My name is Andy Chatham, and I am the former presiding Judge for the 282nd Judicial District Court serving Dallas County. Contrary to what my daughter (Scarlet, age 9) thinks, I haven’t always been a judge.
In 1969, I came into this world. As a child we moved around a lot due to the fact my Dad was a Presbyterian Minister. Eventually, we settled in Louisville, Kentucky, and I graduated from high school in 1987. Afterwards, I graduated from Eckerd College in Saint Petersburg, Florida, a school very similar to Austin College in Sherman, Texas. Then, it was on to law school in Oklahoma City, and I graduated in 1996.
My first real job as a lawyer was with a civil firm in Sherman, Texas. I spent three years there before deciding it was time to make a change. Two momentous occasions occurred in a span of one week in September 1999. First, I got married to my wife Misti. Second, we moved to Dallas, and I joined the Public Defender’s Office.
As a Public Defender, I tried over 100 cases. Mostly misdemeanors, with a few felony trials thrown in for good measure. Two of my favorite cases that I remember involved a teenager accused of stealing a car, and another person charged with stabbing another person. Each, in my opinion, were innocent of the charges.
My Mom asked me one time, “How can you represent someone you know is guilty?” I explained to her, “Those are the easy cases. You investigate, make sure they are represented, and ensure they get a fair trial. It is what our system of justice is founded upon. It’s the people that you think are innocent that cause me to lie awake at night.”
My clients prevailed in each of the aforementioned cases. Those experiences left the indelible mark that we have the best justice system in the world. When a jury is allowed to hear the evidence presented in a fair and neutral forum, they will get it right every time. Needless to say, I am a huge proponent of the American Justice System.
Eventually, I left the Public Defender’s Office and started my own firm. During that time I represented people charged with everything from traffic violations to murder. Running a law firm is far more about running a business than it is representing people. All that glamorous stuff you see on TV isn’t reality. Your time is mostly spent doing paperwork, with little time spent being an actual lawyer.
I received the Dallas Bar Association’s Special Services Award in 2004 for my work on a case for a woman named Brenda Loftus. It was at that time I decided to run for judge. I had seen too many instances of the judicial system refusing to hear the voices of the people they were supposed to protect. I no longer wished to advocate the right position, I wanted to be in a position to implement it.
To everyone’s surprise, I was elected judge in 2006. As a judge I stand for two simple things: be fair to both sides, and follow the law. I run the 282nd as an open courtroom, and my office door is always open.