Nancy Kennedy

As Interviewed by Noah Kennedy, March 18, 2017

Nancy Kennedy: In Her Own Words

I think I first wanted to become a lawyer probably around 7th grade. I went to college for four years and then I went to law school for three years. You have to do four years, or you have to get your bachelor's degree, however long that takes you, and then you have to do an additional three years of law school.

My first case was when I was in the Criminal Defense Clinic at SMU Law School and I was representing someone who could not afford a lawyer and I was a student lawyer. And so I was working at the direction of a supervisor who was a full time lawyer. It was a criminal case and he was charged with a drug related offense. It was challenging. I would pick out one particular case where I represented a police officer who was falsely accused of an offense and because of the false accusation he lost his job. He was proven to be innocent, and although he was proven to be innocent, he didn't get his job back.

We (as lawyers) feel that on occasion the jury doesnít get it right but you have to believe in the system if you want to operate within the system. I actually practiced not only trial work, but I also practiced in appeals which is the next level. So in some cases after a trial, a defendant does not like what happened in the trial they can appeal it to the court of appeals and Iíve actually done that as well.

I felt like if I became a Judge I could help more people and have the ability to affect change on a broader scale in the criminal justice system than just being a prosecutor or a criminal defense attorney.

I really don't want to be any more sympathetic towards any particular type of case and I really have to be careful to not let any of my bias or feelings sway my decision making. I just have to make my decisions purely on the facts so I try really hard to not be sympathetic towards any particular case.

I think as Judges we all know about racial bias or gender bias but there are other biases that we don't know about called implicit bias and these are things that we donít know we are biased against or for and so I think definitely I've had clients who have been in front of judges who may not realize it but are state oriented so they go along with the state more then they go along with the defense because they have only ever been former prosecutors so they believe the state is always right. So we have to work harder not only as Judges, but everyone in the criminal justice system to try to recognize what our biases are and not let them affect our decisions.

In Dallas County we have an issue right now where people are being held in jail before they go to trial because they can't afford to post what's called a bond to get out and so basically they are non-violent people who really are people we are not afraid of, but are people we are just mad at because we think they committed a crime and because we think they committed a crime they have to post a bond to get out of jail which means they have to put up money. Well a lot of times people don't have the money to put up so they have to sit in jail before their case goes to trial and when that happens you are basically punishing people for being poor and we shouldnít be doing that and that's something we are working hard on and Iím working hard to change in Dallas County.

I wanted to be a Judge because I could make change on a bigger scale as a Judge. But sometimes you feel like as a lawyer, you have a more personal connection to people so I guess you feel more personal about your cases and clients so you feel like you're affecting change sometimes more as a lawyer.