by Emmery Raw
Catherine Crier was elected the youngest state judge in Texas in 1984 in addition to serving as a civil litigation attorney, Felony Chief Prosecutor, and Assistant District Attorney. Crier now serves as an anchor for Court TV News. Crier has received numerous awards, including an Emmy from her work “The Predators” which covered mistreatment and violence in nursing homes. During her career in journalism, Crier has worked for CNN, ABC, and Fox News and currently hosts Catherine Crier Live while also working as the Executive Editor and Legal News Specialist for Court TV.
Catherine Crier is the author of the New York Times Bestsellers The Case Against Lawyers and A Deadly Game:The Untold Story of the Scott Peterson Investigation. Crier is passionate about defending America from the extremes of the right wing. She expands on these ideas in her book Contempt:How the Right is Wronging America.Crier is an independent voter who argues for middle ground and the ideals of America’s founding fathers.
You have been extremely successful in your life. You were elected the youngest state judge ever appointed in Texas, won numerous awards for your journalism accomplishments, and wrote two New York Times Bestsellers. What personal characteristics would you most credit for your ability to accomplish what you have?
As a little girl, my parents would tell me, “There is no such thing as can’t”. That was a pretty powerful thought for a child. Years later, I moderated a seminar entitled “Courage to risk—Freedom to fail”. Those two statements sum up my personal attitudes about challenges in life. That and my inability to see over the hill, so fear of the future is somewhat obscured!
Your passion for justice is apparent, what were the key factors in your decision to study law?
I wanted to be a lawyer from the time I was a child. I have always had an extraordinary passion for justice. Like the boy who saw his mother flush his goldfish down the toilet and became a marine biologist, I have my reasons. But maybe something else drove me. My mother used to say “You’d argue with a post. You need a profession that will pay you to do that.” Guess I found it!
What unique challenges did you face being a young, successful, female judge?
I remember a young prosecutor telling me I should be out shopping rather than taking a job from some man who needed to support his family, or the senior partners at a civil firm where I interviewed, asking “If we hire you, what will we tell our wives?”, but by the time I ran for the bench, most of those conversations had disappeared (or I couldn’t hear them any longer). I do remember a law school classmate telling me I was only studying law to find a husband. I reminded him of that the first time he appeared before me in my court. I did it with a big grin. He, however, went quite pale. All I wanted as a judge was to be evaluated on the merits. Once you’re making rulings, the lawyers don’t have much choice.
The career path you have taken is inspiring, what influenced your shift from being a judge to a journalist?
I met a fellow at a Christmas party shortly after I was reelected for my second term on the bench. He was a former recruiter for CBS News. We talked politics all night; my pre-law study was international affairs, government and politics. He called a few weeks later and asked if I might be interested in hosting a political issues show. He thought one of the big ones was about to lose its host. I fell for it. We set up a camera in my living room, and I interviewed two friends of mine who recently had written books. He sent out the tape and within a month, I was doing pilots for two news organizations. Several months later, CNN offered me the evening news with Bernie Shaw. It’s my Schwab drugstore story!
What advice would you offer to those starting out in the field of law?
I sound old fashioned with this advice. Strive to be a counselor to clients. Advise them about resolving their disputes and minimizing their problems. Help them work out difficulties rather than run to the courthouse. Finally, hold on to idealism about doing justice, no matter how much the actual system will try to beat it out of you.
What or who was your biggest motivator starting out? As a child, I was enamored with Atticus Finch (what future lawyer was not?)
Later, my first boss, legendary Dallas District Attorney, Henry Wade, was certainly the motivator. Judge R. T. Scales (yes, that was his name), was justice personified. Later, Gail Evans, the head of programming at CNN, took me under her wing, but I always kept my law license in my back pocket, figuratively speaking, so I could return to the practice if need be.
Obviously being a an Assistant District Attorney, Felony Chief Prosecutor and State District Judge have influenced your journalism and writing successes. Please tell me about how this foundation influenced your later endeavors.
Years in the field of litigation are good preparation for anyone wanting to use organization, rational thought and (aggressive) argument to pursue issues, goals and ideals. I have witnessed many social and legal injustices. My political activities have shown me many others. I have no doubt that this foundation gave me the courage to speak out about issues that concern me. My passions have been consolidated in the field of journalism, and this prior experience has helped immensely.
