U.S. District Judge Ed Kinkeade has sat on so many benches in Dallas County during the course of his 36-year legal career, it’s hard to imagine he ever was a lawyer.

The son of a Baptist minister, Kinkeade headed off to Baylor University in the early 1970s and earned a J.D. in 1974, thanks to an unusual program that allowed students to attend law school before completing an undergraduate degree.

“I was 19 when I started law school and 22 when I was a lawyer. You think: ‘Hey, this is great!’ ” Kinkeade says. “ But who wants to hire a 22-year-old lawyer? No one.”

Kinkeade eventually found work back in his hometown of Irving, practicing with Dennis Brewer Sr. for a few months before joining a firm headed by former Irving mayor Bob Power.

Kinkeade had some interesting clients during his six years in private practice, most notably Widetrack. Those who grew up in Dallas in the 1970s and 1980s likely remember auto dealer David McDavid’s television advertisements featuring his business’ mascot, a giant Great Dane named Widetrack.

“Widetrack jumped out of a truck once and caused a wreck,” Kinkeade says. “And I was Widetrack’s lawyer.”

It wasn’t his final dog case or the last time a canine would become an important part of his life. While still in his 20s, Kinkeade was asked to fill in as a part-time municipal judge in Irving.

“I just fell in love with it,” Kinkeade says of the municipal judge job. “And my first case was a barking dog case.”

Kinkeade liked being a judge so much that in 1980 he ran for the newly created Dallas County Criminal Court-at-Law No. 10 and won that bench at the tender age of 28. He was in the county judge job a matter of months when then-Gov. Bill Clements appointed Kinkeade to the 194th District Court in 1981.

“A lot of politics is luck, and I was there when lightning struck,” Kinkeade says.

Six years later, Kinkeade ran for and won a spot on Dallas’ 5th Court of Appeals. He sat on the appeals court until November 2002, when then-President George W. Bush appointed him to become a U.S. district judge in the Northern District in Dallas.

Video: See an interview with Judge Ed Kinkeade and Bo

Recently, Kinkeade finished serving as chairman of the board of trustees of the Baylor Medical Health Care System. He still visits Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas regularly, where he’s rarely recognized as a former board chairman or judge. Instead, Kinkeade says he’s usually referred to “as the guy with Bo.”

Kinkeade trained Bo, a yellow Labrador retriever, as a therapy dog to help Baylor patients in their recoveries.

“We work with patients that have gone through terrible trauma. And it is amazing how people will respond” to Bo, Kinkeade says. “People who wouldn’t talk to me will open up to the dog. It’s been a great opportunity. It reminds me of how much more I need to be doing.”

Texas Lawyer senior reporter John Council, who thinks his Dutch Shepherd Robert might be a good therapy dog once he stops eating furniture, e-mailed Kinkeade some questions to ponder. Here are his answers, edited for length and style.

Judge Ed Kindeade
U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas
Dallas Division
Age: 59

Texas Lawyer: What lawyer courtroom habits really irritate you?

Judge Ed Kinkeade: I find it irritating, and very unprofessional, when attorneys show a lack of respect for opposing counsel, especially in front of a jury or witness.

TL: If a lawyer wants you to consider a downward departure when sentencing his client, what should the attorney present to you?

Kinkeade: The attorney should provide all mitigating facts in a sentencing memorandum to the court, with all these facts outlined.

TL: Has United States v. Booker made your life easier or more difficult when it comes to sentencing decisions?

Kinkeade: EASIER. Was that emphatic enough? The guidelines are very helpful as “advisory.” Enough said.

TL: What kind of cases do you routinely refer to U.S. magistrate judges for consideration?

Kinkeade: Usually I refer cases involving pro se and prisoner litigants, Social Security appeals and post-conviction motions, as well as arraignment and re-arraignments.

TL: What should every lawyer know about you before setting foot in your courtroom?

Kinkeade: Do not ever toy with the court. I am candid with lawyers, and I expect the same at all times. Playing games with the court only leads to trouble.

TL: Does protracted intellectual property and patent litigation give you a headache, or do you enjoy hearing those cases?

Kinkeade: Oddly enough, I enjoy the challenge of intellectual property and patent litigation. Maybe not the protracted part. . . .

TL: How can a lawyer make your job easier?

Kinkeade: If a lawyer would make his or her best argument in the first few minutes, my job would be significantly easier. Tell me what you want me to do and how to do it — it’s that simple.

TL: What does every lawyer need to tell clients before they appear before you?

Kinkeade: Just as with attorneys, I expect their clients to show respect to the court. Also, answer any questions from the court fully and candidly.

TL: Are you of the opinion that a trial should last as long as it needs to, or let’s get this over with already?

Kinkeade: I am of the belief that all trials must be managed. In my many years on the bench, I’ve learned that attorneys need realistic time parameters from the court.

TL: Do you think your dog Bo could also help settle disputes between overheated litigants?

Kinkeade: I have seen a paraplegic man with a drawn hand extend his fingers to pet Bo, when he refused to extend those same fingers to shake my hand. Bo is a pretty powerful “guy,” so who knows what wonders he could perform when not sleeping on my kitchen floor?

“Approach the Bench” is a periodic column in Texas Lawyer.

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