In Judge Susan Hawk's early days at the District Attorney's office, a defendant rolled up his sleeve one day in felony court. The track marks on his arm were a new sight for the judge, and they turned out to be a bit more than she could handle that day. She passed out. Judge Hawk says she has come a long way from the courtroom floor to the bench.
Judge Hawk was raised in Arlington and attended Texas Tech, graduating in 1992. She returned to the DFW area and earned her law degree from Texas Wesleyan in 1995. While in law school, she interned in then-District Attorney Henry Wade's office and knew that she wanted to make criminal law her career. Upon graduation, she joined the DA's office, where she was lead prosecutor in many felony cases, including a number of capital murder trials. She became deputy chief of the child abuse division. She soon realized she really wanted to be a judge. A district court vacancy presented itself sooner than she expected, but when it did, she seized the opportunity. She has been on the bench of the 291st Criminal District Court since January 2003.
Judge Hawk loves her job. She feels her experience in the DA's office gave her a good perspective on both victims and defendants, and honed her ability to see the big picture. Both sides must be treated fairly, she said. “You're dealing with people's lives and you have to be compassionate.”
She finds satisfaction in helping to bring about a fair result. She enjoys the fact that — although it is in a different capacity now — she is working with old friends every day. “Plus, there's never a dull moment. The second week on the job, I was flashed by a defendant.”
In court, Judge Hawk believes there is a time to be formal and a time to be more laid back. She wants lawyers to feel comfortable in her courtroom, but she expects them to always have respect for the system. She also expects lawyers to show up on time. Starting promptly shows respect for all involved and helps her court run efficiently. Occasionally, litigants will not take seriously her admonition that if they are late, she will start without them — but “it only happens once.”
As serious as her job is, Judge Hawk knows that it is important to be able to leave it at the office, and when she's not working, she enjoys outdoor sports such as mountain-biking and running, and socializing with friends. She also has her family close by; her parents and brother live in the area. With prosecutor and defense-lawyer friends, she finds that conversation is rarely about work. On the other hand, her non-lawyer friends enjoy tales of courtroom drama. “My girlfriends tell me I fulfill any need they might have to watch Jerry Springer.”
Anne Pohli is an attorney and member of the DBA Publications Committee.