Judge Julie Kocurek 390th District Judge Julie Kocurek greets a supporter at a welcome back party on Feb. 29, 2016, the day she returned to her bench after her attempted assassination. Photo: Angela Morris/ALM

It’s a story well-known to Texas lawyers and judges, but now this Saturday, people nationwide will learn how 390th District Judge Julie Kocurek of Austin survived a horrific shooting by a criminal defendant late at night in 2015.

“I scooted down as far as I could in the seat, and I protected my head with my arm and my hand. I can remember thinking, ‘I am going to die in front of my own son,’” Kocurek says in a preview of an upcoming episode of the CBS News 48 Hours series, ‘Live to Tell,’ which airs April 13.

Watch the preview of 48 Hours, then scroll down for our talk with Kocurek about why she went on 48 Hours, how she’s advocating for better judicial security and how her recovery is going.

Texas Lawyer: Your shooting was very traumatic, and I recall you were declining interview requests in the past. Why did you decide to open up to 48 Hours?

390th District Judge Julie Kocurek: The intent is to help with judicial security and highlight it on a national level and maybe inspire others to make change in a positive way for their judges. The trial is over and 48 Hours had been really persistent since the day it happened, and so eventually, I said I would do it if it was very factual and not sensational. I wanted the focus to be judicial security, and Justice Nathan Hecht, the chief of the Texas Supreme Court, helped me with that. He will be on it, too. I’m hoping other states will see this and do something about their judicial security.

You’ve done a lot to advance judicial security here in Texas. In fact, there’s a law called the Judge Julie Kocurek Judicial and Courthouse Security Act of 2017. Can you tell me your role in that?

Kocurek: Four months after my incident, Justice Hecht called me and I went to his office, and we discussed all the issues I had run into. He said he’s been trying to push a judicial security law since 2005 and he thought my incident would push it on through. He asked if I was willing to act. My son testified before the senate, and myself.

I was there on the day in 2016 that you returned to your bench in the 390th District Court. You were still wearing an arm brace and doing physical therapy. How have you recovered from your physical injuries since then?

Kocurek: I’ve lost a finger—my index finger—and my whole left arm is numb, but I can use it. I’m determined to get as much use out of it as possible. I’m lucky to have an arm. I’m lucky to have a life. It’s a small price to pay.

I can’t imagine the trauma emotionally and psychologically. How are you doing with that recovery?

Kocurek: Once this happened, I felt I was not going to get on the bench until I had undergone some therapy. Doctors and psychologists recommended a rapid eye-movement therapy. I did it for three years, up until the trial. At first I didn’t know what it was–it sounded like hocus pocus to me–but it works, and there’s concrete evidence. All of us are doing better. I am presiding over a murder case now, amazingly. In the beginning, I thought, ‘How am I ever going to do my job again?’ But with proper mental health treatment, it was possible. I try to find positive things out of it. It’s made me as stronger, better person as a whole.

 

Read Texas Lawyer’s coverage of Kocurek’s shooting.