Congratulations on both your New York Times Bestsellers, The Case Against Lawyers and A Deadly Game. Please tell me what prompted you to write your latest, A Deadly Game?
During the Scott Peterson case, I was leaked an amazing amount of material. The case captured the attention of the nation, yet so much would never come out during the trial process. I realized I had to write a book that would give people a truly inside look at this murder investigation.
Of your many awards and achievements, which was the most impacting for you?
Another saying I remember from earlier years is essentially, “What have you done for me today?” When something wonderful occurs, an award or recognition, my first thought is, “what next?” Time to move on. I must admit that when my first book, The Case Against Lawyers, hit the New York Times Bestseller list, it was a truly exhilarating experience. This was ’my first child’, and this book really sums up who I am, and what my personal philosophy is all about.
Please tell me a little about your motivation for your last book 'Contempt: How the Right is Wronging American Justice'.
I am devoted to this amazing justice system handed down by our founding fathers. I have been horrified to see the politicization of this institution. When the far right attempted to thwart every legal step during the Terri Schiavo case, I decided to write Contempt. I wanted people of all political persuasions to understand what they were endangering by using elected officials to manipulate the court system for political gain. This fear has not diminished.
You have expressed that you see our country shifting from the intentions of our founding fathers, what do you see as the most prominent alteration?
The Rule of Law was meant to insure that all Americans were protected within our justice system. In Contempt, I addressed attacks on the judiciary. In The Case Against Lawyers, I talked more about how lawyers, lobbyists and legislators were abusing this principle for their own benefit. Those who can make, manipulate and selectively enforce the law can become ’King George’. If we do not return to a democracy designed to serve all the people, we will abdicate to an oligarchy. If we do not recall the broad guarantees of rights for a diverse population that reside in our Bill of Rights, we may verge on a theocracy.
What do you see America looking like if the Far Right takes over?
If any religious or philosophical group were to rewrite the Bill of Rights we would be in serious trouble. Democracy can be messy. Freedom is sometimes unruly. But it is spectacular in all that chaos. The Far Right has a clear vision of how they see this country, her people and our future. Unfortunately, it leaves little room for those who disagree with this group to express themselves. Tolerance is more than a shake of the head that some poor soul will go to Hell for not accepting its doctrines. Tolerance is the act of making room for different points of views and practices as an integral part of a single society. I wrote a ’modified’ Bill of Rights in Contempt that set out the changes I imagine if the Far Right succeeds in the political and judicial changes they are seeking.
What do you see as the key component in halting this occurrence?
People need to reread the Bill of Rights and Constitution. This Democracy is sustained not by elected officials, but by an active citizenry. As long as those documents are still in play, we can use the power of the ballot box to insure that our representatives respect and actively defend this system of government. If we, and I must include the media, refuse to wield the power granted us, we will get the government we deserve. The empowering of the executive branch in the last six years is of great concern to me. The Congress has abdicated its stated powers in many respects. The media has been cowed to some degree, and the judiciary is becoming increasingly politicized. I can only hope it is not too late to reverse these frightening trends. The vast majority of citizens are a tolerant, moderate people who do not condone extreme agendas from the far right or left. It would serve the country well if this ’Silent Majority’ would reenergize itself politically.
What book or project is occupying your time now?
I am writing a book on the Susan Polk murder case called ’Final Analysis’.This case was particularly intriguing because of the extraordinary psychological family dynamic. As a young girl, Susan became a therapy patient of a much older Felix Polk. She later became his wife. After twenty-five years of marriage, she stabbed him to death. She represented herself at trial wherein two sons testified for the State, and the third stood by her. Susan was recently convicted of second degree murder. This book is almost finished, and I have another political book in the making which I hope to have on the shelves by late 2007.
What is an important piece of advice you would give to Americans today?
Every American cherishes the dream passed on to us by the brave men and women that created this glorious experiment in governance. We must understand that there are no guarantees that this young country will forever reflect the amazing principles in our Constitution and Bill of Rights. We must be as willing today, as our founders were so long ago, to defend vigorously the freedoms we now so often take for granted. •