Justin Hill: Hello and Bienvenidos San Antonio. Welcome to The Alamo Hour, discussing the people, places, and passion that make our city. My name is Justin Hill, a local attorney, a proud San Antonio, and keeper of chickens and bees. On The Alamo Hour, you'll get to hear from the people that make San Antonio great and unique and the best-kept secret in Texas. We're glad that you're here.


All right. Welcome to The Alamo Hour. Today's guest is the Honorable Mary Lou Alvarez. She is a civil district judge at the 45th Civil District Court in Bexar County. She was educated as an engineer prior to being a lawyer. Born just south of here, raised in San Antonio, a graduate of Incarnate Word High School. Bean and cheese are her favorite breakfast tacos I learned. I didn't know that.

Mary Lou Alvarez: Yes.

Justin: If you're spicy, it sounds like bean and cheese and bacon.

Mary Lou: Bacon or brisket, a little meat to add something to the mix.

Justin: The beans have to be good you said, so we're going to ask some questions about that. Judge Alvarez, thank you for being on here. We asked you to come on today, talk about what's going on in the court. I want to talk about your path into elected politics because I don't know why anyone would do that to themselves but you've got a lot of thoughts on that. I've practice law in front of you. I've gotten to know you, really over the last five years, as you decided to run and it's really been very enjoyable for me to get to know you, see you on the court, see how passionate you are about it.

You're not just a judge, you're actually volunteering your time to improve some of the processes of the courthouse, which I think is really invaluable because people maybe don't realize but Bexar County has been revolutionary in the way we run our courts for so long. Old Judge Casseb brought in the presiding system, which I tell everybody to this day, we have the most efficient court system in the state of Texas. You should file all your cases here because you're going to get hearings, you're going to get justice, you're going to get answers and other places don't have that benefit.

I think it's good that we are still moving to improve what we have that is already a really good system. I start with everybody, top 10. It's never really 10 but I have a stick to it. Who has the best beans?

Mary Lou: Real beans or fast food beans?

Justin: For your bean and cheese taco, let's go there because that's where I've got this from.

Mary Lou: All right. Well, it depends on how much time I've got. If I can sit down and have a bean and cheese taco and wait, then it's going to be a hole-in-the-wall taqueria. My favorite right now is the one that's off McCullough and Dewey, Taqueria Jalisco I think, or El Chapala. I forget the sign because I think it changed once while I was off Locus, but it's off McCullough and Dewey.

Justin: Where's Dewey at?

Mary Lou: Dewey, it becomes St. Josephine closer to 35 I think.

Justin: Further down McCullough Monte Vista area?

Mary Lou: No, it's St. Josephine is what it becomes. It's by Hawthorne, Hawthorne Academy right across on the backside of the Pearl. Then coming up to McCullough, it's Dewey, and taking you into Sack it's Dewey.

Justin: I know exactly where you're talking about. A newish building?

Mary Lou: Yes.

Justin: Okay. The drive-thru menu it's like a cheesecake factory. It's huge.

Mary Lou: You got a lot of options.

Justin: Yes. I know exactly what you're talking about.

Mary Lou: Their beans are great. If I'm driving through, then I'll probably go to Bill Miller's even though we're not really supposed to go to Bill Miller's, but they've got some good beans.

Justin: They had some legal trouble recently, I saw in the news. There was a big verdict. It didn't involve the beans though, so I think we're good.

Mary Lou: I'm good.

Justin: Favorite restaurants in town. I had another esteemed Honorable Judge and it was very careful on whether somebody could condone certain things. I guess I'll put it this way. What are some of your favorite places to go to these days to have dinner?

Mary Lou: [chuckles] Well, places that have a playground, so I've got some cover that way. If my Mari and Javi can be entertained and I can actually finish dinner, they can have fun, and maybe I can have a drink, that's my favorite place.

Justin: The Cove, Friendly Spot, some of those?

Mary Lou: We go to The Cove, we go to The Friendly Spot, Viola's off of Military and Hunt Lane, so SeaWorld side of the world. For those folks that don't venture too far away from downtown, it's a trek, but it's great, lots of shade, playground's kind of small, but they've got a lot of rocks and a lot of climbing hazardous things that my son likes to, you know. [crosstalk]

Justin: The Cove used to have the deadliest playground equipment I had ever seen.

Mary Lou: [laughs]

Justin: You'd look at that and think, how on earth did they-- You know what I'm talking about?

Mary Lou: Yes.

Justin: There was no railing and a 12-foot drop-off.

Mary Lou: Yes, yes. They had that when my children were toddlers, like two and three because that was fabulous. I like the one that they have now much better.

Justin: I don't know how they got away with that for so long.

Mary Lou: [laughs]

Justin: I've told Lindsay, I'm like, we can be rich. All we have to do is sell okay food and have a playscape and people are going to go. There was a few places that have proved that to be true.

