Jessica Janicek’s Game Plan
The Southlake family attorney has already tackled 2 national headline-grabbing cases
Published in 2016 Texas Rising Stars magazine
on March 4, 2016
Updated on March 11, 2016
Jessica Janicek credits two extensive stints at a Houston legal-training institute with invigorating her as a family law attorney. But her level of empathy with clients was boosted by an experience last October: the birth of her first child, Riley.
“That instant love you feel as a parent is something that’s hard to explain; you just have to experience it,” says Janicek, who practices law at KoonsFuller in Southlake. “My work isn’t going to change. But I now have a better understanding of what families are going through. I can now put myself in their place and think of how it must feel.”
While pregnant with Riley, Janicek says, she thought often about Erick and Marlise Muñoz, whose landmark case she handled in 2013. “Here they were, this happy couple, adding to their family, doing everything right, and then one night their world came crashing down.” Marlise was 14 weeks pregnant in November 2013 when she collapsed due to a blood clot in her lungs and was soon declared brain-dead.
The nightmare continued for Erick when the hospital refused to take Marlise off the ventilator, citing the Texas Advance Directives Act: “A person may not withdraw or withhold life-sustaining treatment from a pregnant patient.” It was Erick’s understanding that the fetus had been deprived of oxygen for an hour and was not viable but that the doctors’ hands were tied.
He wanted to bury his deceased wife with dignity, but after having been turned down by multiple attorneys, Erick and his parents-in-law sent out requests for legal help. Heather King, managing shareholder at KoonsFuller, received an email about the case and conferred with Janicek about the two of them stepping in. “The family was in so much pain, and we felt as if we were their last hope,” says Janicek. King and Janicek took the case pro bono and successfully sued John Peter Smith Hospital.
As the case grabbed headlines nationwide, the authors of the Directives Act stepped in to say that the hospital was misreading the law, and that the intention was not to keep a brain-dead patient alive.
The trial was brief, with Judge R.H. Wallace ordering the hospital to remove life support. “Mrs. Muñoz is dead,” he ruled.
That was on a Friday. The hospital had until Monday to appeal. “That was the most nerve-wracking part of the whole case,” says Janicek, who got the call on Sunday that the hospital was going to comply with the court’s order immediately.
“Jessica’s work on the Muñoz case was some of the most outstanding research, preparation and argument that I have witnessed during my career as an attorney,” says King.
Just four years out of law school, Janicek took on another case that drew widespread attention: representing Plano father Bart Hermer in a case alleging international parental kidnapping. His daughter had been taken to England by her mother without his permission. After a British court threw out Hermer’s case in 2010, Janicek won a judgment for Hermer in 2013, with a Collin County judge granting custody to the father. But as of late 2015, Hermer still hadn’t seen his daughter. “It’s just heartbreaking,” says Janicek, who successfully argued one case and briefed three others before the Texas Supreme Court before she hit 30.
Preparation is a key to her success. “You draw up a game plan and say, ‘This is our end goal and here’s how we’ll execute it,’” she says. “In the first week, we walk our clients through the entire process. It’s like a football coach getting his team ready for a big game.”
The football metaphor isn’t accidental. Janicek, a 2006 Baylor University graduate, is such a Bears fan that the calendar she brought along when her obstetrician determined her due date was a Baylor football schedule (“he just laughed”). She and her husband, Chad, assistant city manager of the Fort Worth suburb of Hudson Oaks, watched Baylor beat West Virginia, 62-38, from her hospital bed the day after son Riley was born.
When Janicek graduated in 2002 from Westlake High in Austin, where she was born and raised, Baylor was a likely next stop. Her parents met while undergrads at the Waco college, where her father, Randy Hall, later became a professor in physics and math. Plus, Baylor had a riding club. Janicek was a competitive equestrian in high school and also helped rescue neglected horses and retrain them as show jumpers. The love of animals was passed on by her mother, Cathy Hall, who is on the board of the Fuzzy Friends rescue group.
Janicek saw her future in marketing and public relations, so she started a small agency while in college, mainly creating ads and updating websites. “It was fun to use my creative side,” she says. But a random course in business law got her juices flowing. “Law clicked with me,” she recalls. Her professor encouraged Janicek to take the LSAT, and after graduating from Baylor in 2006, she enrolled at Texas Wesleyan Law School.
“Family law just fell in my lap,” she says. While finishing law school she interned with Ron Clower, a solo attorney in Fort Worth, so she did a bit of everything. “I had drafted a lot of documents in divorce cases, so when I was interviewing for jobs [after law school], they said, ‘Oh, you have family law experience,’ and that’s where I was assigned.” She took to the specialty right away.
“Family law is never boring. And it can be complex. No two cases are the same. You’re dealing with finances and bankruptcy, too, so my business background helps,” she says. “But I think one of the main reasons I was drawn to family law is because I can help people in a very real, immediate way. I want to help relieve their pain.”