Outside my Comfort Zone
I began my legal career trying cases as an assistant criminal district attorney in Collin County, and tried approximately 100 jury trials to verdict. I tried civil cases, criminal cases, bench trials, and jury trials. When I was provided the opportunity this February by the administrative judge of my administrative region to serve as a visiting judge, presiding in a criminal trial, I jumped at the chance. (Texas Gov’t Code § 74.054 (Appellate Justices may be assigned to a trial court); Texas Gov’t Code § 74.042 (b) (First Administrative Region); Texas Gov’t Code §74.060 (14-day limit per annum (only applies to initial assignment)).) I subsequently accepted two more criminal trial assignments. (https://www.dallasnews.com/news/courts/2022/06/11/man-gets-life-sentence-for-sexual-assault-after-conviction-in-dallas-cold-case/.)
Each was a fascinating and educational challenge, quite distinct from my day job as a justice on an intermediate appellate court. In each case, the lawyers were very capable and tried their cases well. I distinctly recall when I first heard “Objection!” I was immediately jolted out of being merely a fascinated spectator. I realized all eyes were on me, awaiting my ruling. The lawyers identified the legal basis for their objection, and I tried to respond as accurately as I could. The near-instantaneous ruling required is distinct from the typical method followed by an intermediate appellate justice. I didn’t have briefs to inform my decision, nor time to consult with staff attorneys, nor fellow justices. I had to rule. I felt very acutely the weight of the responsibility, and was grateful to be trusted by the duly elected trial judges with the management of one of their cases. In two of the criminal trials, I had to assess punishment. Those were undoubtedly the most difficult decisions of my judicial career. I did my best.