Veteran family court judge steps aside

Posted Thursday, Jun. 13, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Longtime state District Judge Randy Catterton has seen his share of difficult, contentious divorce and custody cases play out in a courtroom.

Sometimes the partipants weren’t in the best of moods. Still, Catternon never lost his cool, or his enthusiasm, for the work. He said there were very few days he didn’t want to come to work.

“It’s been the best job I could imagine,” Catteron said.

But now he wants to start a new chapter in his life.

Catterton, who served in the 231st District Court for 20 years, retired at the end of May before the end of his term but will continue to serve as a visiting judge until Gov. Rick Perry appoints his successor. Catterton’s term was to run until the end of December 2014.

Asked why he is stepping down, Catterton, 65, said: “I feel good. I’m still healthy. I want to travel, and there are things that I want to do.”

Janet Denton, president of the Tarrant County Family Law Bar Association, described Catterton as a judge who is fair to attorneys and their clients. When lawyers learned that their cases were assigned to Catterton’s court, they breathed a sigh of relief, he said.

“We’re losing one of the good guys. He’s a pretty outstanding jurist,” Denton said. “He’s civil in the most uncivil of circumstances.”

Rewarding career

Catterton was appointed to the bench in 1993 by Gov. Ann Richards after spending 20 years practicing family law in Fort Worth. He started out in the tiny town of Truth or Consequences, N.M., after graduating from the University of Texas at Austin with a law degree.

Practicing family law was the furthest thing from his mind, Catterton said, but he handled several divorce cases successfully and realized that family law was a good fit.

When he became a judge, Catterton realized the importance of treating people fairly and with understanding.

Family law cases are often emotional, and Catterton said it’s difficult to see situations where children are hurt or starved. “We are doing what we can to protect people,” he said.

Over the years, family law has grown more complex, he said. The average divorce decree used to be about 21/2 pages, and now decrees are about 20 pages long.

The way that attorneys treat one another has also changed, he said. When Catterton began practicing law, attorneys made deals and agreements with a handshake. Now, everything is written.

“I’m not saying that’s a bad thing; that’s just how things are now,” he said.

Steve King, a family law attorney who has tried cases in Catterton’s courtroom, said the judge treated everyone fairly and rarely lost his temper.

“He made the hard decisions when they needed to be made. He didn’t try to embarrass or bully you,” King said. “We don’t always get the good side. Sometimes, we represent people who are emotional or unreasonable, but the judge was never overbearing with anyone.”

Associate Judge Lisa Beebe, who has worked alongside Catterton, said they have similar views on how cases should be handled. Beebe said that when both were family law attorneys, she got “crossways” with him but was told to make up.

When she learned that Catterton needed an associate judge, Beebe applied immediately.

“Randy is a great guy. We see eye to eye on some of the hot-button issues,” she said, such as how to work out joint custody of children, which can be a delicate balancing act.

Beebe said she admires Catterton’s sense of humor.

“When you do what we do for a living, it’s sad. It can be disturbing and upsetting, but we usually find something humorous. Some people think that is callous, but levity makes life good,” she said.

What’s next

Perry’s office said three local attorneys, Brooke Allen, John A. Clark and Kellye K. Reeves, have filed applications to fill Catterton’s position, according to an open records request filed by the Star-Telegram.

Other local judges are also announcing retirement, including state District Judge Jean Boyd, who oversees the county’s juvenile courts, and 2nd Court of Appeals Justice Bob McCoy.

Boyd will retire when her term ends in December 2014. McCoy announced that he’s seeking election to County Criminal Court No. 3.

Catterton, who has been married several times himself, said he began a relationship with a woman recently whom he knew from high school and who now lives in Smithville, near Austin.

He hopes to continue as a visiting judge in Tarrant and Bastrop counties.

Catterton is looking forward to an Alaskan cruise and spending more time with his grandchildren.

“I’m sure I will miss being a judge full time. I really feel like the luckiest man I’ve ever known. I have a great family, and I can’t fill up one hand counting the days when I haven’t wanted to come to work,” he said.

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

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