In 1963, Sam Houston State University’s baseball team made history. Although other teams (before and after) played at the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) series, the 1963 team brought home the trophy, becoming the first and only SHSU baseball team to win a national championship. One of the members of the team was Jerry Register, a catcher and outfielder on baseball scholarship. Register was an ROTC cadet and was later named in Who’s Who Among Students in American Colleges and Universities, but playing on the national championship baseball team remained the highlight of his college years.
After graduating from SHSU (then Sam Houston State College) in 1965, Register pinned on second lieutenant bars and served for five years in the U.S. Army, ultimately attaining the rank of captain. He served for a year in Vietnam, earning a Bronze Star, but it was while stationed in Milwaukee, Wisconsin that he had an experience that helped shape his future. As a headquarters battery commander with the 45th Artillery Brigade, a Nike Hercules missile unit, he was called upon to testify in a military court proceeding on behalf of one of the soldiers under his command. “That trial piqued my interest in law school,” he says. Register considered making the Army a career, but decided instead to leave the military and use his GI Bill benefits to attend the Bates College of Law at the University of Houston.
After graduating from law school in 1972, Register became an assistant district attorney in Harris County, and his years as a prosecutor were some of the most enjoyable of his career. “You feel like you are accomplishing something,” he explains. “You punish a crime and, at the same time, you are maybe getting a bad person off the street.” After leaving the DA’s office, he worked for a Houston law firm and also as a solo practitioner for several years.
One day, however, a frustrating wait for a parking space gave Register plenty of time to think about his future. “One morning, as I sat waiting to park in the parking garage for some 38 minutes, I decided I was going to get out of Houston,” he says. He planned to go to Lufkin, his hometown, but stopped off in Huntsville to visit some college friends. “I got sidetracked,” he says with a smile, “and have been here ever since.” Along the way, he met a young woman from West Sandy named Mary Sue Doughtie. The two were married in 1980, the same year Register established his solo law practice in Huntsville. “After marrying my wife, the light of my life, we raised three children. Mostly to my wife’s credit, they have grown to be three excellent citizens,” he says. “Chris, Heath, and Karen are the pride of our family.”
While Register is known among friends as an avid storyteller, he is known professionally as an attorney who handles a variety of legal issues, including oil and gas law, certain criminal defense cases, civil and criminal litigation, tax disputes, probate and family law. “One of our primary objectives here is to put asunder what no man is supposed to put asunder,” he says, describing divorce by invoking a phrase often used in marriage ceremonies. In such proceedings, he looks after the best interests of children. This task is significant, he says, because children are the members of society least likely to be able to take care of themselves. He also assists with adoption proceedings, which he calls “the only happy thing that happens at the courthouse.”
Although Register enjoyed his work as a prosecutor, his work in criminal defense provided the most memorable moment of his career. While defending a college student who had been charged with homicide, Register successfully argued that his client had reluctantly killed in self-defense. The young man was ultimately acquitted. “One of the most thrilling moments of my life was when his mother hugged my neck,” he says. He proudly reports that his client later graduated from college and became a U.S. Army officer, retiring as a lieutenant colonel after 20 years of service.
Having practiced law for 46 years, Register has a wealth of experience and stays current in the profession by attending advanced training, such as the recent Advanced Family Law Seminar sponsored by the State Bar of Texas, and mediation training at the University of Houston. During his lengthy career, he has seen many people make mistakes of great magnitude that could have been alleviated with the most basic of legal proceedings. “In some sets of circumstances, a few hundred dollars spent on a lawyer will save thousands later on,” he says. For example, a simple will costing only about $300 might save a family $3,000 or more in probate costs.
Register also advises people to properly document private sales of valuable merchandise. While automobiles have state-issued titles to prove ownership, other expensive pieces of machinery—such as riding lawn mowers—do not. “Go get a lawyer to draw up a bill of sale for $150,” he says. “Then you’ll have a piece of paper that says it’s yours.” In addition, he strongly recommends contracts to protect both parties when they engage in business relationships. “I have represented people in this very office who have had their houses remodeled by contractors and never had anything written down. Get a contract. It’s not that expensive,” he says. “Writings tend to fade less rapidly than the spoken word.”
While some people might avoid seeking counsel because they do not think attorneys are entirely honest, Register finds this characterization regrettable, and says it is undeserved in the vast majority of cases. “I would say that without a doubt, the most honest and straightforward people I know are lawyers,” he says. “I think that is taken very seriously by 99.99 percent of the lawyers around.”
Register’s office is located at 1202 Sam Houston Avenue, a building constructed in 1883. “This building was here when Sam Houston was here,” he says. With its 24-inch stone walls and metal roof, it has spotty cellular reception, but Register likes the historic building anyway. “On the wall is a big Coca-Cola advertisement that has faded out through the years,” he says. “You can still make it out in certain times when the light is just right.”
Register’s bookshelves are filled with law books, both old and new, and his walls are covered with scholarly items, such as diplomas and certificates. The office also contains Texas memorabilia, baseball souvenirs and the occasional golf trophy. (He has played golf many times at Elkins Lake and even earned a club championship.) And, propped in one corner, is one of his prized possessions: a baseball bat commemorating the 50th anniversary of SHSU’s national championship baseball team.
1202 Sam Houston Ave., Suite 5
Huntsville, TX 77340