Mary Lou: Drinks, don't forget the drinks.

Justin: Oh, yes. It goes without saying. [crosstalk]

Mary Lou: Food and drinks and a playscape, yes, you're good to go.

Justin: All right. Favorite hidden gems in San Antonio. This isn't the Riverwalk. For me, the first time I went to the Japanese Tea Garden, I remember thinking, how have I not been here already and how is everybody not telling me about this place? Do you have any like that in San Antonio that you think these are places that not enough people go visit?

Mary Lou: Well, see if I give them out, everybody's going to go. No, I'm just kidding. I know.

Justin: My 10s of listeners will flock there.


Mary Lou: With kids in tow. That's the key.

Justin: That's right.

Mary Lou: No, we spend time at the Botanical Gardens. I love that place and the kids love that place. I've gone a couple of times to I think it's Government Canyon Reserve, Government Canyon Park something off-

Justin: Government Canyon Park?

Mary Lou: -again, on our side of town. We had to do it twice before we could get to the dinosaur tracks because the first time, they had the COVID restrictions. I'm like, "Oh, the noon slot is open. Mari and Javi, let's go," and we signed up. My babies are light-skinned. My poor son was just red-faced and he's like, "I can't make it." I'm like, "You can't make it. We only have a mile and a half to go."

Justin: How far in is it?

Mary Lou: I think it's three and a half miles in or three miles in and then you come back.

Justin: That's a trek.

Mary Lou: We made it halfway. We did half of it. We got a quarter in and had to come back. I'm like, "We're doing this." I picked a nine o'clock slot I think or maybe 8:45 slot the next time and we made it. Noon is probably not the best way to-- [crosstalk]

Justin: I've only been once. There's only a small portion you can have your dog. I took my dog and we got lost. As in, I was carrying him over my shoulders because he couldn't walk anymore. We were a little panicky.

Mary Lou: It's hot.

Justin: Yes. I've never gone back there.

Mary Lou: You need to go back. You need to revive yourself.

Justin: It was a bad experience. I'll go without Winston because I think he thinks I'm going to leave him if I take him. You were so kind to go do a commencement speech at Restore Education for me and Lindsay, I've recently been put on the board. It's just incredible. You and I were sitting there bawling our eyes out at the happiness we felt. What other nonprofits are you involved in, in terms of where you spend your own time and not just people asking you to help out on occasion?

Mary Lou: That has gone way down with the kids. My kids are my nonprofit but I'm really involved with their schools and with our church. We have to. We had to. Now, Mary, our Mother Church is a brand new church off by us, Potranco in 1604. We spend time there but there's not a lot of time, unfortunately, for non-profit] [crosstalk]

Justin: You were doing some with Youth and Fiesta at some point, right? Did I get the name right?

Mary Lou: Fiesta Youth. We did, we went to the back-to-school fair, and we helped sponsor it. It's a community that I don't think receives as much attention and resources. This organization is just going head and shoulders providing weekly support groups for parents and for children and really--

Justin: Who's the beneficiary of it?

Mary Lou: Children who are exploring their gender identity or who have already come to their decision and they just need the support, they need to know that they're not in isolation. I think the reason I was able to really reach out to that agency is because I needed the resources for a case that was before me and to know that that resource is a gem, a hidden gem in our community. It's amazing.

Justin: Thrive is a little bit like that too I think here in our community, which is this they do incredible work, they're super underfunded, they're always shoestring budget, and yet they still managed to do really good work. Now, they're one of the beneficiaries of Cornyation which has just changed their ability to do their services. Any odd hobbies?

Mary Lou: Odd hobbies?

Justin: Do you quilt or crochet?


Mary Lou: No, I don't quilt or crochet. I taught my children how to order their own bean and cheese taco before they were two. Both of them could lean out to Taco Cabana and say, "I want my bean and cheese taco."


We do a lot of drive-thru. I like to watch a lot of TV.

Justin: Okay, what?

Mary Lou: Right now, it's a lot of children's TV. Vivo is what we have on repeat.

Justin: I think it's played about 800 times in our house.

Mary Lou: Isn't it amazing?

Justin: You know, I mean--

Mary Lou: You don't like it? Oh my God.

Justin: The girl's music is not my kind of music. What's the song that she sings at the start in her bedroom?

Mary Lou: Yes, I know what you're- because it's so funny.

Justin: It's going to be stuck in my head if you say it, so don't say it.

Mary Lou: [laughs] I was almost going to bring up the app and pull it up. I love that song. Mari and Javi are with you. They don't care for it. When it comes on, because we've got it on repeat, I blast it and they're rolling their eyes at me.

Justin: The bounce to the beat of my own drum, that song.

Mary Lou: There you go. I'm a wow in a space of ho-hum.

