Southern Methodist University School of Law (1997) (Order of Barristers)
The University of Texas at Austin (1994)
(Walk-on pitcher to varsity baseball team 1990—91)
Judge of the 219th Dist. Ct. (2010—present)
Board Certified Family Law (2014—present)
Assistant DA, Collin County DA’s Office (2003—2010)
Private practice (1997—2003)
Adv. Crim. Law Seminar Planning Committee (2016—present)
I helped create a digital warrant process. Previously, officers physically drove to a judge to have them review and sign a warrant. This process was cumbersome. If there was a defect in the warrant the process became even more cumbersome. Officers had to drive back to their office, make the changes, then drive back to the judge. Along with officers from across the County, we developed a process allowing them to e-mail me their proposed warrants. I now review on my iPad, sign electronically, and e-mail it back to them. A process that used to take hours can now be accomplished in minutes. This process has spread to seveal agencies and is used by many of the judges in Collin County.
Consistent application of the law is an important, but not the only goal. Many people define “consistency” as similar outcomes for similarly situated cases. However, there are so many variables this is impossible to achieve. No two cases are exactly the same. While the law remains the same from case to case, the facts do not. There are no truly similarly situated cases. Each case has unique facts thus leading to unique results for each case. Focusing on consistency and failing to account for these factual differences in each case could lead to a travesty of justice. My experience as the judge for the past seven years allows me to recognize while I strive for consistency, I should not do so at the expense of a just result.
The growth of the county will require the creation of more district courts to handle the increased caseload. As more people move into our county, there is an increased caseload. There are only so many hours in the day for judges to address these cases. We want to give each case the time it needs. But the more time we give to each case, the fewer cases we can hear in a day. The fewer cases we hear in a day, the longer it may take for cases to get in front of a judge. Justice delayed can be justice denied. Our county has grown because of the fiscal responsibility of our elected leaders. Maintaining a favorable tax burden for the citizenry without jeopardizing the core government services (like the court system) they expect, is a challenge we face right now.
In criminal cases low income residents have access to justice because they can have a court appointed lawyer. However, those lawyers are paid a greatly reduced rate for their work. Many of the most experienced lawyers choose not to take court appointed cases because of these reduced rates. Paying a fair wage for fair work would attract more experienced lawyers to handle these cases. This in turn would go a long way to improving the quality of the access to justice in criminal matters for low income residents.
In civil cases perhaps more legal clinics could be created to help the low income residents. The cost of law school tuition is quite high. Many new lawyers start out with crushing debt. They feel compelled to seek high-paying jobs to pay off this debt. If there was a greater effort at loan forgiveness linked to the amount of work done on behalf of low income residents, this might improve their access to justice.
Political retribution for judges following the law. The Texas Canons of Judicial Conduct dictate, “A judge shall not be swayed by partisan interests, public clamor, or fear of criticism.” Canon 3B(2). I followed this Canon in my duties as the Local Administrative Judge and now face 3 opponents in the primary. I face political opposition because of a decision I made trying to remove politics from the situation. Other judges may face the same pressure if they act as I did—simply doing their job and following the Canons. That political pressure threatens the independence of our courts.
Addressing this is difficult. The same Canons requiring a judge not be swayed by partisan interests, also limit what a judge can say in response to each criticism. Often, the most judicial behavior is not to respond. But this allows the criticism to go unanswered and over time gain an air of truth even if it’s not valid. Judges must be willing to do the right thing, even if it means suffering politically.
UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH DAKOTA SCHOOL OF LAW, Vermillion, South Dakota
Juris Doctor, May 1992.
UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS, Urbana – Champaign, Illinois
Bachelor of Science, May 1988.
BRENNER LAW P.C., Dallas, Texas 8/14 – Present
SPENCER LAW P.C., Dallas, Texas 8/12 – 8/14 Attorney/ Litigator
Pennington County Elected State's Attorney (District Attorney) 1997-2013
As the Elected State’s Attorney (District Attorney) in South Dakota, I learned quickly that any major policy change has a real effect on other agencies. Right now, each District Court has its own policies. One thing I would try would be to initiate a monthly justice meeting and invite the District Attorney, the District Courts, the Sheriff, the Clerk of Courts, the public defender and the City Police Chiefs to get together over the lunch hour and discuss what is happening within their departments. What is working and what is not; how one department might assist another department in asking for small changes that are proven to increase efficiency of the justice system. The key is in communication. While no court wants another to dictate how it operates, I am confident all courts would make changes if they were informed how significant it would be on the system as a whole.
I believe I am the only candidate that is not accepting any donations from attorneys and/or law firms. This decision was deliberate. While I believe I can maintain an unbiased approach to deciding cases and applying the law consistently, this is just one example of the efforts I will take to minimize the appearance of any impropriety. If people believe the system operates based on factors such as race or social status, regardless of the veracity, it is incumbent upon us in the system to explore where the appearance of bias is coming from and address the same. I also will hold dearly the ethical responsibilities of the position and maintain full disclosure of any potential conflicts.
Courts are coping with ever-increasing caseloads, while at the same time, economics has produced dwindling sources of revenue. Adding more judges is not the answer because the budgets of the judiciary and related support systems (juvenile counselors, drug courts, etc) are typically 90 percent personnel expenses; as opposed to other agencies tending our highways, parks, or hospitals, which devote a far greater percentage of their budgets to capital projects. The underfunding to judicial budgets have had a debilitating impact on available court days and all of the other functions that require people to work on larger caseloads, and have negatively affected the initiation of well-intended, value-based programs which would ultimately assist in reduction of that very caseload. While the answer is multi-faceted; a great start would be to educate the executive and legislative branches on the ever-increasing burdens of the judiciary and its long-lasting effect on their own constituencies.
