Dallas underwent a judicial revolution of sorts 12 years ago when its voters decided to elect Democratic candidates to every one of its district and county-level benches. And since making a clean break with the Republican party in 2006, the electorate in Texas’ third-largest city has seemingly fallen in love with a specific kind of Democrat judicial candidate—the African-American woman.
Of the 60 state and county trial courts in Dallas County, 19 of them are presided over by black female judges. And after the March 6 Democratic Primary Election—the only election that matters in the solid-blue county—Dallas’ judiciary is poised to become even more diverse as black women are either challengers or unchallenged incumbents in many of the county’s 40 judicial elections.
Audrey Moorehead is a criminal defense attorney who is running as a Democrat for an open seat on Dallas County Criminal Court No. 3. She is facing Symone Redwine, who is also African-American, in the primary election for that bench.
Moorehead spoke with Texas Lawyer about her campaign, why Dallas likes black women judges, and whether President Donald Trump’s offensive behavior is encouraging women like her to seek public office.
Texas Lawyer: Since Dallas became a solidly Democratic county in 2006, its electorate has favored electing African-American women to its state and county court benches. How did this happen in a city that not long ago had a nearly all-white bench?
Audrey Moorehead: More African-American women have chosen to run since 2006. Many more women, without regard to race, have moved toward breaking the glass ceiling. Women are more involved in decision-making jobs, giving them opportunities that were not present in the past. The city is seeing the benefit of women in high-powered, high-skilled occupations desiring to give back to their community through elective office. Voting is very important in the African-American community and continues to be the cornerstone of the Civil Rights movement. Minority and female candidates also reap the benefit of Dallas County’s voting patterns.
TL: What made you decide to run for a county criminal court bench?
Moorehead: I decided, as a college student, to build a career based on community service. I started out in nonprofit at the Visiting Nurse Association in management with Meals on Wheels and began to look for avenues to expand on that commitment. Law school was the perfect path and I became a criminal defense lawyer in 2007. I am a widely recognized legal educator on the national, state and local level with extensive experience practicing in Dallas County criminal courts. I decided to run for County Criminal Court No. 3 because it is the highest and best use of my skills and experience at this time and because I am dedicated to doing my part to improve the criminal justice system.
TL: Dallas County’s election ballot is loaded with female and minority candidates. Do you think that’s a response to the misogynistic and racist behavior exhibited by President Donald Trump?
Moorehead: I think the ballot is more reflective of the legacy of people such as Barack Obama who demonstrated to people of color that they could obtain votes from all communities. African-American women tend to vote out of responsibility and I believe that their motivation to seek public office is about the issues and not the optics. I am cognizant of the fact that despite success on the local level, women of all ethnic backgrounds still face obstacles at the state and national levels.
TL: With over 40 Dallas benches up for grabs during this election cycle, how do you go about convincing voters you deserve to be a judge when so many other candidates are asking the same thing?
Moorehead: When I made the choice to work in the nonprofit sector, even with an MBA, I understood that this was not the path for those seeking wealth. Public service is not the avenue to get rich. Voters appreciate that one must transcend their personal agenda to seek the greater good for the community. This is not the path for those seeking power but it is the path for those seeking to help the powerless. Ultimately, it’s about getting the message out that I have more criminal law experience, more civic leadership experience and that serving in elected leadership for the State Bar of Texas, Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association and Dallas Bar Association communicates that I have the trust and support of many people. Dallas County deserves a judge with the experience, reputation and resources that I bring to the table.
TL: Is there anything noticeably different about the justice delivered in Dallas courts now that its judiciary is more diverse?
Moorehead: The most noticeable difference is that Dallas now has a judiciary more reflective of the community it serves. The voters elected a diverse judiciary and by doing so sent a message that Dallas was moving from just tolerance to acceptance. It is undisputed that people have lost trust in our system of justice in both the civil and criminal courts. There are concerns about implicit bias and the indigent poor being victimized by an unfair bail system. The increasingly diverse judiciary communicates that there are people on the bench that are sensitive to these and other issues. Public trust is a principal asset of the justice system and a diverse judiciary goes a long way in strengthening trust and confidence in our judicial system.