Justin: There we go. All right. When you watch shows, any you've got time for right now?

Mary Lou: I haven't in a long time. I started the-- Is it The Crown?

Justin: Yes.

Mary Lou: I haven't picked it up for about seven months.

Justin: I've never watched it. Lindsay loved it.

Mary Lou: I'm on episode four of season one so I didn't get far. [chuckles]

Justin: We are watching Nine Perfect Strangers right now. It's really good.

Mary Lou: What is that?

Justin: Nicole Kidman, Melissa McCarthy, Michael Shannon, Bobby Cannavale. I think that's all I can name right now. It's based on a book. Nine people go to a health retreat, then there's some intrigue and mystery. It's really good character development, really good actors. So far so good.

Mary Lou: Nobody dies? Maybe?

Justin: Well, there are deaths, but not at the retreat. It's good. It's worth watching. We watch probably more than we should because what else are we going to do right now? We're not doing anything. Worst trend you followed when you were younger?

Mary Lou: [laughs]

Justin: I did the overalls with one strap down.

Mary Lou: Oh my gosh. I can totally see that too, which is hilarious.

Justin: I had a mullet.


A full mullet. I've now exposed myself. We're sharing. This is [unintelligible 00:11:41].

Mary Lou: Okay. We're sharing. Well, as you can tell, I don't spend a lot of time on my hair or makeup or anything, but for seventh grade, at St. Paul's, I did. I would tease my hair to get the bangs down and to get the bangs up. I swear that one year of prep and messing with my hair, I've now got really thin hair. [chuckles] In about, I don't know, maybe 10, 15 years, when I have a receding hairline, that will be it, seventh grade at St. Paul's.

Justin: Did you tease it out and then Aqua Net it?

Mary Lou: Yes, yes.

Justin: Some people had the one thing, but some people could make it almost two-story.

Mary Lou: I did two-story for a year.

Justin: My sisters, they messed around with that. Favorite fiesta event?

Mary Lou: I liked the King William there, obviously with the kids, but Texas A&M has a kid's fair like the Fiesta de Los Niños.

Justin: I had no idea.

Mary Lou: We like that. We've gone a few years.

Justin: Is it on the campus?

Mary Lou: Outside.

Justin: Okay. There's a few fiesta events that are not closed.

Mary Lou: I think it was there or maybe it was at missions. I'm not sure. It's outside. I thought it was Texas A&M. We haven't had fiesta in a couple of years, so my memory is short.

Justin: Oh, we had the abbreviated.

Mary Lou: Yes, the let's get COVID together fiesta.

Justin: Lindsay and I actually got a hotel room in the Embassy with a balcony. We're like, "We're going to go to the river parade," but we have air conditioning because it's July and we can have Lincoln sleep inside. It was as much as we could do. We're going to do something that was as much as we could do.

Mary Lou: That worked?

Justin: Yes. It was unfortunate because the zoo was the beneficiary this year. I think they raised $550,000 though.

Mary Lou: Not bad.

Justin: The emcee matched. I can't remember her name, but she matched whatever-- Oh, it was all going to the Will Smith Zoo School. That's who got the beneficiary of this year's river parade.

Mary Lou: I never got to send my babes there.

Justin: That's the plan.

Mary Lou: You have to send Lincoln. You have to.

Justin: That's the plan. We're on the whitelist. We started a while back. I'm on the zoo board now. I'm going to go around and slip people dollar bills and hope that gets me where I need it to get me.

Mary Lou: [laughs]

Justin: I really never tell people what I want to talk to them about because why? Let's just have a conversation.

Mary Lou: Preparation would've been key.

Justin: I know, but favorite fiesta event. What are you going to come in with, "Here's the three reasons this is my favorite." It's not as fun. You have such an impressive educational background. You were born in Carnes, raised in San Antonio. I'm from a really small town. Now, as I look back on people that have come up, we're the same generation, we're the same age-ish. You went off to Stanford and you got an engineering degree, which getting into Stanford is hard enough, leaving town is different, but you went off and got this incredible education, and then you trended into the law.

Talk to us a little bit about the very different mindsets I think. One of them has answers and solutions, and one is a lot different and a lot more fussy. It's not positive and negative. There's not an answer. Why did you start in engineering and decided to get into the law?

Mary Lou: I always wanted to go into the law. I did. I don't know if you remember The Paper Chase?

Justin: Oh, yes.

Mary Lou: I would watch that with my dad.

Justin: It's great.

Mary Lou: I loved it. I can't find it. Every now and again, I'll search Netflix and see if they've gotten the rights or whatever it is they need to do.

Justin: Go to Amazon Prime. You can rent it and then pull up your Amazon app and it'll be waiting for you.

Mary Lou: Is it on there?

Justin: $3.99. It has to be. Everything's...