Conference Wrap-Ups by TCJ Staff

Conference Wrap-Ups

The Texas Center Congratulates All Graduates of the 2011 College for New Judges!

On December 4, 2011, newly elected and appointed Texas judges began a week long education and training program sponsored by the Texas Center.  Although the class was among the Texas Center’s smallest with only 20 judges, it was in no way lacking in judges eager to learn, discuss, and analyze the issues most important to the judiciary. We would like to extend warm congratulations to the following 2011 graduates:

Hon. Jonathan Mark Bailey

Hon. Cynthia Mendoza

Hon. Courtney Burch-Arkeen

Hon. Amanda Putman

Hon. Rolando Cantu

Hon. Jennifer James Robin

Hon. Jeremy Fowler

Hon. James Rush

Hon. Jack M. Graham

Hon. Joseph F. Sterlitz

Hon. Rebeca Aizpuru Huddle

Hon. David Stith

Hon. Daniel Eric Kalenak

Hon. Steven Ray Thomas

Hon. Trey Edward Loftin

Hon. Kerry D. Woodson

Hon. Debra Ibarra Mayfield

Hon. Stephen Wren

Hon. Missy Medary

Hon. John W. Youngblood


Special thanks and recognition go to the College’s co-deans, Judge Lora Livingston and Judge Kathleen Hamilton, whose countless hours organizing, supervising and teaching ensured that this year’s College was a resounding success.  Our faculty likewise did an outstanding job in making sure the topics covered were always relevant, informative and well-presented. And the judges who served as group discussion leaders provided a unique opportunity for the new judges to participate in small discussion groups to address best practices, common problems, issues and concerns and to have a sounding board and an advisor and mentor.  This year’s discussion group leaders were Judge Stephen Ables, Judge Mark Atkinson, Justice Gina Benavides, Judge Linda Chew, Judge Paul Davis, Judge Kathleen Hamilton, Judge John Hyde, and Judge Laura Weiser. 


The Texas Center is proud to continue the tradition of outstanding judicial education represented by this year’s College for New Judges.  This education is made possible by the dedication and commitment of experienced, knowledgeable and very able judges who volunteer their time and energy for the benefit of the Texas judiciary as a whole.    

2012 Winter Regional Conferences

2012 Winter Regional - First Place

At the Winter Regional Conferences this year, judges got to enjoy the beautiful weather of San Antonio, as well as the beautiful conference facilities of the Hyatt Hill Country and JW Marriott. While this year’s Winter Regional Conferences offered many of the traditional courses that judges enjoy, such as case law updates and evidence issues, several sessions covered areas of developing law, such as social media and the use of iPads. The conference also offered a variety of breakout tracks that allowed judges to choose topics that were of interest to them, such as guardianships, expert witnesses, DWI topics, and litigation issues relating to closely held companies, to name just a few.


We had over 550 judges in total attend the regional conferences. Overall, both received very good reviews. Regional A received a 6.38 out of 7 and Regional B received a 6.55 out of 7. Below are some of the comments from the overall evaluations:


Regional A:

  • Excellent speakers discussed relevant topics and issues. Breakout sessions allowed us to attend areas of special interests or problems that arise in our special courts.
  • Sessions were very good overall.
  • Breakout selections were very good.


First Place B

Regional B:

  • Very good instructors.
  • Legal topics useful and relevant.  Presenters excellent.
  • Class and materials provided were excellent.
  • Venue and collegiality; topics were helpful and well-presented. 
  • Excellent speakers, great opportunity to confer with other judges and exchange ideas.  Evidence Jeopardy was excellent.  Good rooms for meeting and excellent sound system.
  • Relaxed setting – good interaction with other judges; Evidence Jeopardy and table discussion helpful.
  • Good topic selection.  Presenters were generally good.  Looks like you have screened the presentation ability of the speakers.


Many thanks to the TCJ Curriculum Committee, especially Judge Jennifer Rymell, for selecting another excellent slate of speakers for the 2012 Winter Regional Conferences!

