by Philip Ray
Judge Jeanine Howard is grateful for her job, loves what she does and is hopeful that she does it well, but her path to the bench is far from traditional.
Judge Howard attended St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic School for eight years before transferring to Hillcrest High School. After graduation she moved to Denton to study sociology at North Texas State University (now called UNT). She worked at Sears, then at First Denton National Bank before moving back home to Dallas.
After nine months of training at Executive Secretarial School, she worked as a legal secretary before getting a spot as a secretary at General Dynamics/Lockheed Martin. The aeronautical giant allowed for tuition reimbursement, funding her attendance at TCU night school where she was quite proud of her straight A’s and cum laude status as she earned a degree in Business Management.
She then went on to SMU Law School, where she was Order of the Coif. During her third year, she met her husband Steve. They married in October of ’87 and had their first child, Holly, the following year.
Judge Howard initially practiced civil law for more than two years focusing on deposition preparation and research. When she found out the District Attorney’s office was hiring in the spring of 1990, she longed for the opportunity to get into the courtroom. When none other than John Vance called her at 8:00 p.m. one night to offer her the job, she thought it was some kind of practical joke. She accepted the job and while she was in the District Attorney’s office her second daughter, Theresa, was born.
As her daughters grew, she longed to spend more time at home and found a way to strike a balance between motherhood and the practice of law. She had seen and experienced some of the pitfalls of office dynamics early on in her career and wanted to streamline her professional life to make more room for her personal life. She had typed her way through law school; so preparing her own documents came naturally, eliminating the need for staff assistance. Rather than opening an office, she met clients at their convenience—sometimes at a Starbucks and sometimes borrowing a good friend’s conference room if necessary. A large portion of her work involved appeals with the client staying as a guest of the State. By running a virtual office, she could spend time with her family on her own schedule.
With both girls near graduation in 2005, Judge Howard began exploring the possibility of becoming a judge. Having experience in private practice, experience in the District Attorney’s office, and an understanding of appellate law and trial work, she felt uniquely situated to serve the people of Dallas County. In her time on the bench, she believes she has.
She’s most proud of her First Friday program. At any given time, between 10 and 15 young offenders, (ages 17 to 22) who lack structure or parental guidance, meet directly with the judge once a month while on supervision in addition to their other obligations. Reverend Ronald Wright assists her in reaching these wayward young people to help align their intentions and keep them succeeding while on probation. Her goal for them, and for all those on probation, is to correct whatever behavioral patterns that led to putting the defendant squarely in the lights of law enforcement. While meeting financial obligations is important, she will often reduce recommended fines and supervision fees (for cause) to keep the focus on reporting and participating in probation. She would never want poverty to interfere with a person successfully turning their life around. She always tells the people in her court, “Don’t ever let money be a reason you don’t report.”
In her courtroom, Judge Howard prefers all pleas on the record, lawyers and clients dressed for court in a respectful way, and please, no cell phones.
She enjoys the camaraderie of the legal community and enjoys having lawyers that appear in her court stop by to get to know her better. If you do, you may find she shares your interests in authors James Patterson or Mary Higgins Clark. Ask her about her treasured willow tree and you will find yourself engaged in a conversation with an avid gardener who enjoys taking the time to hand water her plants as a way to unwind after a long day at the Crowley courts building.
Philip Ray is a criminal law attorney with Law Office of Philip D. Ray. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.