Manning of the People
Fearlessness fuels the fast-talking Matt Manning
Published in 2023 Texas Rising Stars magazine
By Nancy Henderson on March 17, 2023
In his second year at the University of Toledo College of Law, Matt Manning participated in what he calls a March Madness-style moot court tournament in which he represented a fictional mayor dubbed Captain Hook against an opponent defending the parents of Peter Pan—whose band of juvenile delinquent buddies had violated the city’s curfew.
“No, I did not win,” says the 36-year-old personal injury, criminal defense and civil rights attorney in Corpus Christi. “Depending on who you ask, there are some people who joke and say that I got robbed. But the guy who won was superb.”
A “mile-a-minute” talker, Manning’s energy comes from his passion for clients. But his service-oriented nature was instilled by his mother, a hospital administrator, and his father, a pastor. “I saw them model generosity and charity and helpfulness, literally, all the time,” he says. “That’s definitely something that shaped a lot of who I am, and shaped a lot of my practice.”
In high school and college, he says, “I was the guy always advocating not only for myself, but other students. Sometimes, it was a little to the chagrin of my teachers [when I argued] why I should be able to come to class late or leave early,” Manning says.
I saw the bad side of politics. I saw so many people who were trying to help themselves, or trying to help a party, rather than helping the people who needed it.
Even before he took a constitutional law class as an undergrad at Howard University, Manning knew he wanted to practice law. But “seeing the power of protest on campus and the power of mass action,” he says, solidified his decision.
At Howard, Manning interned on Capitol Hill his freshman year, and his first role post-J.D. was as a city attorney for Corpus Christi. But his interest in politics fell by the wayside while managing the Nueces County district attorney’s office—one of his two stints at the DA’s office. “I saw the bad side of politics,” he says. “I saw so many people who were trying to help themselves, or trying to help a party, rather than helping the people who needed it. I just don’t like that. … I still have those political aspirations; I’m just going to be more convicted about whatever I do when I do it.”
Manning tried mostly high-profile, violent cases as a prosecutor, like one involving a woman whose ex-boyfriend stuffed her into a trash can and set it on fire, leaving her to die of asphyxiation. “That was an extremely difficult case. It was all circumstantial evidence—cellphone records, that kind of stuff,” Manning says, adding that the assailant received a life sentence.
The case that impacted Manning most, however, revolved around a transgender woman shot and killed after being lured to a remote spot by several acquaintances. The linchpin witness testified against the three co-conspirators, who were each sentenced to more than 40 years in prison. “I was fighting for the honor of a victim who lost her life in a horrible way—but also her orientation,” says Manning. “Even in the voir dire, I demanded that people respect who she was.”
As a prosecutor, his wins, exposure and stature grew, until one day a district judge introduced him as “Manning of the People,” a moniker that brings him great pride.
In 2020, Manning left the public sector to join Webb Cason. He rattles off his recent cases: a young Black man that a group of kids dressed as Klansmen used a Taser on; a client falsely accused of domestic violence, for whom Manning snared a not-guilty jury verdict in seven minutes; a man accused of shooting at police officers who came into his backyard.
“That client was staring down the barrel of more than 40 years in prison,” Manning says. “He had the entire world coming at him. He looked at me and said, ‘I didn’t do this, and I trust you.’ We went to trial, and I gave it everything I had. And he got two years’ probation.”
Fearlessness, he asserts, is the fuel that keeps him going, regardless of the case in front of him. “I don’t care who’s on the other side,” he says. “If you’re my client, and I’ve taken up your cause, there’s nothing that scares me.”
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