Justice Ken Molberg: From Guitars to Gavel

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An exit from a promising rock ‘n roll career led to an entrance into the world of law for Justice Ken Molberg of the Fifth District Court of Appeals.

Influenced by the German and Latino cultures of the Texas Hill Country, Molberg found a natural outlet in music. In 1966 that meant rock ‘n roll. “Back in those days we didn’t have a lot to do, so four schoolmates got together and formed a band. To our surprise, we became something of a hit,” Molberg says.

The group, called the Fugitives and later The Crossfires, released a number of records that did well in various markets. The response was strong enough for Capitol Records and then Colgems to sign them to a contract. Colgems renamed the group The Fountain of Youth, “which I hated,” Molberg says. In addition to his work with the band, Molberg also worked as a studio musician where he performed with ome of the top performers of the time. He fondly remembers drinking coffee and conversing with fellow Texan Mike Nesmith of the Monkees. He also did studio work with Hoyt Axton and Steppenwolf.

Molberg objected to the direction the record company was taking his group and one day walked into the head office, quit the music business, and headed back to Texas and a different direction.

From Chords to the Courts

At first, Molberg entertained thoughts of a career in journalism while earning his Bachelor of Arts from the University of North Texas. He served as an editor-in-chief of the North Texas Daily. The attraction of serving his community through the law proved a stronger calling and he earned his Juris Doctor from Southern Methodist University School of Law in 1976. While attending SMU, he served a term as managing editor of what is now the SMU Law Review and was a member of The Barristers.

He spent the first five years of his legal career with the Law Offices of James C. Barber and in 1981, was a founder and shareholder of Wilson, Williams & Molberg, P.C.

For 33 years he became one of those rare combinations of trial lawyer and appellate lawyer. He handled and tried hundreds of civil matters in state and federal court, including personal injury, products liability, civil rights, contract claims, election law, and voting rights. He had a special concentration in labor and employment law. He also gained substantial state and federal appellate experience.

Yet, that level of success wasn’t enough. That fact came home one evening after a brutal period in which he handled six challenging and exhausting cases. “One evening I spoke to my wife, Linda, and said ‘I’m going to run for district court or we’re moving to Guatemala.’” The reference to Central America was serious. The Molberg family enjoys travel and has spent many years exploring Central and South America and Mexico. Leaving for that destination was not just a pipe dream.

The solution to his challenge came through his service as chairman of the Democratic Party in Dallas County where he had helped others achieve their goal of getting on the bench. One of his associates approached him and suggested that it was time he took up a position behind the bench, too.

“It was a logical move. The trial court was my home,” Molberg says.

Singing a New Tune

Before being elected to the Fifth District Court of Appeals in 2018, Molberg served 10 years as judge of the 95th Judicial District Court of the State of Texas. For four of those years, he served as the local administrative district judge of Dallas County with responsibilities for the county’s 39 district courts. He was also the presiding judge of the Civil District Courts of the county for three terms.

He is the second-ever recipient of the Dallas Bar Association’s Judge Barbara M.G. Lynn Jurist of the Year Award in 2022. The award was established to honor judges who make significant contributions to the legal community, demonstrate high ideals, exemplary personal character and judicial competence.

He was named Jurist of the Year for 2017 by TEX-ABOTA, the statewide parent organization for the Texas chapters of the American Board of Trial Advocates. In 2011, he received the Trial Judge of the Year award from the Dallas Chapter of the American Board of Trial Advocates and he was named to the Dallas Bar Association board of directors for 2012. He is also the 2016 recipient of the Charles J. Murray Outstanding Jurist Award, presented annually by the Tarrant County Trial Lawyers Association.

He is a former member of the State Bar’s Pattern Jury Charge Committee, where he co-chaired the subcommittee on labor and employment law; a member of the American Board of Trial Advocates; a former long-time member of the U.S. Fifth Circuit District Judges Association Advisory Committee on Pattern Jury Charges for Labor and Employment Law; a founder and past president of the Texas Employment Lawyers Association; a former longstanding member of the Dallas Trial Lawyers Association; a past director and director emeritus of the Texas Trial Lawyers Association; a life fellow of the Texas Bar Foundation; a life senior fellow of the Dallas Bar Foundation; and a former member of the Dallas County Juvenile Board and the Dallas County IT Executive Governance Committee.

From rural beginnings to record contracts to journalism and then the law, Justice Molberg has always progressed in developing himself as a person and as a public servant.

“Looking back, I see a connection between my early days in music and my long career in the courtroom. The law, like music, is a great uniter of people – a great force for good. I’m fortunate to be someone helping make some of that ‘music.’”

Dan Baldwin

Dan Baldwin is a writer for Attorney at Law Magazine. He has been contributing to the magazine since 2012.

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