Candidates and newly elected Democratic judges, especially those with an appreciation for Travis County’s judicial history, know they have big robes to fill. We have a long list of distinguished judges in Central Texas, whom we respect while they serve and honor when they retire.
This year we are proud to celebrate the career of Judge Mike Lynch, elected to the 167th District Court in 1992. On September 18th, Judge Lynch will be honored at our Senator Ralph Yarborough Judicial Retirement Celebration! Soft-spoken and modest, Judge Lynch, a University of Texas Law School graduate, recently reminisced about his two decades on the bench, the years that preceded them and his hope for the years to come.
QUESTION: You had a successful criminal defense practice in Austin for nine years and a subsequent career as a prosecutor. What prompted you to run for judge?
LYNCH: I didn’t start out intending to be a judge. I didn’t really think I’d have the patience or the ability to make those decisions. But I kind of got drafted. There was a lot of dissatisfaction with my predecessor (Bob Jones), and they were looking for someone they thought could be a legitimate candidate against an incumbent. People knew me from both sides, as a criminal defense lawyer and a prosecutor. I guess my vanity and ego got hold of me, and they talked me into running.
QUESTION: What changes have you seen in the cases that have come before you during your two decades on the bench?
LYNCH: The biggest recent one is the understanding in our state, even from our legislature, that the answer to crime isn’t to lock everybody up and throw away the key. We’ve come together on that, not necessarily for the same reasons, but we now know it isn’t fair and doesn’t make social or economic sense. That has led to an emphasis on community-based answers and less incarceration. Travis County has always been in front on that, but now even the legislature is coming around.
QUESTION: What are you most proud of in your life as a judge?
LYNCH: Well, one of the things I’m proud of at this point in time is my work as the liaison officer with Geraldine Nagy, Director of the Travis County Adult Probation Department. Judges appoint the chief probation officer, and I was instrumental in bringing Dr. Nagy here. She has done an excellent job and been a very positive force in our Probation Department. I’ve worked closely with her and know she’s done a lot of good. The other thing I’m proud of is the relationship I’ve been able to maintain with both sides of the bar — the defense and the prosecution. I think I’ve been able to maintain a good relationship, based on mutual respect, with both sides while making some tough rulings.
QUESTION: Judicial elections strike some out-of-state people as odd. What are the pluses and minuses of an elected judiciary?
LYNCH: The biggest minus is the fact that judicial candidates have to be underwritten by the lawyers who appear in front of us. They’re the ones that care the most about these elections, so they’re the ones who donate, and that can undermine the confidence the public has in us. But the overwhelming majority of the people who have give to my campaigns want the best judges, not necessarily the ones that will be in their pockets. It’s not nearly as bad as it looks, but the perception can undermine confidence for some people. The positive thing is judicial elections give the public a check and balance on the judiciary that doesn’t exist in other systems. It’s important to know that you’re a public servant, and getting reminded of that every few years is a good thing.
QUESTION: Why is it important to elect Democrats?
LYNCH: I’ve known many fine judges who don’t call themselves Democrats, but philosophically, what makes me a Democrat are those qualities and ideals that translate to the good qualities that I bring to the bench. They’re the ideals I’ve had since my Mama, a “yellow-dog Democrat,” told me about them: a concern for individuals less fortunate than we are, an understanding that allows me to be able to put myself in people’s situations and understand that we are all committed to a system that requires us to be responsible for our own actions.
QUESTION: What’s next for you? Do you have your next chapter planned?
LYNCH: I’m going to do a little golf, try to improve my game. Judge (Bob) Perkins is out at the driving range every morning now. When I saw him, he didn’t look like a golfer. He was wearing a cowboy hat and a dress shirt with rolled up sleeves. I’m going to fill in a little for some of my compadres when they’re on vacation. And I hope to work with some nonprofit organizations — maybe on a board, although I’m better at grunt work. I’ve used my job as an excuse not to do stuff in other areas, so maybe I can make up for that. I need to at least give the illusion of being worthwhile!