BRYAN, TX — As Judge Steve Smith has left the Brazos County 361st District Court to serve with the Tenth Court of Appeals in Waco a new, yet familiar face will be behind the bench in Bryan.
Brazos County Republican Party chair, and seasoned local defense attorney, David Hilburn was recently appointed by Gov. Greg Abbott to fill the vacancy, as Judge Smith left for Waco back in early September.
As a visiting judge has held Smith’s place in the interim, Hilburn felt compelled to submit his application for the spot. He will remain in this appointed position through the end of Smith's term in late 2022 unless elected to serve longer.
Hilburn said he has both prosecuted and defended Brazos County cases for the past 16 years. For many years, he's dreamed of donning a black robe and holding a gavel.
"I think what we need on the bench are people who are rational, who are cool-headed, and who are courteous to everyone who comes in front of them," Hilburn said.
Hilburn plans to fill the district judge role as one who is discerning; sensitive to defendants’ and plaintiffs’ specific, personal struggles while being a fair follower of the law. He said he will strive to reign in emotion and base his judgments on the facts and circumstances of case information presented to him.
"Sometimes, someone might have done a very bad thing, but when you hear the rest of the story about their lives, you may realize they are a good person that did a bad thing," Hilburn said. "Or, you may have a person who did a very minor thing. But you hear the rest of the story and realize they’re a horrible person who did a minor thing. Their punishment may need to be based not on what they did [the minor thing], but the rest of their lives.”
When Hilburn first came to practice law in Brazos County, he worked as an assistant district attorney with Shane Phelps, who now runs his own practice out of Bryan.
"David is an incredibly empathetic person and an empathetic attorney, but he also has the best interest of the community at heart," said Phelps. "You can see that in his other public service work. So I think he’s going to temper doing justice with compassion.”
In taking this judge position, Hilburn will close his practice, and retire his position as chair of the Brazos County’s Republican Party. Despite his strong political affiliations, Hilburn encourages the people of Brazos county that he will leave partisanship at the door when in the courtroom.
“You know, judges wear black robes a lot of times," Hilburn said. "The whole purpose of the black robe is a symbol. It’s a symbol that the person who is sitting as a judge is unbiased. Their feelings are hidden underneath that robe.”
Hilburn said he is not currently taking on any new cases and will assume his role as a judge once he has concluded the cases he is representing as a defense attorney.