After graduation from Big Spring High School, John drove trucks from the oil fields of West Texas to as far away as Alaska, until he entered the University of Texas in 1975. During his first semester at U.T., he caught the political bug working on Jeff Friedman’s run for mayor. In 1977, he began driving U.T. shuttlebuses and joined ATU 1549, serving as Union President in 1980 and again in 1983. He led Local 1549, organizing members for various local campaigns, walking blocks, making and putting up signs, and mobilizing members to man the polls. During Judge Guy Herman’s 1980 Justice of the Peace race, John called up enough drivers so there was a Union member at almost every polling place on Election Day. John has also been a proud member of TSEU-CWA while working for the State, a COPE member, and currently a member of AFSCME, which represents and counts among its membership Travis County workers.
In 1983, John climbed out of his bus and moved to San Antonio to attend St. Mary’s University School of Law, where he became a distinguished student in the classroom and in moot court and mock trial competitions. He and his partner won the Freshman Moot Court Competition over 84 other teams and John was asked by his Criminal Law professor to work as his Law Clerk for the next two years. This generated John’s passion for Constitutional and Criminal Law. During the next two years, John competed in and won moot court and mock trial competitions, honing his skills for his future as a trial lawyer. After winning second place in the State Bar Moot Court Competition in 1985, which was argued before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, John was offered and accepted a job after law school with Judge Mike McCormick of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, as his Law Clerk. At the end of that term of the Court, he was hired by the Senior Judge of the Court, W.C. (Bill) Davis, as the Judge’s Staff Attorney.
His years of work at the Court of Criminal Appeals provided John with incredible opportunities that few young lawyers have the chance to experience. Not only did he provide research and draft opinions for hundreds of cases argued before the Court, he was able to participate in the development of the criminal law of this State, as he observed the work of and discussed the issues with preeminent legal minds in the field of criminal law. This experience taught him much more than law books had to offer. John learned much about the role of judges in the criminal justice system and how good trial judges work and behave. He gained a profound respect for judges like Judge Bill Davis, his “Father in the Law,” who taught John that the most important qualities a trial judge should possess are his or her independence and integrity, a “nose” for the law, and a passion for Justice. Although Judge Davis has passed on, John learned through his example that a good judge treats everyone with dignity and respect.
John “retired” from the Court of Criminal Appeals when Judge Davis retired from the bench in 1990. His transition into the criminal courtroom began when he went to work for Travis County Attorney Ken Oden. For almost 19 years, John has served as a prosecutor in the misdemeanor courts of Travis County, working with juvenile defendants and their parents on issues of school attendance and substance abuse; with victims of violent crime, property crimes, and domestic violence; with persons suffering from mental illness and their loved ones; with defense attorneys, law enforcement officers, and judges to ensure just and fair resolution of criminal cases. As an accomplished trial lawyer, John has successfully tried hundreds of cases, but he is deeply committed to the proposition that “A prosecutor’s job is not merely to seek a conviction, but to see that Justice is done.”
In addition to his work in the courtroom, John’s dedication to the criminal justice system extends to his role as a teacher. He especially enjoys working with young lawyers, guiding them in evaluating cases and preparing for trial, and coaching them through trials. He has volunteered to mentor many law student interns through the years. He is a regular lecturer for the U.T. Law School Criminal Defense Clinic and Prosecution Clinic, the Austin Bar Association Criminal Law and Procedure Section, the Austin Police Department Academy, the Travis County Sheriff’s Academy, the Lower Colorado River Authority, the Texas Department of Public Safety, and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
Although John is proud of his West Texas roots, he came to Austin as quickly as possible and has been an active member of this community. From coaching youth baseball and mentoring at risk youth to buying and selling antiques and organizing auctions for charitable fundraising, John is passionate about Austin and Travis County. He is a speaker and mentor for students in Austin schools regarding civic responsibility and career choices. He was a member of the Leadership Austin Leadership Academy for Public Service. He is an active member of the Northwest Austin Civic Association and a regular contributor to and volunteer for Texas Freedom Network, Blue Santa, Brown Santa, Habitat for Humanity, Moose Lodge, and many other charitable organizations. John is also a proud member of the NAACP, the ACLU, and the Sierra Club.
John is a proud, lifelong Democrat and tireless volunteer for Democrats running for offices ranging from Justice of the Peace to President of the United States! He was a Delegate to the Travis County Democratic Convention and a volunteer for the State Democratic Convention in 2008. He is a member and regular contributor to Annie’s List and Texas Environmental Democrats. An active member of every Democratic club in Travis County, John is currently on the Board of Directors for North by Northwest Democrats, President of Capital Area Progressive Democrats and the recipient of their annual “Kick Ass” Award in 2009. He is also a member of the Travis County Democratic Party Finance Council.
John is married to Jan Breland, with whom he shares his love of the law. The two of them share their lives with two precious pooches, Jessie and J.J.