When Scott Becker was a child, his dad came home from work and, still in his business clothes, took his boy into the back yard to play catch.
“It’s that first thing I can remember bonding with my dad over,” says Becker, now judge of the 219th District Court in McKinney. Becker’s lifelong love of baseball was born, and he pursued it through T-ball, Little League, junior and senior varsity in high school, and a stint playing Longhorn baseball.
He remembers the family organizing life around his and his younger brother’s baseball schedules, sometimes staying at the ballpark until 1 a.m. If his father couldn’t leave work in time to help warm up Becker’s pitching arm before games, his mother would step in.
“We’d take a trash can lid and put it on the ground, and she’d squat down,” he remembers, noting the ball sometimes ricocheted off the lawn, hitting his mom’s shins and knees. “She was a trooper.”
His coach cut him from the junior varsity team during high school because Becker was so tall and skinny; the coach said he needed to gain weight to make the team. Becker says he worked hard all year, eating right and exercising, learning about adversity and perseverance. He got back on the team his senior year.
“That’s a defining moment in my life,” says Becker.
Becker earned an undergraduate degree in history from the University of Texas at Austin in 1994. He played Longhorn baseball in his first semester as a freshman but decided to give it up to focus on school and pursue his dream of becoming a lawyer.
Because he argued a lot as a child, adults “put the idea in my head” that he could be a lawyer. Growing up, he liked what he saw about lawyers on television and in movies.
“Somewhere around junior or senior year of high school, I thought, ‘That’s what I want to do one day,’ ” says Becker. He earned his law degree from Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law in 1997.
From 1997 to 1999, Becker was an associate with Fort Worth’s Albert, Neely & Kuhlmann. He operated a Dallas solo practice from 1999 to 2002, mostly practicing criminal defense. He then became an assistant district attorney at the Collin County DA’s Office from 2002 to 2010.
Becker says becoming a judge seemed like a “natural progression” in his career. He left the DA’s office when Gov. Rick Perry in 2010 appointed him to replace the retiring judge of Collin County’s 219th District Court in McKinney. Becker won election for the bench that same year.
When he was still a practicing attorney, Becker says he didn’t view himself being a potential judge because, “Judges are like umpires, and I always thought the umpire wasn’t having a good time at the game. I wanted to be a player.”
But now, Becker says he enjoys the variety of cases he hears on the general-jurisdiction bench. One day he may hear a criminal case, and the next week may be a divorce matter, followed by a medical-malpractice suit.
Texas Lawyer reporter Angela Morris emailed Becker some questions about practicing in his courtroom. Here are his answers, edited for style and length.
Judge Scott Becker
219th District Court in McKinney
First elected to the bench: 2010
. . .
Texas Lawyer: What was the most effective technique you saw counsel deploy in your courtroom?
219th District Judge Scott Becker, McKinney: I really like technology, but sometimes the most effective techniques are “low tech.” In a custody case, I had a lawyer play a recorded phone call from one of the parents. In court the parent was trying to portray themselves as calm and rational. However, on the phone call you could clearly hear them ranting and cussing, all within the presence of the child. It was very effective at shattering the image the parent was trying to portray in court. Without that audio, my decision would likely have been very different.
TL: If an attorney were practicing in your jurisdiction for the first time, what would he need to know about your court’s internal operating procedures to ensure his case progressed efficiently?
Becker: I’ve become a big fan of reducing paper. Many times lawyers [who are] filing motions or supporting briefs they want me to read before a hearing will provide a courtesy copy. These are helpful, and I read everything the lawyers submit, but the paper copy is cumbersome. I prefer anything you want me to read be submitted digitally. Preferably attached as a PDF to an email to my court coordinator, Ms. Terrye Evans (firstname.lastname@example.org), with the style and cause number of the case in the “Re:” line of the email. Of course, copy all other parties on any such e-mails to the court. She forwards the emails to me, and I save them into Dropbox and download them to my iPad to be read where I can make notes in Goodreader. Although I have not had occasion to do it yet, I would also like to try something similar with courtesy exhibit books. Rather than creating a whole binder full of exhibits for the court, I would prefer a thumb drive I can download on my own computer — haven’t tried that yet, so there may be some bugs in that idea, but I always like trying to implement technology into the court.
TL: Considering lessons you’ve learned after talking with juries post-trial, what lesson is the most important for lawyers to know?
Becker: Jurors really take the job seriously. They are very earnestly trying to follow the law and do the right thing. However, they can often latch on to something that was never intended to be the main point of a lawyer’s argument. Sometimes juries will decide a trial based upon something neither side thought was particularly important. It is important for the lawyers to visit with the jurors after each trial if the jurors will agree to talk to them. Many times, especially after a loss, a lawyer might hear something they think is ridiculous. However, if they hear that same comment several times in a row, they would do well to account for it, even if they think it is ridiculous. Lawyers will often get better after a loss more so than after a win. Also, don’t just listen to the critiques jurors give to you. Listen to what they say about your opponent so you can avoid the same mistake they may have made.
. . .
TL: Do you have any courtroom formalities that you prefer lawyers to follow exactly?
Becker: In Collin County we have a local rule that all hearings for temporary orders in a divorce or modification are to be 20 minutes per side. I’ll typically put each side on a timer they can see at the counsel table and on the screen behind the witness stand. As long as they are talking the clock is running. If I think one side is behaving in a way that chews up the opponent’s time, I simply run both clocks at the same time. Our local lawyers are prepared for this. Many times, attorneys from out of town are unprepared for this. Keep that in mind if you are coming to Collin County for the first time.
. . .
TL: After being a judge, how would you change your practice if you were to become a working attorney again?
Becker: I would try to be better about answering the question the judge asks. This is especially true of the really simple questions like “How long do you think this hearing will take?” When I ask this question, lawyers sometimes go into a recitation of the procedural history and facts of the case. When they are done I simply repeat my original question. I’ve actually gone to another judge who is a colleague of mine now, and before whom I used to appear, and apologized for not directly answering his questions.
“Approach the Bench” is a periodic column in Texas Lawyer.
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