Hal Ridley has a special fondness for Madison County, saying it was the county that put him over the top in his first attempt at becoming a district judge.
He hopes to repeat that magic next year, as he is planning to run for another term as the judge for District 278, which includes Madison, Leon and Walker counties.
“There are two courts in this area; Judge Donald Kraemer has Madison, Walker and Grimes counties,” Ridley said. “I can’t say enough about the support I got from the people of Madison County.”
Ridley said that he had actually lost Walker County by 100 votes, but because he took Madison County with a 200-vote margin, he won the seat.
“I’ve really enjoyed serving the people here, and I will continue to try to make sure that the people here get justice in my courtroom, and to do it expeditiously,” he said. “There’s nothing worse than filing a lawsuit, and two years later you’re only mad at the whole process.”
Before becoming a judge, Ridley taught for two years in the Business Department at Sam Houston State University. He then I went into a law partnership with Bill McAdams in 1983, and six years later was in a solo practice. For 10 years, he also was an armor officer in the National Guard.
He has been married to his wife, Janet, since 1974, and the couple have three children and four grandchildren.
“I did a variety of things,” he said. “I did a lot of criminal law, family law, civil law, personal injury, all the things a solo practitioner in a small town would do. It gave me a well-rounded knowledge of the law.”
Ridley said he likes to keep the dockets moving, as well as tried to be fair and impartial, in his two years on the bench.
“The one thing I’m passionate about is people coming to jury duty, and I always give a big speech for people who show up to impress on people how important it is to participate in the judicial system, because it’s really the only branch of government where jurors make decisions,” he said. “It’s not like the legislative or executive branches, where all there is is your vote.
“I’m a huge believer of trial by jury, and the other branches have tried to whittle away at that, but if we ever lose it, we’ll be in trouble,” Ridley said.
It’s no surprise that Ridley thinks the legal system in Texas, and people’s access to the courts, works very well; however, he thinks there is some interference from the other branches of government.
“For example, if you build a new home, there’s laws on the books that prevent you from going to court immediately if there’s a dispute with a builder,” he said. “There’s other laws that mandate cases go to federal court, or mandating different intermediate procedures, all in the name of stopping frivolity, saying lawyers are getting rich off of this. I say if lawyers are getting rich off of a case, there’s some merit to it, and that’s where I feel the Legislature has lost its way.”
In order to make the court system work at its best, Ridley said that everyone needs to participate in the system.
“We have government by the people, and in the courtroom, it’s government by the people,” he said. “The legal system is not something that’s done to you, but done with you.”
Currently, Ridley is unopposed, but filing for next year’s primary election doesn’t begin until Nov. 11 and concludes Dec. 11.