Willie Schmerler was born in Baltimore, Maryland in 1950. He graduated from high school at Baltimore City College in 1966 and received his B.A. from Amherst College in 1972 after majoring in political science. He earned the degree of Juris Doctor from Texas Tech University in 1981 and soon thereafter became licensed to practice law in Texas. He is also admitted to practice before U.S. District Courts of the Western, Northern and Southern Districts of Texas, and before the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.
He came to practice law after a decade-long career in newspaper journalism and stints as an electrician, carpenter and compression mold operator.
Willie has focused his career in work as a trial lawyer, representing the weak and oppressed against the forces of wealth and power. He was an investigator for one of Texas' premier trial lawyers, Warren Burnett, and continued to work for Burnett as an investigator and law clerk during law school. Upon licensing in 1981, he immediately started trying cases for the same law firm then known as Burnett & Venso, representing plaintiffs in personal injury cases under the tutelage of Burnett and Norma Venso, who is now a retired state district judge. Willie also began to try criminal cases and civil rights cases.
In 1983 he moved from West Texas to Austin to "hang out a shingle" and has practiced in Austin ever since, working on the same types of cases.
As a result of his work as a criminal defense lawyer and a leader among the defense bar, he was elected a director of the Austin Criminal Defense Lawyers Association and in 1996 was chosen by his colleagues to lead that organization. In 1998 they gave him that association's highest honor, The Ambassador Award. He initiated and published a monthly trial report for Travis County dedicated to raising the skill level of the criminal defense bar, and it was widely read by judges, prosecutors and defense lawyers.
Willie co-authored an amicus curiae brief in the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, on behalf of the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, which led to adoption of a new standard of review for sufficiency of the evidence in criminal cases for all courts of appeals, to bring them in line with constitutional mandates. See Clewis v. State, 922 S.W.2d 126 (Tex.Crim.App. 1996). Willie was also responsible for the case of Hernandez v. State, 983 S.W.2d 867 (Tex.App. - Austin 1998, pet. ref'd), which set limits for police stopping vehicles without just cause (in that case "weaving within the lane").