Judge Bill Henry of the 428th District Court in San Marcos tells about the guidance he received from a coach in junior high school.
It took 24 moves before Bill Henry found his permanent home in San Marcos. The first 22 moves were not his preference; financial hardship caused the family to move constantly, he says.
His parents were "good, hardworking people, but we just didn't have a whole lot of money," says Henry, now judge of the 428th District Court in San Marcos.
He says his mother was a housewife and his stepfather tried to support the family but didn't always bring in enough money to pay rent for more than four months to five months at a time.
Henry continued changing schools as the family drifted from Texas to Louisiana to Florida and back to Texas. Many moves circled around the Houston and Dallas areas, he says.
Always in a new home, Henry says he became self-sufficient and able to make friends quickly. He also became competitive, he says, setting personal goals to reach the top of his class in each new school he entered. But being moved from school to school created obstacles, he says. In eighth grade, one of Henry's basketball coaches reached out to help the boy. Henry says, looking back, he credits that coach for his later successes in life.
The coach knew Henry was moving across town and would be in a new school district, but he wanted the boy to finish at least one full year of classes at his current school. So, each morning he drove to Henry's new home to transport him to the old middle school.
"You just have those people in your life that make a difference, and they don't even know the full impact of what they've done," Henry says.
Henry says he still talks on the phone and occasionally visits that eighth grade coach. He says the coach's willingness to care deeply about others and help him through adversity is one of the reasons he decided to become a lawyer and eventually a judge.
"I wanted to give back to people who kind of helped me along the way. It would have been real easy to just kind of let me be a throwaway kid and say 'Who is this kid who just moved here, and probably will move again?' By the same token, there were always people there to help me. And therefore I always wanted to give back," he says.
Henry earned an undergraduate communications degree from Baylor University in 1984 and earned his law degree from Baylor University School of Law in 1988.
"I was the first one in my family, for all time, who graduated from college," Henry says.
After law school, Henry prosecuted misdemeanor and felony crimes in the Hays County District Attorney's office from 1988 to 1990. Then, for the next five years, he handled real estate and business-oriented civil litigation at the San Marcos firm of Fitzgerald Majors & Stevens.
In 1995, Henry became a partner of Jones & Henry in Austin, litigating civil cases like personal injury and real estate cases. Just before assuming the bench, Henry worked within the Texas Office of the Attorney General for one year on real estate and eminent domain issues.
The diverse legal experiences during his career have helped Henry in the 428th District Court, which covers a quickly growing area and therefore handles a vast array of criminal, civil and family-law cases, he says. First appointed to the bench in 2005 after the Texas Legislature created the new district court, Henry ran and won election as a Republican in 2006.
He still carries with him the internal drive to help others. Henry says the biggest joy of being a judge is helping litigants untangle sometimes complicated situations and eventually solve their problems. He's proud to work on a drug court docket that provides intensive court oversight for criminal defendants who have substance abuse problems to keep them on the "straight and narrow," he says.
It may have taken 24 moves, but Henry says he's found his true home in San Marcos and cannot imagine ever leaving the city.
"I would like to stay as long as I'm being effective. If I went somewhere else, I think I would lose something, because I love Hays County so much," Henry says.
Texas Lawyer reporter Angela Morris emailed some questions to Judge Henry about practicing in his court. Here are his answers.
Judge Bill Henry
428th District Court in San Marcos
First elected to the bench: 2006
Texas Lawyer: After getting experience as a judge, if you were to become a working attorney again, how would you change your practice?
Judge Bill Henry: I would take fewer cases and prepare more. Every case has multiple layers, and the lawyers who think through those issues have the best results.
. . .
TL: How can a lawyer make your job easier and get on your good side?
Henry: Lawyers can help by making a concise, organized argument with solid and applicable legal authority.
TL: What formalities should lawyers follow exactly in your court?
Henry: Lawyers should be formal in court because it lets me know that they have prepared and are aware of what they are doing. I am usually a little less formal in jury trials because I believe it helps the jurors process information better.
TL: What should out-of-town lawyers know about Hays County jurors before they try a case in your court?
Henry: Juries in Hays County are fair. For the most part, they do not hesitate to follow the evidence and make the appropriate call.
TL: Generally, what factors must an attorney show about a client before you'll consider a downward departure in sentencing?
Henry: In considering downward departures, I look at what the person is doing rather than what he is saying.
TL: What are the differences you expect from counsel arguing before a jury versus before you alone?
Henry: Obviously attorneys can make emotional arguments during a jury trial. In court arguments, an attorney loses points by making an emotional appeal based on what he thinks the judge wants to hear.
TL: Do you let lawyers have as much time as they want in complicated civil trials or do you like to keep the cases moving?
Henry: I like to keep cases moving. Even if the facts are complicated, talented attorneys can organize the case and efficiently use their time.
TL: What is the biggest challenge and the biggest joy to being a judge?
Henry: Impacting the lives of people is the biggest joy in serving a judge. Impacting the lives of people in a just manner is the biggest challenge.
TL: In the future if you ever advise your replacement, what would be your most honest tips?
Henry: I would advise other judges to follow the law, do the right thing, and let the chips fall where they may.
"Approach the Bench" is a periodic column in Texas Lawyer.
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