Dallas Judge Amber Givens and Judge Remeko Tranisha Edwards are working to change the way the judicial system is seen.
Amber Givens, who rules over District 282, got her start in law working as a prosecutor, spanning eight years in three different offices. During her time holding that position, she developed an appreciation for the amount of power the District attorney’s office can hold. That awareness of the power a political position can hold is ultimately what impacted and influenced her decision to take the District Court 282 seat.
In her position working as a District Judge, she’s honed in on addressing justice in a holistic manner, focused on taking into account who is being targeted by the system. One program that she created as an off branch of this holistic approach is her empowerment program, which is designed to help probationers gain the needed support and skills to conclude their probation.
“I think the success of people on probation benefits, all of us, we’re all benefited by someone being rehabilitated,” Givens said.
As Givens points out, probation is short-staffed and while she feels they do well with what they have, the process of rehabilitation takes more than being able to meet with your probation officer once a month.
“A good number of them were not failing cause they wanted to fail. They were failing because they didn’t have access to resources or didn’t even believe that they deserved a second chance. So they weren’t taking full advantage of the opportunity.” – Judge Givens
The Empowerment Program started off as a six-month program but has now been extended into a 10-month program. For it, she selected people who struggle with drug addiction, or who do not have family support, people who she noticed continued to go back to court. She also chose mentors from the Dallas community to work with them.
“There’s been a gap between the courthouse and the community for too long. And we need to bridge that gap so that everybody feels invested in the criminal justice system and its success,” Givens said.
Givens also works to create change through her Word of Mouth series, which works to “demystify the legal system.” The series was started in 2016 and used the Martin Luther King Center to hold sessions. One example Givens offered was a session where they offered a guide to traffic stops, which addressed what to do if police officers smell marijuana in your car and what can be done when you are stopped by the police and are being recorded. She feels passing on this knowledge can help others to better understand their rights are prior to getting involved in legal decisions and after they take place.
Judge Remeko Tranisha Edwards, who rules over County Court 7, has been able to implement change and create impact through a similar method of education and a belief that those who enter her court should be handled with a level of understanding. Judge Edwards worked as a lawyer for 16 years practicing family, juvenile, probate, and criminal law. That experience working in both criminal and family law has allowed her an understanding of how familial issues are tied into criminal ones.
“Most of the time, if you have a criminal case (majority of the time), there’s a lingering family issue going on sometime definitely when there are cases involving involving violence, assault, family violence cases, protective order cases and having the the knowledge of what goes on in those other courts,” Edwards said. “It assists me when I’m having to make a decision before me regarding someone and their life.”
Prior to that, she worked as a juvenile detention officer, a job she took on after graduating from the University of Texas at Arlington. She then went on to work as a probation officer, which allowed her to work with different organizations, and gave her knowledge and resources available in the community.
“I’m able to direct them to resources that I know are available in the community, and then my probation officers in my court, I understand what they have to do when I order probation. And when they (parolees) violate probation, what exactly goes into that, and what’s the depth of the rehabilitation probation is providing for them.”
In the courtroom, she stated one of her focuses is making sure people understand what is going to happen in the courtroom.
“One of the things I took that I want to make sure that my court brought to the front Crowley courthouse was when those entering my court, they had knowledge about what the process was, what they were facing, and what it looks like,” Edwards said.
Edwards also works with the Mexican American Bar Association, which helps the Latino community as well as other minority groups, providing legal services, training education along with explaining what goes on in the court system. The county court Edwards resides over a county court that mainly consists of juveniles and the elderly, which she states has given her the opportunity to promote rehabilitation and change. When dealing with juveniles (emerging adults as she calls them), she states there may be cases where an emerging adult just may not know what is happening around them. In turn, they may be looking to just be free (though this may leave a conviction on their record) as opposed to following some of the conditions of parole. With the elderly, they may be in a position where they may be experiencing mental health issues or, in the case of theft, may have absentmindedly left with an item in their hand. The understanding and knowledge that she is able to pass on to those she’s presiding over, is something she credits to her community work.
“I think my involvement in the community is something that assists me very much sitting on the bench and the work with different relationships that I’ve built with different service providers. It allows me to know what’s out there and available, that I can give that information to those that come before me” – Judge Edwards
Edwards stated that she feels when a judge is sitting on the bench, they should be connected to the community. That community work for her is prolific, she is a member of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, and community service operates as one of their platforms. One organization that she has, and continues to work with is Women Called Moses (which she is on the advisory board for), an organization that assists women and men who are victims of domestic violence. Edwards herself was a victim of domestic violence and she describes the work of founder Debra Nixon-Bowles as being akin to the Underground Railroad, sweeping victims out of the night and offering them food, shelter and counseling.
“She sweeps them out through the night, take them to a safe place and get them back on their feet and let’s them know that you can leave that situation. There are things that you need, which are tools that we have (they provide mentorship, they provide food, shelter, counseling). Just things to help make that person whole again,” she said.
As for what they both have coming up, Givens stated she is always looking for more helping hands.
“I always need volunteers for my empowerment program. I’m revamping actually adding to the kind of like a spinoff to the empowerment program and it’s called the paying it forward, uh, a program where I’m bringing graduates from the empowerment program. Support those that are currently on probation. So I’m always looking for mentors,” Givens said.
Edwards is currently working with Dallas Cred, a violence interrupter program that is an off branch of the non-profit Youth Advocate Programs Inc, as well as Oasis Center, an empowerment program that helps to provide employment to first time youth offenders and formerly incarcerated people, which is held Monday through Thursday.
“Community organization work is really big, and I think there’s a lot of courts that are using those resources that they know of, to empower those that are coming before them. While we’re still administering justice. We’re still serving the public. We’re still presiding over the courts. But that does not stop you from being involved,” Edwards said.