The Prosecutor Gonna Knock You Out

Amy Dinn fights hard, on skates and in the courtroom

Published in 2008 Texas Rising Stars Magazine — April 2008

For the moment, set aside Amy Dinn’s successful work in complex business litigation as an associate with Gardere Wynne Sewell. Forget her membership in the Phi Beta Kappa Society while an undergraduate at the University of Texas at Austin. We know that you, like everyone else, want to hear about Dinn’s tough-chick alter-ego “The Prosecutor,” who is a member of the “Machete Betties,” an all-woman roller derby team that plays at the Verizon Wireless Theater in downtown Houston from February to October.

“When I found out the basic concept was to be on skates and slam into someone, that seemed like a good outlet for me,” Dinn says.

The Houston Roller Derby league, comprising four teams run by the skaters, opened in late 2005. It was part of a nationwide revival of the sport that soared in popularity from the 1950s through the mid-1970s. In their 1970s heyday, roller derby tracks were banked with railings along the side. Today, the bouts are played on flat tracks, and nothing separates the players and audience except a line of tape on the ground.

Since some fans sit on the ground, just 10 feet outside the track, they often get up close and personal with their favorite players. “The best part for the audience is we might skate into them at any point and land in their laps,” Dinn says.

The games are controlled mayhem—combining athletic skills, precision teamwork and “women in prison”-style kitsch. Each team has five skaters, who skate in a circle. Players designated as “jammers” score points by lapping the opposing team. A jammer is assisted by teammates called “blockers,” who open a lane for jammers and whip them forward when possible. (The flat track is wider than the bank track to allow for skaters’ centrifugal force.) Meanwhile, the other team’s blockers are trying to thump the opposition’s jammer to the ground. Dinn does double duty as both a blocker and a jammer.

“It’s a unique game in that you play offense and defense at the same time,” Dinn says. “I like the mental aspect of it.”

Oh, yeah—the mental aspect. That must be what draws 1,200 or so spectators to every game. Of Dinn, her teammate Jeanie Cooper says with a laugh: “She’s really dead-on with her hits. She’s got good timing and comes from several feet away and hits hard. I don’t want to skate against her.”

A moment later, Cooper adds: “But she’s very calm, articulate and reasonable when she’s not skating. I’d imagine her hobbies would be opera or theater or charity work, not roller derby.”

Digression #1. Let us pause here, for no particular reason, to mention that Dinn’s favorite TV show is Dexter, the Showtime series about a serial killer who is also a blood-spatter expert for the police. Dinn likes the notion of hidden menace behind the front of civility.

The mission of “The Prosecutor,” as the Machete Betties’ Web site puts it, is “to prosecute violators to the full extent of the law without witnesses, taking no prisoners and terminating the enemy execution style.” In the team photo, the skaters wear combat fatigues and miniskirts.

If all this sounds like a high-revving video game aimed at adolescent boys, that’s a big part of the fun. The league lays on the camp, and the standard uniforms include kneepads, elbow pads and fishnet stockings. During the bouts, referees stand in the middle of the rink and blow their whistles for “gross unladylike conduct,” such as punching, tripping or biting.

Like most of the other participants, Dinn had little skating experience before she signed up. She recalls the fun she had learning to use classic roller skates. She spent many hard months practicing the turn-around stops, backwards skating and blocking skills.

“She’s extremely competitive and works super hard on any perceived shortcoming,” Cooper says. “If she thinks her speed or balance needs work, she concentrates on that one issue until she gets it perfect.”

What Dinn calls “the stumbling part of her career” was a broken leg during her first season. “I broke it at the end of April and was back in the rink in early July, skating with a large rod in my leg,” she says. She broke both her tibia and fibula, and the rod ran from her ankle to the top of her knee.

Digression #2. Listen up, young people: do as Dinn says, not as she does. Dinn served as chairwoman of the Young Houston Lawyers Association’s Car Safety Campaign Committee, “dedicated to educating the public on the importance of properly installed car safety seats by working one-on-one with families and distributing essential information on transporting children safely.” Safety, children. It’s all about safety.

As a former team captain of the Machete Betties—and the current co-captain of the HaRD Knocks, the league’s travel team—Dinn knows how to leverage her lawyerly skills. “When we’re not at practice, the way we communicate is through e-mail and bulletin boards,” Cooper says. “If there is a question of whether the team is going to wear green or black outfits, Amy will go through all the old messages and see what the prevailing thought processes are and how everyone is feeling. Now, I know that sounds weird talking about the color of a uniform. But you’re dealing with 70 women and all of them want to be in charge. Amy is very prepared and presents a very good argument.”

That attitude serves her well in her thriving law practice. She focuses on commercial litigation and professional malpractice. For example, she recovered more than $1 million in arbitration from the former owner of a metal recycling company who misrepresented permits held by the business at the time of sale. “I do a lot of sophisticated business divorces,” she says. And she serves as the legal representative of the Houston Roller Derby.

“With each different client or different industry, I learn about a new realm,” she says. “It keeps things interesting.”

She also maintains a heavy slate of pro bono work. As a former board member of Justice for Children, a national nonprofit organization, she helped four foster parents adopt six children who had been victims of abuse.

“Someone I represented baked me a cake afterwards,” Dinn says of another pro bono case. “That was a very different experience than my commercial litigation cases.”

On several occasions, as part of the recruitment process, Gardere Wynne Sewell has taken young lawyers to see Dinn skate. “People seem to like it,” says managing partner Claude Treece. “No one has ever complained.” Later he adds, “She marches to her own drummer.”

Along with everything else, Dinn is a director and secretary for Houston Greeters, a free service that pairs visitors and new residents with volunteers who serve as guides to the city. Having moved to Houston at age 25, Dinn says she “understood how important it was for natives and visitors to realize how neat Houston was.” Her tour is of vintage clothing stores.

Dinn has shopped at vintage stores since she could drive. However, “I wear a suit in the office,” she says. “I don’t think a polyester leisure suit works in Houston.”

Asked why she does so much, Dinn responds: “I get bored pretty easily.”

Asked how she does so much, she answers: “I need more sleep than I get.”

And we haven’t even mentioned her work as a board member of the Bobbindoctrin Puppet Theatre. Or her activities that led to her being honored at the YWCA’s 28th annual Outstanding Women’s Luncheon. Or her …

… all right, all right. We know—you really want to see the smacking. So log on to houstonrollerderby.com/upload/hrdexpobattleonthebayou_19731.mov.

And if you meet up with Dinn in court, remember to wear your pads.

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