Thirteenth Court of Appeals

Chief Justice Dori Contreras 
Photo of Chief Justice Dori Contreras

Place 1

Chief Justice Dori Contreras was first elected as a Justice to the 13th Court of Appeals in 2002. She began her first term on January 1, 2003 and was re-elected in 2008 and 2014. She was elected Chief Justice in 2018 and will serve in this position through 2024.

Chief Justice Contreras was raised in Pharr, Texas as the youngest of four children. Her parents, Pantaleon and Criselda Contreras, were first generation Mexican American. Both sets of grandparents immigrated from Mexico in the early 1900’s and settled in the Rio Grande Valley. Chief Justice Contreras was often told by her father, a hard-working man who proudly had a 35-year career with the Texas Department of Highways and Public Transportation, that his one regret in life was not obtaining a college education. Taking this to heart, after graduating from PSJA High School in 1976, Chief Justice Contreras attended the University of Texas at Austin from which she received a Bachelor of Business Administration in Accounting in December of 1980. She was the first in her family to graduate from college. In response to a job offer, Chief Justice Contreras moved to Houston, Texas and worked as an accountant for several years before applying to law school. In 1987, as a wife and a mother of two daughters, she began law school in the night program at the University of Houston Law Center and continued working full-time. She continued with this rigorous schedule for a year and one-half before deciding to borrow the needed funds to attend school full time. In May of 1990, she received her Doctor of Jurisprudence degree. Chief Justice Contreras was active in various organizations in law school and was recognized as one of six students to receive the Distinguished Service Award from the University of Houston Law Center. She was admitted to the State Bar of Texas in November of 1990.

Chief Justice Contreras began her legal career in Houston working as an associate for Thomas N. Thurlow and Associates. In 1991, she moved to San Antonio and began employment with the Law Offices of Frank Herrera. After one year, she transferred to the McAllen branch office which she managed until 1997. In that year, she became a partner in a civil trial firm that litigated and tried state and federal court cases. Chief Justice Contreras also formed a mediation practice in 1997 which she ran concurrently with her law practice. In 2010, Chief Justice Contreras was one of three recommended by the Texas congressional delegation for nomination by the White House to a United States District Court seat in Corpus Christi, Texas.

Before joining the court, Chief Justice Contreras served as a member and on boards of numerous legal and community organizations including President of the Hidalgo County Bar Association; as a board member of the Texas Trial Lawyers Association; and, on the Board of Governors for the Association of Trial Lawyers of America. She currently serves on the Executive Committee and as Membership Committee Chair for the Council of Chief Judges of the State Courts of Appeal; Chair of the Council of Chiefs of Texas; Treasurer of Texas Latinx Judges; and Council Member for the Hispanic Issues Section of the State Bar of Texas. Throughout her legal career, Chief Justice Contreras has lectured at continuing legal education programs around the state and country. She enjoys speaking to students at local schools and serving as a role model to the young women in her community.

Listed below are some of the awards Chief Justice Contreras has received:

  • 2021, Hispanic Women Making History Award, Hispanic Women’s Network Rio Grande Valley Chapter;
  • 2019, Woman of Distinction, Texas Association of Mexican American Chambers of Commerce;
  • 2019, Latina Trailblazer Award, Hispanic Women’s Network of Texas;
  • 2019, President’s Award, NAACP Corpus Christi Chapter;
  • 2016, Judge of the Year, Hispanic Issues Section of the State Bar of Texas;
  • 2014, Woman of Distinction, Rio Grande Valley Hispanic Chamber of Commerce;
  • 2014, Good Samaritan Award, Good Samaritan Community Services-RGV, a non-profit organization that provided an after-school and summer program for at-risk youth in the Pharr community.

Chief Justice Contreras has three children. Lisette Marie Howard is a graduate of Texas A&M University and has a Master’s degree from the University of North Texas. Vanessa Barry graduated summa cum laude from UT Pan American and is employed as the Chief Marketing & Engagement Office for KIPP Texas. Michael James Garza Jr. resides in Denver, Colorado. Chief Justice Contreras is married to Roger Perez and has five beautiful grandchildren.