Implicit Bias – Conference Wrap Up

Implicit Bias

The Third Annual Implicit Bias Conference, funded by a generous grant from the Texas Supreme Court Commission for Children, Youth and Families, and attended by 43 judges from throughout the state, was held in Austin on February 6 and 7, 2012.  Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson opened the conference with inspirational remarks on the progress we have made as a society in addressing racial prejudice and on the importance of fair and impartial judicial decision making.  Joyce James, Associate Deputy Executive Commissioner of the Texas Health and Human Service Commission, introduced individuals who had actually experienced the foster care system in Texas personally and whose lives had changed as the result of past efforts to reduce disproportionality within the child welfare system.  One of the individuals recognized and thanked one of the judges in attendance, Judge Richard Garcia, for his actions and comments from the bench many years before that were instrumental in changing his daughter’s life.  Professor Ariela Gross, Professor of Law and History at the University of Southern California, and Dr. Kimberly Richards and Joseph Barndt with the People’s Institute in New Orleans, then discussed elements of the legal and institutional history of race in America.  Dr. Thomas Shapiro, Professor of Law and Social Policy at Brandeis University, explained the effects of disparities in family assets.  Marc Mauer, Executive Director of the Sentencing Project in Washington, D.C., and Professor Alan Dettlaff described the effects of high incarceration rates in minority communities and the stress this places on families.  Finally, Kimberly Papillon explained the neuroscience and psychology of decision making.  Comments from the judges who attended the conference were extremely positive.  For example: “I have been going to judicial conferences for a long time. This is the first time my attention has been so ‘intense’” – I was ‘captivated’ by the interest that was constantly ‘triggered’ within me!”  “Thought conference was great. This type of training should be required of all new judges at New Judges school.” “Bias matters!!! There are ways to prove measure and eradicate bias.”

Family Violence Conference

March 28-29, 2012

Galveston, Texas

Family Violence Conference

The Family Violence Conference was held March 28-29 at the Tremont House in Galveston, Texas. The program was well received by those judges attending with an overall rating of 6.2 out of 7. Many thanks to Judge Kathleen Hamilton, 359th District Court of Montgomery County, who chaired the development of the conference and was instrumental in designing the curriculum.


Recent statutory changes, new case law and evidentiary issues were address. Judge Hamilton provided judges with useful bench sheets and checklists designed to be used as an every day reference when presiding over family violence cases. Justice Harvey Brown reviewed evidentiary standards in family violence cases, highlighting two recent cases that he believes will be pivotal. And Mr. Randy Harris provided judges with helpful tips to keep their courtrooms safe, which is especially important in high-conflict cases such as family violence.


Topics also included training in areas of developing interest in family violence, such as the Batterer’s Intervention and Prevention Program (BIPP), implicit bias, firearm prohibition and relinquishment, and immigration. Although harder to apply to every day cases than the nuts and bolts material, the sessions were designed to give judges information and tools to assess their current courtroom practices and ways to incorporate new ideas.


If you were not able to attend the Family Violence Conference this year, be sure to sign up next year. The conference will be held at the San Luis Hotel, March 7-8, in Galveston. We hope to see you there!

Congratulations to the Texas College Graduating Class of 2012!

Texas College Class of 2012

This year 130 judges attended the Texas College for Judicial Studies. Always a popular conference, this year’s College received some of the best ratings yet. Attendees noted the speakers were excellent and that the small class sizes allowed for substantive coverage of the topics.


The Criminal Law track had sessions ranging from suppression and search and seizure to hot topics such as specialty courts and writs. One judge praised the “nuts and bolts approach [and] superior presenters.” He went on to say, “[t]he materials were exceptional for future reference when specific issues or cases present themselves.” The Juvenile Law track, a breakout within the Criminal Law track, covered search and seizure issues specific to juveniles, hot topics such as sexting and bullying, and placement options.


The Civil Law track covered business litigation issues, such as jury charges, fiduciary and insurance litigation, business valuation, damages, discovery and experts. Attendees especially liked the session on jury charges, where one judge noted that this session “was the best that I have heard on this subject.”

The Family Law track focused on practical areas in family law such as third-party standing, court appointed advocates, electronic evidence, and pro se/ex parte issues. One attendee commented that this was the “best information given at any conference [he] had attended. No wasted time on topics [he] will not really use.”


Finally, the Appellate Law track focused on religion, the Constitution, standards of review, and writing.


