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Judge Susan P. Baker of the 306th District Court in Galveston has seen so much during her time on the bench that she could write a book about it. So she did. “Heart of Divorce: Advice from a Judge,” a how-to-guide for divorcing couples, will be released on Dec. 24. Baker hopes the book will help ease the experience of families going through the court system. What makes the book different, Baker says, is that it’s meant for couples who wish to navigate the process in the most civil and painless way. The book is for couples who aren’t seeking revenge, she says. “Her work is refreshing for us,” says Charlotte Hardwick of Pale Horse Publishing, which published the book. ” ‘Heart of Divorce’ gives a mild set of parameters for going through the process more than anything else has. If there are two reasonable people, her book sets a wonderful tone for them.” Adds Hardwick, “ We think people need her work.” “Heart of Divorce” is available by special order through bookstores or through Pale Horse Publishing by calling (800) 839-8640. The cost is $15. But Baker’s time on the bench hasn’t given her enough material to write just one book. “Heart of Divorce” is her second published book. “I’ve always wanted to write. I always wished I had gotten a degree in journalism or English,” she says. But respect for the law taught by her father, Andrew Z. Baker — who also presided over the 306th District Court for 12 years from 1978 to 1990 — fueled her desire to go to law school. A native of Galveston, Baker held a variety of positions before taking the bench, including helping to found the Women’s Resource and Crisis Center of Galveston County. She earned her degree in criminal justice from the University of Houston Clear Lake in 1976 and soon found a job as a probation officer. While working and raising two children, Baker attended South Texas College of Law. Upon graduation in 1982, Baker set up a solo practice in Galveston, handling criminal and family law cases. Her desire to institute change led Baker to run for judge. In 1990, she won the bench her father had presided over before her. And institute change she did. “A lot of stuff needed to get done. I thought there needed to be more court management. I thought there needed to be a judge who was more proactive,” Baker says. “I wanted to create family and juvenile programs. I’ve seen some sad cases, so I wanted to revamp the way we do CPS cases.” Baker’s list of accolades while on the bench is a long one. She set up CASA — Court Appointed Special Advocates — a program that connects volunteer advocates with abused and neglected children. Operation Outreach is a prison visitation program for delinquent youth. She was also instrumental in founding For Kid’s Sake, a parenting program for parents in the court system, as well as a mediation program for CPS cases. Her writing talent came in handy during these campaigns for change, especially where funding hinged on composing grant proposals. In 1997, she wrote the proposal that resulted in a grant through the Children’s Justice Act to create a new assistant judge position for CPS cases. Over the years, she also found time to write creatively. Just prior to winning her seat on the bench in 1989, the Democrat published her first book, “My First Murder.” In the book, published by St. Martin’s Press and republished in 2002 by First Books Library, young women are being strangled across Texas. So private investigator Mavis Davis — against advice, of course — starts to track down the murderer. Putting herself in danger, Davis follows the case that takes her across the Lone Star State as she hunts a killer and solves her first murder case. The electronic version costs $4.95 at www.1stbooks.com; a paperback edition will be available soon. Baker admits that parts of the main character may be a little bit autobiographical. Although she based snippets of the book on real people, she says she received most of her inspiration from her experience in general, including her various causes. She cites her fight for courthouse security in Galveston County as the inspiration behind her third book, “Murdered Judges of the 20th Century.” Soon after Baker was sworn in, she says she discovered that the Galveston County Commissioner’s Court had no security in place, and that armed officers were only present during felony or jail dockets. “People could waltz in. And it was generally that way around the country at the time,” she recalls. In researching her petition for a security increase, Baker quickly found there was little data on the issue. She even asked the Texas Rangers, but no one had gathered comprehensive research on the death of judges and courthouse security and safety. She spent countless hours of her free time researching court records, newspapers, library archives and conducting personal interviews. Baker says she even got approval from U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, to view a federal report on murdered officials. Baker ultimately collected information about 42 judges who were murdered or mysteriously disappeared — the backbone of her book. “Murdered Judges of the 20th Century” will be published by Pale Horse Publishing early next year. It also will be available by special order through bookstores or through Pale Horse Publishing for $20. Pale Horse Publishing — www.palehorsepublishing.com– is based in Livingston. The book will include some high-profile cases such as that of U.S. District Judge John H. Wood of San Antonio, who was murdered in 1979 by Charles Harrelson, the father of actor Woody Harrelson. (Harrelson was convicted in 1982 and sentenced to life in prison.) The book also tells of some lesser-known tragedies, such as the deaths of Texas Supreme Court Justice William Pierson and his wife, who were murdered by their son. But Baker didn’t forget her primary motive. She reported her findings to the Commissioner’s Court, which led to a county security needs assessment. Soon thereafter, metal detectors and guards were placed in the Galveston County Courthouse. “Now [security] is taken fairly seriously,” she says. Baker, 53, announced her plans to retire from the Galveston County bench at the end of this month, and her retirement marks the beginning of a new chapter in her life: a career as a writer. Those years in the court were not easy, Baker admits, remembering the difficult cases, custody battles, violence and abuse. She discovered her writing proved an outlet. “Writing just gets it all out. It relieves the stress and helps me think clearly.” When her term ends, Baker says she and her husband will move to a new home in the Hill Country. Baker plans to pursue a master’s of fine arts degree in creative writing while continuing to write. “All the stuff I’ve done has been at night. While we’re moving and settling in, I’ll get to start on some old books and rework some older stories and essays,” she says. “It will be a whole, new world.”

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