The Dallas LGBT Bar Association’s Board of Directors for the 2019–2020 term is comprised of seven attorneys from a range of backgrounds and practice areas:
President: Mario H. Nguyen
Mario is a White Collar Criminal Defense and Investigations Attorney in the Dallas office of Locke Lord LLP, and a graduate of Harvard Law School. He represents individuals, public bodies, and private companies by conducting internal investigations, navigating government investigations, and advocating for clients in criminal proceedings and collateral civil matters involving state and federal investigative bodies. Mario has a strong commitment to criminal pro bono work, and has authored various legal articles published and cited by the Wall Street Journal, Law360, and the Texas Lawbook.
VP of Community Outreach: Michael Debnam
Michael G. Debnam is a Founding Partner at DebnamRust, PC. He focuses his entire practice on divorce and family law, where he navigates the sensitive and nuanced issues facing families in litigation. The majority of Michael’s practice is dedicated to assisting the LGBT community navigate the Texas Family Code. Michael’s firm is dedicated to furthering the LGBT civil rights movement.
Michael is a member of the LGBT Section of the State Bar of Texas. He spends his free time actively participating in groups such as the Dallas LGBT Bar Association, GALA North Texas, Texas Trans Kids and Family, The Resource Center, and various other LGBT organizations.
VP of Programming: Nadia Haghighatian
Nadia practices intellectual-property litigation at Thompson & Knight. Her expertise ranges from patent disputes covering various technologies (software, telecommunications, electrical, mechanical, semiconductor, and more) to disputes involving trademarks, trade secrets, and unfair competition. She earned her B.S. in Electrical Engineering from The University of Texas at Austin and graduated summa cum laude from Texas Tech University School of Law.
Nadia is a member of the Dallas Hispanic Bar Association, Iranian American Bar Association, and Young Professionals Advisory Council for Dallas’s LGBTQ Resource Center. She is also a former Associate member of The Honorable Barbara M. G. Lynn American Inn of Court, was named to Texas Rising Stars® by Thomson Reuters in 2018 and 2019, and was selected for the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity Pathfinder Program in 2019.
Whether she is drawing portraits, dabbling in the kitchen, or crafting legal arguments, Nadia seeks out opportunities to be creative. She enjoys spending time with her partner and their two dogs (Edison and Tesla), competing in bar trivia, and watching true-crime documentaries.
VP of Membership: Derek Mergele-Rust
Derek is a founding partner of DebnamRust, P.C., where he practices corporate law, estate planning & probate, and LGBT law. He spends a majority of his time protecting and representing small- and medium-sized Texas businesses. For small and new businesses, Derek drafts formation documents, advises set-up and structuring of companies, sets up 501(c)(3)s, protects companies and board members from liability, advises companies with future business planning, and helps new companies use best practices to avoid potential litigation. For existing small- and medium-sized Texas businesses, Derek helps companies prepare for litigation, navigate city council meetings, plan for future business, and face the legal complexities involved in everyday business. Before law, Derek worked in property management, high-tech, non-profit, and accounting. Derek graduated from Texas State University with a Bachelor of Science in Geography and a Bachelor of Public Administration. He earned his law degree from Texas Tech University.
VP of Professional Development: Kim Austin
Kim spent 14 years working as a prosecutor to defend children against abuse and neglect, which, led her to a different path – working as an advocate for children and families involved in CPS cases and other similar crises. She is a Child Welfare Law Specialist, certified by the National Association of Counsel for Children, with a wealth of knowledge and experience dealing with families in crisis. Kim is also a family and CPS mediator who helps families find creative solutions that allow them to control their own future.
Kim’s passion is using her 19 years of experience as an advocate, in and out of court, to serve the LGBTQIA community by providing legal counsel in an accepting and affirming environment. Kim founded her own law firm that handles many legal challenges that affect the LGBTQIA community – family issues, child welfare, probate and mediation – always with the goal of providing a welcoming and supportive place where clients can expect to be heard, treated equally, and represented zealously.
Treasurer: TJ Hales
Troy (T.J.) Hales works as an associate at Bell Nunnally & Martin LLP, and previously was an associate at Littler Mendelson, P.C. T.J. handles civil litigation and employment matters. Prior to private practice, he clerked with the Honorable Christine A. Nowak in the Eastern District of Texas and completed a public interest fellowship at the Constitutional Law Center for Muslims in America, where he worked on criminal and civil litigation matters. During law school, he served as the Managing Editor of the SMU Law Review and interned with the Honorable Amos L. Mazzant the Eastern District of Texas.
Secretary: Brian N. Larson
Brian N. Larson teaches and researches legal theory, argumentation, and rhetoric at Texas A&M’s law school in Fort Worth and is a Texas A&M University Arts and Humanities Fellow. Before receiving his PhD, Larson practiced law for fifteen years, serving the real estate technology industry with legal counsel relating to intellectual property, information technology, antitrust, and corporate governance. He previously taught at the University of Minnesota School of Law and Georgia Institute of Technology School of Literature, Media, and Communication. He lives in Dallas with his spouse.