Women lawyers are now fairly common place in the legal world. It is not uncommon to see a female judge presiding over a civil or criminal docket. But that was not always the case even three decades ago, especially in Dallas, Texas.
A short 28 years ago, times were quite different. Governor Clements began appointing women to judicial positions, a pattern that was unheard of even a decade before.
It was the frontier days for women in the judicial system,and there were many “sheriffs” who did not embrace the change gracefully.
“When I was first appointed as an Associate Judge for the Juvenile Courts, I was one of the first female Judges at that time,” recalls Anne Ashby. “I learned very quickly to not be offended by common phrase, ‘Sure thing, honey,’ that I heard spoken casually by the tenured Judges, who were all men.”
When Ashby decided to run for the 134th District Court, she knew that she was blazing a trail for other women lawyers, but she did not realize to what extent.
Judge Tonya Parker, presiding Judge of the 116th District Court of Dallas, acknowledges those who came before her. As Parker notes, “I consider Judge Ashby to be a trailblazer for women on the State Court bench in Dallas County.”
Now, with the perspective of 20 years of public service as the Presiding Judge of the 134th District Court, Ashby laughs as she recalls the changes that occurred. “I learned very quickly that you are a Judge 24/7,” she explains. “When you run into someone you know in the grocery store or at church, you are still a Judge.”
There are 13 civil District Courts in Dallas County (family law and criminal courts are separate). As of today, there are 4 women who are District Court Judges, or 30% of the total. It was not always that way.
“Sometimes I felt like the ‘Lone Ranger’ during monthly meetings with the other District Court Judges,” Ashby recalls. “Since I was the only one wearing a skirt and heels, it set me apart.”
Despite outward differences with her judicial brethren, when Ashby sat on the bench of the 134th District Court, she ran the proceedings according to her rules. “My goal from the beginning was to treat attorneys and parties with respect, but I ran my courtroom with velvet gloves.” One of Ashby’s favorite quotes (and one that guided her during time on the bench) is from Amelia Earhart, who said, “A single act of kindness throws out roots in all directions, and the roots spring up and make new trees.”
But just as the gender makeup has changed over the past several decades, Ashby questioned whether she should run for another four-year term. After she evaluated her 20+ years of public service, she realized that she had accomplished her mission and was ready for a new adventure.
“It was time to move on,” she recalls of her decision to retire in 2009.
While Ashby could have taken time off and traveled, instead she opened the Law Offices of Anne Ashby and began handling arbitrations and mediations.
“Establishing my own law office was a new experience for me,” she recalled. “I had always worked in the public sector and the transition to become my own boss was exciting and exacting.”
Now, in addition to her arbitration and mediation practice that she conducts through her law office, Ashby has taken on a new challenge. In January of 2014, Ashby joined Shields Legal Group (Of Counsel) to help successful family owned businesses and entrepreneurs navigate the growth or sale of their business.
Jim Shields, founder of the law firm, described Ashby’s value to clients in this way. “Imagine having a State District Judge with 20 years’ trial experience on your team, crystallizing the issues in litigation, growth to exit plans or providing strategic input to your business or Family Office.”
Becoming an entrepreneur was not easy for Ashby. “It was a total shift in mindset,” she recalls. But she persevered and is grateful for the help that she received along the way. “There is an incredible network of people who stepped into my need and filled it with their expertise, wisdom and business savvy.”
Ashby is excited about her new role at Shields Legal Group.
“My experience as a District Court Judge, mediator and entrepreneur make me uniquely qualified to act as the “quarterback” for Family Offices and privately owned companies. I am passionate about guiding companies through their legal issues to avoid the courtroom drama. Of course, if necessary, we can litigate.”
From forging the way for women to ascend to the District County Bench to achieving her own goals of successful entrepreneurship, Anne Ashby is a woman on a mission. Just watch out for the velvet gloves.
To learn more about Judge Ashby, please visit ShieldsLegal.com or contact her at AAshby@ShieldsLegal.com.