Judge Ron Enns of the 69th District Court in Dumas was motivated early in life to get an education and enter the legal profession. He grew up on a farm in Dalhart, where hard, manual labor was a fact of life. Enns helped his father build fences, weld metal, irrigate the fields, milk cows and feed livestock.
“Every time I complained about working too hard, my dad said, ‘If you go get an education, you can make a better living and not work so hard,’ ” Enns remembers.
But farm life wasn’t all sweat and hard work. It came with surprise vacations during holidays or after heavy rains, when Enns would get off the school bus and see the car packed with suitcases. He’d travel with his family to New Mexico’s mountains to fish and camp.
Nevertheless, Enns got his education, earning his bachelor’s degree in government from Texas Tech University in 1972. “Every time I didn’t like college, my dad would say I have a farm I can come back and work on. I said, ‘I’ll stay another semester,’ ” says Enns.
During this time, he married Margaret Fike, his girlfriend from seventh grade. Together, Enns and his wife moved to Austin so he could attend The University of Texas School of Law. He earned his law degree in 1975.
Enns explains he decided to become a lawyer because in his childhood he observed that local attorneys were able to purchase surrounding farms that went into foreclosure.
“I thought, ‘That sure looks like a lot easier way to make money than driving a tractor,’ ” Enns recalls. “ I really enjoyed the idea of helping people.”
After earning his J.D., Enns worked as the county attorney in Dallam County from 1976 to 1984. He also had a private practice from 1976 to 1985 at Fike, Hunter & Blackwell in Dalhart, the firm where Enns’ father-in-law worked. The firm became Fike & Enns in 1979. From 1985 to 1989, Enns was a partner in Davis, Cunningham & Enns in Dalhart. From 1982 to 1990, he also served as the city attorney for the city of Dalhart.
While running for election to his bench from 1989 to 1990, Enns operated a solo practice. He says he opted to run for judge because he “was tired of practicing” and he “decided it was time for a change.”
“I’ve really enjoyed the job,” he says.
Texas Lawyer reporter Angela Morris emailed Enns some questions about practicing in his courtroom. His answers are below, edited for length and style.
Judge Ron Enns
69th District Court
First elected to the bench: 1990
Texas Lawyer: What are two specific things lawyers should know about you before coming in your courtroom?
Judge Ron Enns, 69th District Court, Dumas: Get to the point. I am always happy to receive and read the first 10 pages of any brief or written argument counsel wishes to present. If I can’t figure it out, I’ll ask for more. Second, I am fairly liberal with continuances and conflicts, provided counsel has discussed the issue with all opposing counsel and contacted the court prior to the hearing.
TL: If you were to ever practice law as an attorney again, how would you change as a result of your time on the bench?
Enns: I think I’d try to prepare a jury chargeprior to filing a lawsuit. That sure focuses effort and saves a lot of time later. This was a common practice when I first started practicing law.
TL: What’s an example of a time a lawyer annoyed you in a typical way?
Enns: I really try not to be annoyed by lawyers practicing in my court. Judges should remember how hard it is to practice law. Saying that, I do become very annoyed when counsel is less than truthful with the court or my staff.
TL: About how many trials do you hear annually, and have you noticed any changes in the numbers over the years?
Enns: Like most general jurisdiction courts, the criminal docket has exploded. Family matters take much less time than they used to, and tort reform has all but ended civil litigation. Civil cases that are tried now take much longer than they used to.
TL: If a lawyer were practicing in your jurisdiction for the first time, what would he need to know about your court’s local, internal operating procedures?
Enns: I rely totally on my staff for all settings. My coordinator will answer any question about our procedures.
TL: What’s a typical disposition rate, or time from filing to trial, for a case?
Enns: My goal is 90 to 120 days for all criminal matters for defendants on bond and 60 to 90 days for those incarcerated. Civil matters usually take longer, from six months to a year, unless earlier settings are asked for.
TL: Generally, what factors must an attorney show about a client before you’ll consider a downward departure in sentencing?
Enns: I’m most interested in an individual’s family or peer support group. Individuals who are “going it alone” have little chance for success.
TL: In your opinion, what kind of case is best suited for a trial before the court instead of a jury trial?
Enns: Most criminal cases are disposed of by plea agreements. I believe that jury trials for the remaining cases are important to remind prosecutors and judges of local attitudes concerning law enforcement. In the civil arena, when a case requires a jury, that means that someone is not correctly evaluating their position.
TL: What, if any, courtroom formalities do you prefer lawyers follow exactly?
Enns: Never make the judge mad. Sidebar comments almost always make me mad.
TL: Considering lessons you’ve learned after talking with juries post-trial, what should lawyers know?
Enns: Most jurors do not like lawyers. Verdicts are determined by the facts proved and not by courtroom theatrics.
“Approach the Bench” is a periodic column in Texas Lawyer.
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