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Brad Underwood loves the small-town, laid-back atmosphere in Lubbock, Texas, population 200,000. But lawyers who have appeared before the 46-year-old judge say that once he puts on his robe and takes his seat on the bench, Underwood becomes more formal. “He runs a pretty tight ship, especially when the jury’s in the box,” says Philip Wischkaemper, a partner in Snuggs & Wischkaemper in Lubbock. Underwood acknowledges that he insists on proper conduct. “I’m a stickler for decorum,” he says. “I want everyone in there to remember that this is a courtroom.” But he also wants a relaxed atmosphere for the people who come to the 364th District Court. “I want them to be comfortable in the courtroom, but not lazy,” he says. “I want them to stand when jury goes in and out. I want the public to feel that this is a court of justice and that this is an important place, but not a scary place. I’ve been told by out-of-town lawyers that they were very comfortable in the courtroom.” Underwood, a Republican, has been at the court since 1989, following two-and-a-half years as a county judge. He hears mostly criminal cases, ranging from misdemeanors to capital murder trials, two of which resulted in the death penalty. One of the convicted killers, Jack Wade Clark, was executed in January for the abduction, rape and fatal stabbing of a Lubbock County woman. The judge works anywhere from 40 to 50 hours a week, depending on how many defendants accept a plea before a trial starts and which matters have to be rescheduled. This month he finished his second term as the local administrative judge, whose duties include staffing, budgeting and calendaring matters. One of the most interesting parts of his job is dealing with the citizens who come to his courtroom, especially jurors after a trial has concluded, he says. “I like getting their views on the trial,” the judge says. “I let them ask me questions about procedural matters. I get their feedback.” He also enjoys the trials themselves and the different fact situations that come up. And he’s had interesting civil cases during 14 years on the bench, including a personal injury trial that featured as an exhibit a completely equipped bathroom stall set up in the courtroom by an attorney who ended up winning. In addition, he handles some family law matters, which can make up both the best part and the worst part of being a judge. “The most fun part of my job is adoptions and building families,” Underwood says. ” I always take pictures of adoptions.” The other side of family cases is the contested divorces, where the litigants are unhappy and fighting over property, he says. ‘A WEIRD SPOT’ Underwood grew up in Howe, a tiny town south of Sherman, Texas. After graduating from the local high school in a class of 28 students, he went to North Texas State University (now named the University of North Texas) on a football scholarship. After a year, he dropped out and went to work for the electric utility company in Lewisville, Texas. About three years later, he was ready for college again, and went full time to Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls, Texas, from January 1976 to August 1977. He gave himself little breathing room. The week following his graduation in 1977, he started classes at Texas Tech University School of Law. Underwood has remained in Lubbock ever since. He went to work for the Lubbock County District Attorney’s Office, where he had clerked before graduation, and stayed until successfully running in 1986 for the County Court-at-Law No. 2 bench. He took his seat the next January. In October 1989, he was appointed to the newly created 364th District Court by then-Gov. Bill Clements. At the beginning, Underwood and the other judges heard all sorts of cases. Last June, in following suggestions by the State Office of Court Administration, the county adopted a system of specialized courts, with three judges handling criminal matters and three handling civil matters, while all six continue to hear family law cases. The judge has had his share of publicity and criticism during his tenure on the bench. As head of the county’s computer users group in the 1990s, Underwood was often named in stories in the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal about alleged problems with a system purchased in 1993. And the local paper editorialized about Underwood when he filed his divorce petition last July under his initials, rather than his name. The judge was quoted in the Avalanche-Journal as saying his divorce was a personal matter that he would not discuss with the paper. “Was Judge Underwood’s filing of his petition for divorce illegal?” the paper asked in its editorial. “No. But a public official shouldn’t manipulate the judicial filing system to keep his name from being published.” Underwood says that as an elected official, he’s a public figure, but thinks the focus of the paper has been misplaced at times and some of its interpretations wrong. “Judges are in a weird spot,” he says. “We can’t hold a press conference and say why we did something. We just have to let them shoot arrows at us. They made some statements that I disagreed with.” He says that after the stories and editorial ran, he heard from a lot of people who were supportive of him. And, in a July 1999 story by Texas Lawyer, he took second place in an informal survey of Lubbock lawyers as the “judge you respect even when you lose.” The Avalanche-Journal also has reported that a complaint was filed with the Commission on Judicial Conduct against Underwood and two other judges, Cecil Puryear and Jim Bob Darnell, alleging misconduct because of their plans to hire special deputy clerks. Underwood and Darnell did not return phone calls by press time seeking comment on the complaint. Puryear confirms the complaint and says the law gives judges the authority to hire special clerks. The order to hire the special clerks was never implemented, however, because the judges thought the situation — the need to do an audit of court files to see which cases were pending and which ones were on hold — was resolved, Puryear says. The judges have filed a response to the complaint, he adds. Bill M. Wischkaemper, a solo who handles criminal-defense work in Lubbock and brother of Philip Wischkaemper, says Underwood is fair. “He basically does the right thing,” he says. Solo Jeff Nicholson of Lubbock says Underwood “has a very good understanding of the law, especially where it concerns criminal cases. When there is some issue to be sorted out, he thinks it through. He’s very good at ruling on evidence and what can go in, and he rules promptly.” The judge commands respect, but is friendly, Nicholson adds. Underwood, who’s up for re-election next year, wants to stay on the bench and in Lubbock. “I love it out here,” he says. “People are friendly. It’s more country out here. As you get toward larger metro areas, people don’t wave back. Out here, everybody waves.”

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