Attorney at Law Magazine sat down with Judge Staci Williams, the presiding judge of the 101st District Court, to discuss her career. She was sworn into office January 2, 2015 and was re-elected in 2018.
AALM: How did you transition from your career as an attorney to your career as a judge? What prompted the change?
SW: The desire to serve. I served as an administrative judge for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a municipal court judge, and an arbitrator. Becoming a district court judge was the next step.
AALM: What advice do you have for attorneys considering the switch?
SW: The hardest thing any judge does is sit as an impartial arbiter. It’s sounds easy to lay people and those newly in practice, but after spending a lifetime taking a side, it can be very difficult. It helps, before you decide to file, to have the talk with yourself and make sure this is right for you. Being a judge is truly public service. You will not be compensated directly for the time spent or effort in a case. There are no annual or on-the-spot bonuses. Being a judge isn’t about financial rewards, it’s about the work.
AALM: Describe your style in the courtroom.
SW: Since taking office in 2015, our mantra is that we want the 101st District Court to be “the Court of Choice” in Dallas County. We have tried to do that by creating a friendly environment that’s hostility free, while still maintaining the dignity and respect for the judicial system.
AALM: Describe your relationship with your staff.
SW: Professional. We deal with so much that’s of vital importance to so many it can sometimes be overwhelming. I often help them remember they’re people too and that breaks are a necessary part of work.
AALM: Do you have any advice for attorneys trying a case before your bench?
SW: Be prepared. Be professional. Commit yourself to doing a good job for your client and as an officer of the court. Finally, if your position is untenable, concede and move on.
AALM: What do you love about your job?
SW: The knowledge that I am able to help people conclude whatever issue has brought them to me. Not everyone will love the decision, but there will be a decision that gives all parties finality.
AALM: What do you find most challenging about your profession?
SW: The range of issues that come before me. One I day I may hear an insurance case, the next a TRO over mineral rights. There’s a broad base of knowledge that’s required and it’s really challenging and ultimately very exciting.
AALM: What do you miss about being a lawyer?
SW: Being able to set my own hours and take time for myself. It’s harder to do that as a judge, knowing that people are depending on you.
AALM: What do you believe is the biggest difference between practicing law and presiding as a judge?
SW: As an attorney, I was an advocate fiercely fighting for my clients enjoying the flexibility to interpret the laws to fit my client’s needs. However, as a trial court judge my fidelity is to the law. I’m no longer a player on the field, I’m the umpire.
AALM: Are there any changes in the legal community that you are excited about?
SW: I think COVID-19 has brought about permanent change in the legal field. Zoom and other platforms have been game changers. We realize that depositions and most hearings can be conducted virtually. The more time the courts can give back to parties is of benefit to them and makes the entire system more efficient.
AALM: How are you involved with the local community?
SW: Very… but not just the community at large, but various groups within it from the Dallas Country Bar Association to The Preston Hollow Democrats.
I am particularly proud of the Citizens’ Civil Academy (CCA), a program to educate citizens about the civil court system that I founded in September 2015. The CCA explores the types of cases heard in the civil courts and what happens to a case from the time the case is filed until it is disposed. The Citizens Civil Academy is free to participants (costs are absorbed by my campaign funds) and offered twice a year, in the spring and fall. The CCA has graduated over 400 citizens ranging in age from 7-92.
And has been conducted in over 12 locations in Dallas County.
I also have a program, primarily for attorneys, called Coffee and Bagels with the 101st District Court. Coffee and Bagels was first an in-person seminar about the 101st District Courts operations and a featured a speaker on a legal topic. With COVID-19, Coffee and Bagels has been converted into a periodic newsletter featuring updates on the everchanging policies/practices of the civil courts during the pandemic.
AALM: Do you have any mentors? What are some of the most important lessons they taught you?
SW: I am fortunate to have mentors from all walks of life. Judges, lawyers, business owners, grocery clerks, post men, the housekeepers. I think the best and most consistent advice is the golden rule – do unto others as you would have them do unto you. I go to work every day with that in mind.
AALM: Tell us a funny story either from your days as a practitioner or from your days on the bench.
SW: Court coordinators have the most difficult job at the court house. If anyone has a question, they call the court coordinators. Sometimes people are, to be honest, not very nice or respectful. From time to time, I answer the court’s phones. One day, this paralegal was extremely difficult, challenging, and condescending. After resolving her issue, she asked, “What is your name, I need to document for my attorney what you told me.” I waited for about five seconds and said, “Sure, this is Judge Williams.” There was dead silence on the phone. The paralegal immediately changed her tone and attitude.
AALM: Share any other information about yourself that you think our readers would enjoy.
SW: I have a twin sister named Traci who continues to be my best friend and one of my fiercest campaign supporters. I am still close to my family and am lucky that my parents have been able to attend every campaign event since 2014!