Timothy L. Wright, a Williamson County Court-at-Law judge indicted this month on federal weapons charges, developed a lifelong passion for hunting and guns after he moved to Georgetown in 1970.
Having lost the use of his right arm to a childhood bout with polio, Wright taught himself to wield shotguns with one hand to shoot quail and to rest rifles on mounts for deer hunting.
In recent years, he had become a regular at gun shows, selling and exhibiting guns under the name of his side business: Gun Addicts. His son said Wright planned to become more involved in the gun trade after his retirement.
Now, Wright’s hobby is the focus of a federal case that could end the legal career of a man who has won sweeping praise from prosecutors and defense attorneys alike as an impartial and fair judge and who has overcome personal adversity off the bench.
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This month, a federal grand jury indicted Wright, 70, on nine counts stemming from gun sales, including knowingly selling guns to a felon, facilitating the smuggling of guns out of the country and lying to federal agents. The charges, following a March raid on his home, relate to three times in February that Wright allegedly sold guns to a person the indictment refers to as “J.C.” Federal agents seized 51 guns from him.
The State Commission on Judicial Conduct has suspended Wright without pay, and his high-volume court is now being overseen by three visiting judges.
Wright pleaded not guilty to the charges last week. Jeff Senter, a lawyer for Wright, said the judge knew J.C. — “a permanent resident alien citizen of Texas,” Senter said — but had no knowledge of his criminal status or intentions to smuggle guns.
From high school classmates in Dallas to longtime colleagues in Georgetown, many people who know Wright are in disbelief over the indictment. They described Wright as friendly and extroverted in his personal life and respected but approachable on the bench, where he handles misdemeanor cases such as DWI and assault.
“It’s shocking,” said Austin attorney Gene Anthes, who has represented clients before Wright. “I can’t imagine that he would knowingly sell to a felon or knowingly sell firearms to someone who might take them out of the country.”
Wright spoke briefly with the American-Statesman to confirm biographical details but declined to comment on issues related to the indictment. Wright explained that Gun Addicts was a name he used when legally showing and selling guns; he ended the conversation when asked if J.C. was a customer of the business.
Last June, Wright filed with the state to reserve the business name. He never incorporated the business, and the name reservation expired in October.
“I paid the money and reserved the name and never acted on it,” Wright said. “I just decided that I didn’t need a corporation. When you incorporate, you create an entity, another tax return and all that stuff.”
Round Rock lawyer W. Todd Ver Weire filed the paperwork for the name reservation. Ver Weire said he has a record of the transaction but doesn’t recall any details about the planned business. Ver Weire, who has represented clients before Wright and knew him personally, declined to comment on the indictment.
The judge’s son, Todd Wright, said guns were a hobby for his father, who has traveled to South Africa on safari. Many of the confiscated guns, the son said, are heirlooms and collectibles, not guns that were bought to be sold.
“He is not a gun-running Mexican criminal,” Todd Wright said. “In private conversations he says that he is completely innocent and that his paperwork and his records [for gun sales] are impeccable, that he has followed it to the letter of the law.”
The son of a plumber, Timothy Lane Wright was born in Dallas and grew up in its South Oak Cliff neighborhood. As a child, he was stricken with polio and was a long-term patient at the Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children.
The disease crippled the right side of Wright’s body and left him without the use of his right arm, which he often keeps tucked into his pocket. Unable to play football, Wright became a manager for the football team at South Oak Cliff High School and was elected to the student council as treasurer.
“He’s very outgoing, funny and could make you laugh at almost anything,” said Virginia “Peaches” Walker, a South Oak Cliff classmate who has kept in contact with Wright. “Everybody liked him, and over the years he has become a very strong Christian and does a lot of good work.”
After leaving Dallas for what was then North Texas State University, Wright married and had a son while he was enrolled in school. He had a daughter with his first wife after the family moved to Georgetown and, years later, another daughter with his second wife.
Wright’s mother died around the time he graduated high school, and his father died a few years later while Wright was at Baylor Law School, both from cancer.
At Baylor Law School, Wright served as an editor of the law review and the president of an honors society, according to his online biography. Classmates admired the way he handled his disability, said Fort Worth lawyer Darrell Keith, who graduated with Wright.
“I was always amazed that he seemed that he could do more with one arm than the rest of us could do with both arms,” he said. “These are very serious charges, and these charges — for the Tim Wright that I knew and respected — would be totally out of character.”
After graduating from Baylor, Wright and his family moved to Georgetown and he took his first job with a small law firm. His clients included the city of Round Rock — then population 2,500 — and two of the largest landholders in the area. It was on their ranches that the future judge first took up hunting, Todd Wright said.
But as Wright found success in his career, he became an alcoholic, his son said. He eventually sought treatment and has been sober for 26 years.
The addiction was a motivating factor for his push to create the Williamson County DWI court, according to Todd Wright, his longtime court administrator Diane Lowder and Georgetown lawyer Cole Spainhour. Lowder said that Wright believed his perspective as a recovered alcoholic allowed him to be more sensitive to defendants’ circumstances and to set them on a course for rehabilitation.
Wright’s judicial career was born on the deathbed of the man he would replace, County Court-at-Law Judge Robert “Skip” Morse.
“As he was literally on his deathbed dying of cancer, Skip made it known to everybody that he wanted Tim Wright to be his successor,” Georgetown lawyer Robert Phillips said. “Tim is old Georgetown. He’s lived in this community for decades, and he’s a beloved figure.”
Wright was appointed to replace Morse in 2002, and he has been elected four times since. He led the charge to establish the county’s widely applauded specialty court for DWI and drug offenders and recently helped launch a new court for veterans.
Several attorneys and prosecutors who have tried cases in Wright’s courtroom describe him as an evenhanded, fair and kind judge.
Georgetown defense attorney Russ Hunt said Wright’s easygoing demeanor was unusual for a judge.
“There are some judges who have very domineering personalities, and he’s not one of them,” he said. “He trusts people to take care of their business but won’t hesitate to call a person to account for not taking care of business, and that’s on the defense and state’s side.”
Todd Wright said his father’s proudest achievement was creating the DWI court. Through success in his law career, the son said, Wright taught him and many others to never underestimate the disabled. He recalled a story from when he was 6 years old that he said illustrated Wright’s attitude.
“We were driving down the road, and I said, ‘Dad, do you ever wish you had a right arm?’ And he said, ‘Aw heck, son, it’d just get in the way.’”