John Odam. Attorney. Advocate. Mediator. Author. Politician. And now, General Counsel in the Harris County Attorney’s Office.
Odam has had a decades-long career of public service and is now moving to a new task of serving as legal advisor to County Attorney Vince Ryan and using his vast experience to help out wherever he is needed in the office.
“I’ll be using my skills as an attorney and mediator,” said Odam. “It’s what I’ve been doing all my life.”
Odam has worked for County Attorney’s Office since 2009. He’s headed up the Protective Services Practice Group, working with Children’s Protective Services, and serving as an advocate for the kids of Harris County.
“The citizens of Harris County are fortunate to have someone like John Odam on their side,” said County Attorney Vince Ryan. “While John did a terrific job in Protective Services, his new position as General Counsel will allow him to provide his expertise throughout the office.”
Among the accomplishments Odam is most proud is putting together a good team of lawyers and support staff at the County Attorney’s Office to work with the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.
“We deal with children and their families with compassion,” Odam explained. “These are not statistics, they’re kids.”
Odam has been working to help children and families in one way or another for most of his life. He served as a volunteer at the YMCA during high school in Abilene, TX, and as a student at the University of Texas at Austin. While helping out in Austin, Odam said he was often the only Anglo east of Highway 35. That’s what made him see the need for social services for many kids. When Odam went to work for the Texas Attorney General, his first assignment was to represent the state agency that worked with children.
It was this experience that led Odam to spearhead a recent Continuing Legal Education program on the Rights of Unaccompanied Children Crossing the Texas Border and the duties of Federal, State and Local Governments. Nearly 500 attorneys attended and learned from legal, law enforcement and government experts, social workers, educators and more. Afterwards, many attendees offered to volunteer their services to help these children.
“County Attorney Ryan asked us what we could and should do about this crisis,” said Odam. “We decided we needed to educate lawyers about the issues and get them to volunteer to represent these children in court.
“I was overwhelmed by the response,” he continued. “It was the largest endeavor I’ve ever been involved in, taking this project from zero to reality in three weeks. We obviously touched a nerve in the legal and humanitarian communities.”
Odam has been an attorney and mediator since 1971. After a brief stint in the Army, he graduated from the University of Texas and Baylor Law School. In 1973, he went to work for the Attorney General’s Office, working there for four years and rising to Executive Assistant Attorney General, responsible for all litigation.
Odam returned to private practice but continued his public service, working as Chair of the Harris County Democratic Party, a special assistant to Houston Mayor Kathy Whitmire, special legislative counsel to Governor Mark White and a Board Member of the Texas Youth Commission appointed by Governor Ann Richards.
Odam ran for Attorney General in 1990. He lost the race but became an author. What began as a journal for his children ended up a book about something he hadn’t planned to do: campaigning in every one of the state’s counties. The book was called Courting Texas: One Candidate’s Travels Through Texas’s 254 Counties and Their Courthouses.
“I enjoy Texas history,” Odam explained. “So I would read about every county I was visiting, learning about the county and the county seat, why it had been named what it was.”
It was an incredible experience, he said, to see the entire state of Texas, something no one else has probably ever done.
After an unsuccessful campaign for the U.S. Senate, Odam wrote a second book in 2010, this one a novel of political intrigue: The Candidate Conspiracy.
“I enjoy the writing process,” Odam said. “They say to write what you know about, which for me was politics, campaigning and being a lawyer.”
The novel takes place all over the world. Odam took a writing class and his research was helped by visiting his daughter, who was working in Moscow at the time, and his son, who was in school in Rome.
Odam says his wife hates to hear him say it but he intends to keep working. There are no plans for retirement and no end in sight.
“As long as I’m healthy and can work, I’ll keep at it,” said Odam. “I’ve gotten to do a lot of things and gone to a lot of places. I have no regrets. If I didn’t enjoy it, I wouldn’t keep doing it.”
The CLE program and other information on unaccompanied minors is available on the County Attorney’s website HERE.