Justice for all has been one of the protectors of the least advantaged in our nation. During economic downturn, people need judicial assistance more than ever. If and when people are denied access to court-appointed legal services due to budgetary restrictions, judges and their staff are forced to dedicate more time they simply do not have, to provide the additional guidance an appointed attorney might otherwise satisfy. As in all public offices, the judiciary has an obligation to the public to demonstrate fiscal responsibility. Using things like weighted caseload studies to, again, educate the executive and legislative branches of government on the needs of the judicial branch is one answer to have funds dedicated to these issues.This will assist in getting a portion of the state budget earmarked to assist in the funding of the much-needed aforementioned programming.
Underfunding and budget cuts affect the courts’ ability to resolve cases. When criminal dockets undergo delays, judges and prosecutors are faced with the choice of warehousing untried defendants in local or releasing a potentially violent offender, both adult and juvenile, compromising the courts' ability to fulfill its traditional role: maintaining societal order and public safety. The answer lies in lobbying the legislature. You have to look at the purse and decide what is most important in our communities. Can we survive steering around a pothole if this means that our streets are safer for our children to walk home from school? As mentioned above, judges have an obligation to the public to demonstrate fiscal responsibility as in all public positions. Judges carry weight and influence. I would step outside my docket and, among other things, lobby legislators and testify in Austin as a way to fight for the much needed allocation of dollars for proven crime-prevention programs.
Bachelor of Science UTEP May 1980
Juris Doctor St. Mary's School of Law
Assistant Criminal District Attorney Collin County Texas October 1983 to October 1986.
Associate Law Firm of Robert T. Dry and Associates October 1986 to June 1987
Partner Jouette and Curran June 1987 to January1993
Law Office Mike Curran 1993-2018
I would double up on my Jury Trial Docket. Would pick two Juries on Monday and try the first case from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. and the second case from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. I would do this until the current backload of cases in the 219th District Court was discharged. In addition I would also begin scheduling cases every afternoon, unlike now, where there are rarely any afternoon settings in order to reduce the back load of non-jury cases.
Knowledge of the Law and experience are key to the consistent application of the Law in the 219th District Court. I have 34 years of both family and criminal experience. When you combine those years of experience it is over three times as much as any of my opponents.
We desperately need more District Courts. Our per capita case load is the highest in the State of Texas. If we can't get Collin County Commissioners to back the District Court Judges in asking Austin for more Courts we are going to have to implement more efficient measures to manage the existing Docket which will continue to grow. There is no end in sight for the growth of Collin County.
A comprehensive Pro Bono program needs to be set up where local Attorneys are not only encouraged but rewarded in some way by participating in such a program. As an alternative, the Collin County Bar could fund a Legal Clinic from donations from the private sector and with time donated by Local Attorneys.
The most pressing issue right now in the District Courts of Collin County is our growth. We also need to increase funding for the Collin County District Attorneys Office. Greg Willis is an excellent District Attorney and we need to give him the resources he needs to fight crime in our County.
Baylor University: Joint MBA and Law Degree, 1999; Texas Christian University (TCU): Bachelor of Business Administration, cum laude
Seventeen years as an attorney managing complex lawsuits involving millions of dollars in damages, and setting budgets for those cases. Lead attorney on over 200 cases. Handled family law cases and served children as a guardian ad litem.
Some of the best ways to expedite trials and cut down on litigation costs are for judges to issue a scheduling order and set a trial date early on, hear and rule on motions promptly, not allow for discovery disputes to drag on, and not allow for multiple continuances of a trial date. Costs grow exponentially when judges do not impose deadlines on parties to move their cases forward and will not hear or will not rule on motions and discovery disputes. The District Courts should also work hard to ensure that criminal cases are resolved within a year. It costs $80 a day to house a prisoner in the Collin County jail. In criminal cases, this District Court has prisoners who have been in jail more than a year without a trial or resolution, which costs the taxpayers a significant amount of money and is not justice served for the person in jail or for the victim seeking a determination of innocence or guilt.
The judicial process must be fair and transparent for all individuals, regardless of their income, background, or social status. I will ensure consistent application of the law by fairly applying the law to the facts presented and making a ruling. I will follow the U.S Constitution and the Texas Constitution. I also believe that a judge must exercise judicial restraint, not judicial activism.
Collin County is experiencing unprecedented growth. As more companies move their corporate headquarters and/or businesses to the county, we will see more civil law cases filed. As more homes are built and families move to the area, we will see more family law cases filed. And by virtue of having more people in the county, we will see more criminal law cases filed. This places an even greater responsibility on the District Court judges to handle their cases efficiently. Referencing back to the question regarding increasing the efficiency of the District Courts, judges must issue scheduling orders and set trial dates early and rule promptly on motions and discovery disputes, and must work hard to ensure criminal cases are set and heard for trial or resolved within a year.
Collin County has many legal aid clinics and opportunities for attorneys to volunteer their time pro bono (without pay). I believe all attorneys should take on some pro bono cases, and I have personally handled pro bono cases through the volunteer attorney programs in Dallas and Collin County. If not contributing time, I think law firms and attorneys should contribute funds to equal access to justice campaigns.
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