Judicial Q&A revisited: Shawn Thierry

As you know, in addition to selecting a Democratic nominee for County Commissioners Court in Precinct 1, precinct chairs everywhere in Harris County will get to select two judicial nominees, for newly-created courts. There are six people who have expressed an interest in the new 507th Family District Court. Five of them have submitted judicial Q&As to me for prior candidacies; the sixth will send in responses separately. I had considered soliciting new Q&A responses from the candidates that I knew about, but ultimately decided that there was not likely to be much difference in the responses, so I’m going with reruns from those past candidacies.

Shawn Thierry was a candidate for the 157th Civil District Court in 2010. She submitted Q&A responses for that election, but at her request I am publishing new answers for this process.

Shawn Thierry

Shawn Thierry

1. What is your name?

My name is Shawn Nicole Thierry. I am a native Texan; I grew up in the Fondren Southwest Community of Houston, and am the proud mother of a three year old daughter, Klaire Bijou.

2. Why are you seeking the nomination for this bench?

I am running for Judge of the 507th Family District Court because it has become clear to me that a change is very much needed in the family courts. Family dynamics have changed tremendously over the past decade. Divorce is more common; however our judges now also need additional skill sets to properly resolve contemporary family issues. I have witnessed, and am still seeing, a serious lack of awareness in contemporary family dynamics from both the lawyers and the judges. For example, Texas judges are hearing cases of first impression due to same sex marriages and parenting agreements, home-school vs public education battles, blended family disputes, and much more. In fact, advancements in the area of assisted reproduction technology are rapidly evolving and often the science is ahead of the law. I want to to bring balance to the bench. I will do this in two ways. First, I will handle the traditional cases with a greater empathy and more attention to the final outcome so that the results will make sense under the law and also in practical, every day life. Secondly, I will approach the more innovative cases with a modern understanding for our modern families.

Another issue I will address and correct is inefficiency. There are unnecessary delays on the dockets that result in exorbitant costs and fees for the families seeking relief from the courts. I have a plan to streamline the lengthy pre-trial process by cutting down case re-sets. I would implement a new “30 Minute Time Out Zone” policy. Often times the lawyers have not had much time to prepare before coming to family court. Instead of automatically re-setting the matter, I would instruct the attorneys to sit down together (right then and there) to work through some of the less contentious issues instead of asking for more time to go back to their offices to draft lengthy letters or exchanging back and forth voicemails. During the “Time Out Zone”, I would hear other docket matters to keep the docket moving. Afterwards, the lawyers would inform the court of the progress they have made and we would proceed accordingly. This will allow families in my courtroom to get the best use of their lawyers’ time and professionalism and cut down on the number of times a parent or spouse would have to take time off of their job and miss work. My goal in this regard is to prevent repetitive court appearance and minimize expenses for families who are already in crisis. My overall mission is to create a completely new atmosphere in the courtroom where the lawyers, the clients, and the judge will truly work together to create smart solutions for real-life problems. It’s time to change the old “one size fits all” approach to family law because it is no longer effective or realistic.

3. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have been an attorney for 20 years. During that time, I have successfully handled a large portfolio of civil cases involving victims of injuries, product liability, medical malpractice, complex business litigation, wills and estate planning, and also handled specialized cases involving municipal and family law. Over the years, my personal preference has been to recover my fees from the opposing side or the wrongdoer, but this is not always possible in family law. As such, I have been very selective and have chosen to take on special divorces or the more compelling suits affecting parent child relationship (SAPCR) or whereby a client needed a lawyer who could give their case specialized attention. I have also handled divorces involving financial disputes over community property versus separate property, suits for enforcement and access to a child, name changes and modifications, termination of parental right cases, cases involving the need for appointment of guardian ad litems, and amicus attorneys.

