If one could test for law and politics in a person’s genetic makeup, there’s no doubt a scientist would find such markers in 434th District Judge Jim Shoemake’s blood.
Shoemake’s father was a lawyer who served as a state senator in the Oklahoma Legislature for 12 years before he became an administrative law judge for the U.S. Social Security Administration. His grandfather also was a lawyer who served in the Oklahoma Legislature.
So his desire for a life in law and politics was sparked by “working in the campaigns and listening to my dad talk about the kind of cases that he tried,” Shoemake says.
Shoemake’s father was transferred from Muskogee, Okla., to Houston, so Shoemake transferred, too — from the University of Oklahoma to the University of Houston, where he earned his undergraduate degree in 1969 and his J.D. in 1972.
After law school, Shoemake joined a small Houston firm where he practiced primarily business litigation. In 2002, he ran in the Republican Primary for the 328th District Court bench. Although he lost the election to Ron Pope — who eventually won that bench — the loss led to a fortunate turn of events for Shoemake.
“He and I became friends during the campaign,” Shoemake says of Pope. “It’s kind of odd. And I became his associate judge for about four years.”
Pope recalls putting out the word that he needed an associate judge and he got a response from Shoemake.
“Jim Shoemake called and said, ‘I’d like to be the associate judge.’ I said, ‘You’re kidding,’ ” Pope recalls. “ And when we sat down, I said I know this guy as well as anybody that applied. So hey, I just said, ‘If you’re serious, come on aboard.’ He did a great job, and we worked well together.”
Shoemake served as an associate judge until 2007, when Gov. Rick Perry appointed him to the newly created 434th District Court in Fort Bend County — the county Shoemake has called home since 1975.
“I love what I do. I love the people and the lawyers, and I’m sold on what I’m given to do,” he says.
But these days, Shoemake reserves much of his time and love for his son Clif — a youth minister who suffered a traumatic brain injury while skiing in Colorado on a church retreat.
“We’re working on walking. It’s been three-and-half years. He was in a coma for a month. And he’s 28 years old, and he’s still got some time to recover,” Shoemake says of Clif. “He and his wife live with my wife and I. We almost lost him. This is tough. But it’s not nearly as tough as losing somebody.”
Texas Lawyer senior reporter John Council e-mailed Shoemake some questions to ponder. Here are his answers edited for length and style.
Judge Jim Shoemake
434th District Court
Fort Bend County
Appointed to the Bench: 2007
Texas Lawyer: Since you preside over a general jurisdiction court, I’ll start with a general question: What is the most difficult part of your job?
Judge Jim Shoemake: Getting the attorneys to be civil and courteous to each other and treat each other with dignity and respect.
TL: What can lawyers do to make your job easier?
Shoemake: Talk to each other about the motion or trial and reduce the number of things I have to do. Talk to me, not the other attorney.
TL: If a lawyer believes you have ruled incorrectly, what’s the best way to convince you to change your mind?
Shoemake: Give me a case to read or look at but do not argue with me or with opposing counsel. State your side to the court.
TL: What’s the most common mistake you see in pleadings lawyers file in your court?
Shoemake: They are not specific and succinct.
TL: During voir dire, are you prone to reform a potential juror so they won’t be struck for cause or do you take a hands-off approach?
Shoemake: I will allow the other side to attempt to reform the juror unless the perceived bias is definite and clearly immovable.
TL: What should lawyers always have worked out before they approach you to sign a plea agreement?
Shoemake: Get the terms all in there and make sure it is accurate.
TL: Are there any courtroom formalities that you are particularly strict about?
Shoemake: I expect for permission to be asked to approach the witness and for as little time as possible to be spent there. Also, try out the courtroom . . . technical devices so you don’t fumble around with them.
TL: What have you learned about being a judge that you didn’t know while you were in private practice?
Shoemake: How much paperwork there is to do, which no one realizes.
TL: What should lawyers always advise their clients about before entering your courtroom?
Shoemake: Resist the need for histrionics, facial and body movements and comments to counsel, which are really loud enough for the jury to hear.
TL: What’s the best part of your day?
Shoemake: When I get to enter the courtroom and begin to do the most enjoyable job anybody can be allowed to do.
John Council is on Twitter at www.twitter.com/john_council. “Approach the Bench” is a periodic column in Texas Lawyer.
“Approach the Bench” is a periodic column in Texas Lawyer.
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