District Judge Louis Sturns receives Silver Gavel Award from Tarrant County Bar Association

Posted Friday, May. 03, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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More information The Blackstone Award The Tarrant County Bar Association also honored attorney John Allen Chalk Sr. with the Blackstone Award, given to a senior member of the bar who demonstrates integrity and courage in their careers. Chalk graduated from the University of Texas Law School. Among his many honors, Chalk is a sustaining Fellow of the Texas Bar Foundation, and a sustaining Life Fellow of the American Bar Foundation. Source: Tarrant County Bar Association

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When state District Judge Louis Sturns was asked to preside this year over a special court of inquiry involving another judge, he didn’t hesitate.

State Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson selected Sturns to oversee the unusual inquiry into the conduct of former Williamson County District Attorney Ken Anderson. In 1987, Anderson won a conviction in the murder case against a husband who then spent almost 25 years in prison before being exonerated of killing his wife.

After hearing testimony in February, Sturns last month found probable cause to believe that Anderson broke laws and was in contempt of court for lying to Michael Morton’s defense attorney and to the judge who presided over the trial. He ordered that Anderson, now a state district judge in Williamson County, be arrested.

“I believed that Judge Sturns’ experience on the Court of Criminal Appeals, his reputation for the fair and impartial administration of cases, and his deep sense of public service all combined to make him an appropriate choice for a difficult assignment,” Jefferson said in an email this week.

Thursday night, Sturns, 63, was honored by the Tarrant County Bar Association with its annual Silver Gavel Award.

Attorneys and judges who know Sturns said his legal experience and fair-minded approach to presiding in a courtroom are among the reasons he was honored.

Sturns has served on four different courts, including the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. He is now judge of the 213th District Court.

“I am very humbled by this award,” Sturns said this week. “I was very surprised. I said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding,’” describing the phone call when he learned about the honor.

Sturns was the first African-American to serve as a criminal court judge in Tarrant County, the first minority president of the Tarrant County Bar Association and the first African-American on the court of criminal appeals.

Fort Worth attorney John Jose, who chaired the committee that selected Sturns, said, “There were deserving nominees, but everyone settled on Louis.”

Jose said he was not surprised when Jefferson asked Sturns to oversee the special court of inquiry involving Anderson, and that surely contributed to his selection for the award. But there were many other reasons, he said.

“He really cares about the rights of those affected by criminal trials — not only victims’ rights but also those of the accused,” Jose said.

Sturns said he could not discuss details of the special inquiry, but said the case will stand out as one of the most challenging and memorable of his career, adding that it was an honor to get such an assignment from the chief justice.

“I have the greatest respect for Chief Justice Jefferson. When he asked me to take on the case, I was not about to say no,” Sturns said. “I just think we are called upon to do things that are out of the ordinary.”

‘He is a superstar’

Former judge Clifford Davis, who also was Sturns’ law partner, described his friend as a good student of the law.

“He does what he feels is right as a lawyer and as a citizen. It couldn’t have happened to a nicer person,” Davis said.

David Keltner, an attorney who worked with Sturns, said he was not surprised to learn that the judge was nominated for the Silver Gavel award.

“He is a superstar and always has been,” Keltner said.

“He is beyond reproach. He has no ax to grind. It’s just to hear the facts and make a decision that the law requires him to make.”

Sturns grew up on a farm in Rusk County, and said his parents encouraged their children to get an education. Sturns graduated from law school at the University of Kansas, and then joined the military where he served in the judge advocate general’s corps.

He moved to Fort Worth and began his law practice, where he took criminal and civil cases. Gov. Bill Clements appointed Sturns to Criminal Court No. 2 in the early 1980s; in 1986, he was elected to Criminal Court No. 1.

In 1990, Clements appointed Sturns to the court of criminal appeals but was defeated when he ran for election. He returned to private practice, but in 2007 was appointed to the 213th District Court and won re-election.

When Sturns isn’t presiding over criminal cases, he enjoys spending time on his East Texas farm, reading and spending time with his grandchildren, he said.

When he is on the bench, Sturns said, making a difference in people’s lives is his most important reward.

“When I put a kid on probation, I talk to him for a while. I also let him know that I expect him to follow the law, and that I believe in him.”

Elizabeth Campbell, 817-390-7696 Twitter: @fwstliz

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