However, it was in 2015, that I had a life-changing experience. Specifically, I was sought out to take on a very controversial family law case which was covered by the media and it stands the chance to make case law history. The case is still active (filed in Fort Bend) and I am presently providing instruction to the judge on a complex divorce between a Texas couple. I have argued legal issues and facts including the domestic violence statutory exception to set aside a mediation settlement agreement, a termination of parental rights affidavit involving a sperm donor husband, a wife whom was unable to biologically conceive, a contractually secured egg donor, a separate surrogate married couple, an international adoption, and the legality of non-disclosure of a pregnancy and the existence of a gestational agreement in a SAPCR. I have argued for the legal rights of the intended parent and the “best interests” and constitutional rights of the child.

The legal issues surrounding my case were also taken up in the 2015 Texas legislative session. (See House Bill 1704). These are the kinds of frontier cases that I have taken on where others were either uncomfortable, or simply not enlightened enough to understand all the complexities involved. I am inspired me to do all that I can to improve the family court system. Due to my reputation as a prolific legal researcher of common and statutory family law, I have also been hired to shadow author family law motions, briefs and memorandum, and appeals for other attorneys over the years. I have expert knowledge with regard to almost every aspect of the Texas Family Code. Keep in mind, however, that the actual role of the judge is to interpret the law, listen to the evidence presented, and control how hearings and trials are conducted in their courtrooms. Most important of all, judges are to serve as impartial decision-makers in the pursuit of justice. The judge is the “trier of fact,” deciding whether the evidence is credible and whether witnesses are telling the truth. At the end of the day, a good judge should have the intelligence and aptitude to understand the law, combined with the natural instinct to understand people. These experiences and skills are my personal hallmark and make me uniquely qualified.

4. Why is this race important?

This race is important because we should no longer elect judges who merely wish to serve on the bench as a “rubber stamp”. On June 30th, over four hundred Harris County Precinct Chairs will have an opportunity to bring progress to an outdated family court system by electing a candidate who is offering a solid plan for change and improvement. Many of my opponents have attempted to turn this position for judge into a numbers game contest of who has the highest number of cases. However, if that is the standard, then why not just leave the current judges on the bench since they also have heard volumes of cases and some have board certifications? We should not allow that to be the litmus test. Democracy requires that we challenge the status quo by seeking new candidates, with fresh perspectives so that we are constantly striving for the pursuit of justice and equal access for all. Judges should not operate on “auto pilot” based only on prior experiences as a lawyer. The courthouse is a living, breathing, emotional place and the disputes and issues can change in an instant. When it comes to justice, the standard is quality, not quantity. I believe the newly created 507th Family District court is the perfect place for me to contribute my talents, my time and my vision to help ensure that families will have a better courtroom experience and better legal outcomes.

5. Why should the precinct chairs choose you to be the nominee for the 507th Family Court and not one of the other candidates?

I have a passion for justice, along with a compassion for people. I am also the only candidate who is speaking about fixing the inefficiencies in the system, and who has provided innovative ideas for improving the court after being elected. I believe that I am most diverse, well-rounded candidate who will provide a combination of valuable legal and unique life experiences to the bench. I acquired keen experience early in legal career handling large cases at two prestigious law firms, and have successfully handled complex cases while also helping clients in a smaller, more customized law firm setting. Even with experience, there are still no “cookie cutter” answers in family law. My promise is to bring an open-mind, while critically listening to the facts of every single case and then applying the law fairly. I would also ask the precinct chairs to consider that whomever the candidates are in our daily lives, is exactly who we will be when wearing the robe as judge, therefore the issue of judicial fitness is important. Character traits like integrity, patience, humility and respect for all people cannot be taught or bought. I am asking the precinct chairs to support me also due to my reputation for having a level-headed, polite temperament along with the integrity to do the right thing. I am not an unknown quantity, but am also not a perennial candidate. I believe this separates me from the pack as well. I am running for this specific bench at this specific time because I truly feel that this is my calling and my purpose. I am ready to lead and to serve the community with a new and improved approach to justice. If I become the democratic nominee, I will also continue to work hard to make the general election voters in Harris County proud. It would be my honor to become your new Judge of the 507th Family District Court. If the precinct chairs will give me that chance on June 30, 2016, I will not let them or their constituents down.

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