The award recognizes an alumnus who has had a distinguished legal career.
Sparks, an El Paso native, received an undergraduate degree from The University of Texas at Austin in 1961. In 1963 he received his degree from the School of Law and began the practice of law as clerk to Federal District Court Judge Homer Thornberry. In 1965, Sparks entered private practice with the firm of Hardie, Grambling, Sims and Galatzan, where he practiced trial law for 26 years in Texas and other states, trying more than 300 cases.
He was nominated to the federal bench by President George H.W. Bush, was confirmed by the Senate and received his commission in 1991. Since that time, Sparks has presided over one of the busiest dockets in the country, adjudicating about 400 civil cases and sentencing 300 defendants annually.
Since 1978, Sparks has been certified in the fields of civil trial law and personal injury trial law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. His professional associations include the American College of Trial Lawyers (judicial fellow), the American Board of Trial Advocates (advocate), Texas Bar Foundation (life fellow) and membership in the State Bar of Texas and the Fifth Circuit District Judges Association. Sparks was named Trial Judge of the Year by the Texas Chapters of the American Board of Trial Advocates in 2005. Sparks was selected in 2007 to serve as federal judicial liaison to the State Bar of Texas Board of Directors. He was honored in 2010 by the American College of Trial Lawyers with its Sandra Day O'Connor Jurist Award in recognition of his independence, courage and commitment to the rule of law.
Sparks married Melinda Echols of Fort Worth in 1995. His marriage to Arden Reed of Houston from 1962 until her death in 1990 produced four sons. The Sparks now have a family of six children and seven grandchildren.
Other award winners include Ann Barnett Stern, who received the Distinguished Alumnus Award for Community Service; Wayne A. Reaud, who received the Honorary Order of the Coif; and Thomas M. Susman, who received the Outstanding Alumnus Award.