These six words are the core of how former Judge Renée Yanta has created positive change for children, for families, for our community. All her life, she has served others. And serves without limits.
Service is in Renée’s DNA. She grew up in a military family: her grandfather led his squadron into air combat on D-day; her father flew a radar-jamming plane over Vietnam—leaving himself exposed to enemy fire. Her mother volunteered 100s of hours with the Red Cross at Clark Air Force Base, writing letters for wounded warriors. Renée’s heart reflects her family’s legacy of putting service above self.
Over the years of her father’s military service, Renée and her family lived in Asia and Europe. Renée’s parents taught her to delight in new and different smells, foods, and traditions. She learned early on to love and appreciate other cultures. As a first grader, she joined her Filipino girlfriends to celebrate a Filipino wedding—roasting pig and all. As a teen, she woke up at 4AM to harvest grapes along the Mosel River with her German friends. Because of these and countless other experiences, Renée developed a bold admiration for people’s differences. To this day, former Judge Renée is deeply certain of the power of diversity in our great American culture.
Raised on military bases, Renée found many ways to give back. As a 6 year old, she collected toys for children in Vietnam. At 11, she worked over 100 hours for Family Services. As a teenager, she volunteered for the Red Cross at Landstuhl Military Hospital, was a Girl Scout, and led the Junior ROTC unit at Judson High School. Renée grew up always looking for more ways to help and more people to assist. That’s why she ultimately decided to become a public school teacher.
After graduating from the University of Texas in just 3 years, Renée started her teaching career at an at-risk district, Del Valle ISD. Some of her students were her same age! Some were already parents. These challenges motivated Renée to quickly develop into a master teacher.
With the birth of her daughter, Renée wanted to return home to San Antonio. She took a job teaching history and government at MacArthur High School. For the next 7 years, Renée used her role as a teacher to challenge students to become critical thinkers. She overlaid her lesson plans with creativity and energy. Just ask some of her former students to explain “Eco-robics”—Renée’s way to invigorate the Economics curriculum. She started the United Nations Club and coached the Academic Decathlon team. Deeply investing into the minds and hearts of her students--that was Renée’s hallmark. When asked, many of Renée’s students chose her as the teacher who most influenced them.
Renée loved teaching. But every time she taught the Constitution to her students, she was drawn to the logic of law. Almost on a lark, Renée took the LSAT. When she scored in the top 95%, she decided to apply to only one law school: St. Mary’s in San Antonio. If she got in, she’d go. If she didn’t? Well, that would be a sign. One of the hardest days of her professional life was receiving that admission letter. But she decided to be bold!
With her two little children in tow, she cashed in her teacher retirement, took out huge loans, and headed to St. Mary’s. From day one, Renée loved learning the law. She didn’t miss a single class her first year—often dragging her daughter and son with her, squirreling them in the back of the classroom with books and colors. She’d pour over the heavy law books at home. Inevitably, she’d start applying legal principles, like tort duties, to her children’s arguments.
In her second and third years, Renée spent long hours researching and writing about law—while Brandon and Jackie played tag (sometimes to her fellow students’ chagrin) and collected law books for Renée’s law journal article. Her kids love to tell the story of lugging huge tubs of Legos up to the Law Journal office while Renée worked as Editor-in-Chief.
Though it was all-consuming at times, Renée reveled in the study of law, leading her to graduate at the very top of her class. But learning the law as a mother gave her a deep appreciation for social justice—law applied with compassion.
After graduating, Renée dove into litigation—learning quickly that becoming a Noble Lawyer required a humble walk. She juggled motherhood with her professional growth. Renée honed her skills of legal advocacy while her children played in her office, Jackie reading Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights and Brandon reading about the Civil War and Prussian military tactics.
Renée’s children grew as rapidly as her practice. Before long, they were spending evenings and weekends at the softball field or basketball court. So Renée decided to take her work there. Many a supreme court brief was researched and written from the Little League stands.
For over 17 years, Renée continued to work 60+ hours a week handling all sorts of cases (even winning a bobcat its freedom). She learned most from losses, and eventually built a nationwide reputation. She became board certified in civil appellate law, was named a Super Lawyer, and was lauded as one of the top women lawyers in all of Texas. She started teaching law, became a prolific legal writer, even co-authoring a book used by every judge and lawyer at trial. Despite all her success, she never once lost sight of what called her to law in the first place: helping others.
Throughout her legal career, Renée invested her heart into San Antonio. She helped many non-profits, including the Rape Crisis Center and the Battered Women’s Shelter. When she became president of BCWB, Renée partnered with the San Antonio Sport Foundation to start a program mentoring at-risk middle school girls in Harlandale Independent School District. This program made a profound impact and helped to lower the teen pregnancy rate in San Antonio.
It was no surprise when Renée was appointed to the 73rd District Court in January 2010. Handling from contested divorces and child protection cases to commercial litigation, Former Judge Renée enjoyed the chance to use every legal resource and reasoning skill she had to protect children and heal families.
Former Judge Renée saw a phenomenon from the Bench that was dangerous and pervasive. Teen girls in foster care faced poverty, early pregnancy and educational challenges. Former Judge Renée felt called to create positive change for these special young ladies. She dreamed of building a court program that could provide tender healing and inspiration—an initiative she called PEARLS Court.
So just 3 months after becoming judge of the 150th District Court in 2015, former Judge Renée launched PEARLS Court, with the funding help of her dear husband, Virgil Yanta. Under her leadership, PEARLS Court works with 20-40 teen girls each year, providing healing from the trauma they’ve experienced, teaching of life skills, and mentoring by over 100 women volunteers from all over Bexar County. Since 2015, PEARLS Court has inspired over 150 girls. And blessings abound
Many of the PEARLS Girls graduated from high school and are going to college. An amazing number has been reunited with family, now in stable and permanent homes. Every year, almost every one of the PEARLS Girls promote to the next grade level. When Former Judge Yanta left the Bench, not a single PEARLS Girls had became pregnant. All the PEARLS Girls have become bolder and stronger. These young ladies are truly “Pearls:” empowered, brilliant young women.
Renée left the Bench of the 150th District Court on December 31, 2018, returning to the practice of law and her specialty as a civil appellate lawyer, Board Certified by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. She has also actively mediated and arbitrated cases. And former Judge Renée has been overwhelmingly blessed to continue working with PEARLS Court by leading the PEARLS Foundation.
Now a new opportunity is in her future--one that combines her deep knowledge and experience in appellate law, her gifted skill set as a proven leader, and her heart for service. She is seeking to serve again, now as Chief Justice of the Fourth Court of Appeals.
So after 7 years of judicial experience, 26 years as an attorney, 16 years as a Board Certified Appellate Lawyer, former Judge Yanta asks for your vote to return her to public service as your Chief Justice.
And Former Judge Renée Yanta remains committed to continuing her life—as a mother, grandmother, wife, teacher, lawyer, judge and Chief Justice—in her family’s legacy to: Do Justice. Love Mercy. Walk Humbly.