The Texas College is a multi-year program in which judges can earn advanced degrees in their jurisdictional area. Each year, the Texas College offers classes in four jurisdictional specialties: Civil Law, Criminal/Juvenile Law, Family Law and Appellate Law. Additionally, judges must complete a three day core curriculum within five years to graduate from the college. The core curriculum covers topics relevant to all judges regardless of jurisdiction and explores subjects from judicial stress to creating a bias-free court.


The Texas Center staff and Curriculum Committee congratulate Judge Lamar McCorkle, Dean, and Judge Robin Malone Darr, Assistant Dean, of the 2012 Texas College for Judicial Studies, for an outstanding program.


Judges interested in applying to the Texas College can learn more about the program at

DWI Courts Operational Tune-up Meeting

By Judge Mark D. Atkinson, Judicial Resource Liaison for the TxDOT Traffic Safety Program

 DWI Courts Tune-Up Meeting

     For those Texas courts conducting the Drug Court modeled DWI Court dockets, the Spring, 2012, meeting of the judges of those courts was an opportunity to examine current practices and trends in the operating of these courts, both across Texas and nationwide. The meeting, held in conference and court rooms in the Harris County Criminal Justice Center, was more practical than theoretical, and more conversational than lecture based. Approximately 25 Texas DWI Court judges participated. The meeting was conducted more in the format of a meeting of a Board of Judges than of a classroom event. The judges, themselves, led most of the discussions. The topics covered were developed by the judges, the DWI Curriculum Committee and the TxDOT Traffic Safety Grant Program.


     Following is a brief synopsis of the meeting.


Constitutionality Issues in Texas Specialty Courts

     Judge Ruben Reyes, Lubbock County District Court judge and recently appointed Chair of the Governor’s Criminal Justice Advisory Council, led a discussion concerning issues which have been raised, in courts around the United States, regarding Constitutional, ethical and liability-related issues.


Defining the Roles of DWI Court Team Members

     Judge Ray Wheless, Collin County District Court judge and recently appointed member of the Governor’s Specialty Courts Advisory Council, and Judge Tim Wright, Williamson County Court at Law judge engaged the group in a conversation aimed at defining the roles and interactions of the team members of Texas Courts.


Recidivism Researcher’s Report

     Pierre Rivolta, Ph.D. Candidate and Doctoral Teaching Fellow, Sam Houston State University Criminal Justice Center, the researcher with whom the TxDOT Traffic Safety Grant Program has contracted to conduct a study of recidivism of all of Texas DWI Court participants, expressed to the judges the goals and methodology of his Texas Statewide Evaluation of DWI Courts, the first stage of which will be completed and presented by September, 2012. He stated his intention to visit these courts and described the data needed for his study.


Web-based DWI Court Participant Tracking Shareware and Automated Occupational Driver’s License Generator

     Harry Leverette, Assistant Court Manager for Information and Technology, Harris County Criminal Courts at Law, reviewed the DWI recidivism studies prepared for the Harris County Criminal Courts and demonstrated an interactive website (MS Sharepoint) that facilitated the collaboration between the courts, the Court Manager’s Office, and Community Supervision and Corrections Department in developing the Harris County SOBER Court program. The presentation included a demonstration of the Occupational Driver’s License Generator software, which features a “decision tree” for specifying conditions and producing final orders.


Developing Performance Standards for Texas DWI Courts

     Judge Reyes and Judge Dib Waldrip, Comal County District Court judge, led a discussion among the judges in an attempt to identify and define the essential characteristics of Texas DWI Courts, the goals being to assist DWI Court judges, researchers, funding providers, policy-makers and others.


Financial Sustainability

     Judge Robert Anchondo, El Paso County Court at Law judge, spoke on the issue of funding of both the courts and attendant goals of the DWI Court programs. He described the foundation which has been established in his county, before engaging the judges in conversation regarding various funding vehicles.


Future Goals 

     Judge Mark Atkinson, Judicial Resource Liaison, led the group in identifying future goals and potential initiatives of the state’s DWI Court judges. These include desired legislation, a commitment to continue to communicate with each other, both through in-person meetings, such as the Operational Tune-up, as well as by the use of the DWI Courts Listserv established by the TxDOT Traffic Safety Grant Program.


     The judges at this meeting were enthusiastic and engaged. Their attendance and participation made this a meeting a great success. The TxDOT Traffic Safety Grant Program will continue to facilitate such meetings in the future.