For more than 22 years, Judge Elizabeth Crowder has presided over County Criminal Court No. 7. At the end of this term, she plans to retire and to serve as a visiting judge. Recently, we sat down with her to discuss her career and her outlook on the law after a career in its service.
AALM: How did you transition from your career as an attorney to your career as a judge? What prompted the change?
Crowder: I was appointed to serve as an associate judge for the 305th Judicial District Juvenile Court. Serving as an associate judge is an excellent way to start a judicial career because the position is not an elected one and there is a judge who works with the associate judge to oversee and supervise the work. After three years in that position, I knew I wanted to pursue a judicial career.
AALM: What advice do you have for attorneys considering the switch?
Crowder: Although the job is not political, becoming a judge is. People who are drawn to a judicial career may not be natural politicians. My advice to someone considering running for judge is to get involved with organizations that try to improve the community. Also, volunteering to work for political causes or candidates is a good way to meet people and understand how campaigns work.
AALM: Describe your style in the courtroom.
Crowder: My goal is to try to be approachable and friendly while maintaining a dignity that conveys respect for the judicial system and for the importance of the case and each individual who appears in the court. I believe the judge sets the tone for the attorneys and parties who appear in the court, so I believe it is important for the judge to be professional and dignified at all times.
AALM: Do you have any advice for attorneys trying a case before your bench?
Crowder: There is nothing more important than an attorney’s integrity and professionalism in or out of the courtroom. In terms of practical advice, lawyers should anticipate legal issues and be prepared to support their positions with case law and/ or statutory authority. I work with many new lawyers in county criminal court, and I always encourage them to continue to study the law and support their positions with authority, rather than just hope rulings will go their way.
AALM: What do you love about your job?
Crowder: I love the constant interaction with people that comes with presiding over a trial court. Working with juries, lawyers and people who need help keep my job challenging and rewarding. I also love the intellectual stimulation that comes with applying constitutional legal principles to issues that arise every day in a criminal trial court, such as search and seizure, the right against self-incrimination, and the right to confront witnesses.
AALM: What do you find most challenging about your profession?
Crowder: One of the most challenging aspects of my job is also what makes it fun. County criminal courts are where brand new lawyers are assigned when they start their careers, so many lawyers I work with have just begun to practice law. On some days, I feel like a combination of judge and first grade teacher. The fun part is working with people who are excited and enthusiastic about learning to try cases. The challenging part is working with new lawyers just learning to try cases.
AALM: What do you miss about being a lawyer?
Crowder: People who know me well probably would describe me as a competitive person, and I miss the competitive aspect of being a trial lawyer. As much as I love being a judge, the judge is more of an observer than an active participant in trial. As a lawyer, I enjoyed every aspect of the trial including talking to the jury panel, cross-examining witnesses, making closing arguments, and arguing legal points to the judge.
AALM: What do you believe is the biggest difference between practicing law and presiding as a judge?
Crowder: The biggest difference is that as a judge, I am not an advocate. That may sound obvious, but the perspective changes dramatically when there is no stake in the proceedings except to try to ensure that they are fair and that the law is correctly applied.
AALM: What do you do in your spare time? Hobbies?
Crowder: Travel and reading are two of my favorite things to do. I recently returned from a trip on the Orient Express from Vienna to London. I enjoy the planning stage of a trip for myself or for someone else almost as much as the trip itself, and I frequently plan itineraries for friends and family.
I have always loved reading and talking to people about books. My favorite writers are Henry James, Zadie Smith, Penelope Lively, Ian McEwan and Philip Roth, and my favorite book is “The Ambassadors” by Henry James.
AALM: How are you involved with the local community?
Crowder: I have served on the executive committee of the Dallas NAACP, the board of directors of the Dallas Bar Association, and the board of directors of Literary Instruction for Texas. As a mentor, I have worked with Big Brothers Big Sisters and the Transition to Law Program through the Dallas Bar Association, pairing new lawyers with mentors. I am a frequent speaker at school career days and I regularly invite students and interns into the courtroom to participate in mock trial and watch real trials.
AALM: Tell us about your husband.
Crowder: My husband, Keith Dean, is also a judge, now a senior judge sitting by assignment. For most of our 26 years of marriage we have both served as judges, and we still enjoy discussing the law, aspects of trial, and funny stories after a long day in the courtroom.
Al Ellis has called us the “Love Judges” for years, and I like that nickname.