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Dallas Morning News - "My Ballot"

Interview

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Location: Dallas, TX


Dallas Morning News - "My Ballot"

DMN: Length of residency in Texas:

Paul Womack: Since I entered UT Law School in 1973.

DMN: Occupation/main source of income:

Paul Womack: Judge, Court of Criminal Appeals

DMN: Current civic involvement/accomplishment highlights:

Paul Womack: Judge, Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 4, since January 1, 1997.

Adjunct Professor, University of Texas School of Law, since 1984.

Certified Specialist in Criminal Law (by Texas Board of Legal Specialization) since 1984.

Appointed (by President of State Bar of Texas) to State Bar Advisory Committee on Administration of Rules of Evidence, 2007 - 2009.

DMN: Previous civic involvement/accomplishment highlights:

Paul Womack: First Assistant District Attorney, Williamson County (Georgetown) 1987 - 1996. Assistant District Attorney, Travis County (Austin) 1983 - 1986. Research Assistant, Judge Truman Roberts, Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, 1979 - 1982. Private practice of law, San Antonio, 1978. Instructor of legal research and writing, Thurgood Marshall School of Law, Texas Southern University, 1976 -1977.

DMN: Previous public offices sought/held:

Paul Womack: Ny present office.

DMN: How much funding have you raised for your campaign?

Paul Womack: I do not seek donations.

DMN: Who are your top three contributors?

Paul Womack: None

DMN: Have you ever been arrested? If so, explain:

Paul Womack: Never

DMN: I am the most qualified candidate for this position because:

Paul Womack: Twelve years experience in the position. Twenty-five years law-school teaching (including writing a textbook). Four years assisting a judge of the court on which I now sit. Fourteen years practicing all phases of felony prosecution.

DMN: What changes, if any, would you like to see made to the administration of the death penalty in Texas?

Paul Womack: These questions are for the legislative and executive branches. It would be unethical for a judge to express views regarding such matters.

DMN: Michael Richard was executed after Presiding Judge Sharon Keller refused his plea for a 20-minute extension to file an appeal. How would you have handled that case?

Paul Womack: I can tell you what I, in fact, did that day. I learned that the Supreme Court of the United States had just granted review in a case that raised questions about the method of execution that was to be used in Texas that night. I began researching and thinking about the issues that Mr. Richard might raise. I expected to consider a petition from Mr. Richsrd. I think such a petition should have been considered if it was filed before he was put to death. I spent the hours from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. at the Court of Criminal Appeals, in close contact with the staff lawyer at the court through whom any communications from Mr. Richard would pass to the judges of the court. I was informed that no petition had been filed, and none was filed before the execution.

DMN: This court has a reputation for being tough on crime — sometimes unreasonably so. Is this reputation deserved?

Paul Womack: I think it is important to consider that the great majority of appeals and other proceedings in the Court of Criminal Appeals are from defendants who have lost in the trial court -- they been convicted of crimes. (The prosecution has a limited right to appeal when a court dismisses a case for a legal reasons, but it may not appeal when it loses in the trial court -- when a person is acquitted of a crime.) Now, every appellate court in the world upholds the decisions of the trial courts more often that it overturns them. No legal system could be tolerable if the laws were so difficult of application that errors were committed in the majority of cases. So the normal course of events is that the appealing party loses. Since persons who have been convicted of crimes are the great majority of appellants, and the great majority of their appeals are unsuccessful, the result is that the great majority of dissatisfaction and disappointment is felt by such persons. And they attribute the results to a toughness of the court. I think that in my time on the Court of Criminal Appeals, the Court has decided some very important issues, and the decisions have fallen on both sides of the docket.
What sitting judge do you hold up as a role model? Please explain.

Paul Womack: Sorry, I don't have a contemporary role model.

DMN: What role, if any, does mercy have in justice?

Paul Womack: At every level, decision makers properly could consider human fallibility, which is common to the judge and the judged alike. Feelings of sympathy should not justify a disregard of the law, however.

DMN: Describe what you see as the proper temperament for a judge.

Paul Womack: Thoughtfulness, patience, courtesy, and modesty would be virtues.

DMN: When should a judge overrule the decision of the jury?

Paul Womack: I think the law is clear on the issue of fact-findings. The factual decisions of a jury must stand unless a judge can confidently say that no reasonable person could have found from the evidence that the fact existed.

DMN: As an attorney/judge, what types of cases have you handled in your career?

Paul Womack: As an assistant district attorney, I spent 14 years in all phases of felony prosecution. I went to murder scenes. I spoke at length with victims of child abuse. I advised police officers. I presented cases to grand juries. I tried jury cases of all kinds, from forgery and marihuana possession to murder and sexual assault of children. When a case was appealed, I handled the appeal. In 16 years at the Court of Criminal Appeals (four years assisting a judge, and going on 12 years as a judge) I've written opinions and decided every kind of case.

DMN: For appellate court incumbents, what's the average time it takes from the time a case is filed to when it is disposed of in your court?

Paul Womack: I'm writing from home, where I do not have the figures at hand.

DMN: If you have been a judge, what was your reversal rate?

Paul Womack: Not applicable to me. I've not been a judge of a trial court or intermediate court of appeals.

DMN: As a judge (if applicable), have any complaints been filed against you to the Judicial Conduct Committee? If so, please explain the disposition of those complaints.

Paul Womack: I was given a public warning in 2002 for failing to file a campaign finance report that I had neither received nor spent any campaign funds (after paying my filing fee to run for reelection).

DMN: As a lawyer, have you had any proceedings (complaints) filed against you with the Grievance Committee? If so, what was the disposition (unfounded, private reprimand, public reprimand, suspension, disbarment)?

Paul Womack: None

DMN: Because Texas selects its judges and justices through partisan elections, you chose to run as a Republican or a Democrat. What philosophies of that party led you to choose it for this race?

Paul Womack: I was a Republican since my teenage years in Louisiana. I could have been called a Goldwater Republican. The Nixon scandals were very disappointing to me, and I became inactive in politics. I worked for three good public servants --a judge and two district attorneys -- who showed me that public decisions could be made on the basis of law and justice.

DMN: The Supreme Court oath that all lawyers take requires them to say that "we will avoid the appearance of impropriety." In light of that oath you took, how can judges justify accepting campaign contributions from lawyers who have appeared, or will appear, before them in their courtroom?

Paul Womack: I do not seek donations from lawyers or anyone else. I leave your question to those judges who do.

DMN: Is there a problem with legal services provided indigent defendants in this state? If so, how would you as a judge seek to address it?

Paul Womack: I think progress has been made in this area. However, I can say little about specifics, because the Court on which I sit has no role in providing such services, and I am not sure it would be proper for me to comment on matters of legal services that I might review as an appellate judge.


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