Chris Oldner's first jury trial as a prosecutor was a marijuana possession case in Smith County, sometime in 1993. He was fresh out of Texas Tech law school, one of only two misdemeanor prosecutors in a small county. He just can't recall the outcome of the case.
That's understandable when you step back and look at Judge Oldner's 23 years of public service.
Once he moved back to his home turf in 1994, misdemeanor and felony cases flowed through the various Collin County courts in which he was assigned. His first felony prosecution was for car theft. A few years later, his first big felony trial involved a kidnap-murder.
In 2000, after a two-year stint as chief felony prosecutor for child abuse cases, he ran successfully for the bench of County Court at Law No. 5. Three years later, Texas Governor
Rick Perry picked him to preside over a newly created district court here,
"I was 36, the young guy in a group of extremely experienced judges at that time," he says. "All of them had 10 or more years' experience on the bench, and I benefitted a lot from that."
More than 29,000 civil and criminal cases have been filed in the 416th since.
Come January, Judge Oldner will head into private practice for the first time in his legal career, joining a Dallas family law firm. Looking back, he says the sheer growth of Collin County combined with technology changes has been impressive.
"The sheer pace of the county and the courts has changed dramatically," the judge says. "I think back on my first days in the DA's office with everything done on paper, and typewriters. It wasn't that long ago, was it? Can you even find a typewriter around an office anymore?"
Reading through orders and filed motions in stacks of files on the 416th's bench and in chambers has changed to a paperless environment. Outside the courthouse, the rural quaintness of the county has steadily given ground to fast-growing suburban cities.
Four additional district courts have been added in Collin County since the 416th was created, to keep up with new case filings. Criminal cases may take months to dispose, while civil matters can run for much, much longer.
One thing that hasn't changed during Judge Oldner's time on the bench might be the most misunderstood part of presiding over a court case, he says. "You set out to follow the law and, if you can, solve the problem – not just issue a ruling."
That role doesn't always make you the most popular person in the courthouse, Judge Oldner says. It's a job that calls for working through disputes that are rarely black and white. "(Being a judge) is not all balls and strikes," he adds. "You're paid to do the one thing that many people try hard to avoid – make a decision."
Thank you for your years of public service, Judge.