Q&A with Judge Shannon B. Baldwin

Shannon B. Baldwin

Judge | Harris County, TX

Shannon B. BaldwinTell us about your background. What are the experiences, including education, that make up the person you currently are?

I have been licensed to practice law since 1996. I am licensed in Georgia as well as Texas. I am a former prosecutor and defense attorney. I have conducted jury trials from traffic tickets up to Capital Murder. I am a former member of the U.S. Army Reserves where I enlisted at the age of 17 on September 23, 1987. I was commissioned as an officer in 1992. I graduated from Sam Houston State University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Law Enforcement and Police Science in 1992. I graduated Cum Laude from John Marshall Law School in 1995.

I am a member of the LGBTQ community and was the first African American Woman to run openly gay and now the first openly gay African American Female Judge in Harris County. As presiding judge of Harris County Criminal Court at Law, I was the first Local Administrative Judge over all of the Harris County Courts (civil & criminal) for 2 years. In addition to my regular docket, I run a SOBER court which is a special treatment court for defendants rehabilitating with alcohol addictions. I am also an adjunct professor for a law school and a paralegal school. I teach classes throughout the year. I was a foster parent for years and recently adopted my daughter whom I’ve had from birth. She is 4 years old.

What was your trigger moment and why this specific office?

For years the culture of Harris County was a stifling place for defendants. Many defendants felt compelled to plead guilty due to sustained incarceration without affordable bail and an expectation of defeat. The culture didn’t treat defense attorneys much better than they treated the defendants. It was not uncommon to be routinely disrespected by Judges and their staff. Granted this was not every court! But the culture was disrespectful and it was tolerated at every level. In one year, I’d experienced high levels of disrespect and violations of rights (in my opinion) to an unprecedented high. I listened and was disgusted hearing judges call defendants animals and thugs. The racial undertones were all I could take. I knew then, I had to run for office to see if I could make things better.

What made you feel qualified to run for office?

My 22 years of experience as a prosecutor and a defense attorney.

Do you work full-time or part-time?


Most people don’t know what their elected official does on a daily basis. What’s a typical day looking like for you?

A typical day starts with a review of and signing several court orders of various nature. Review and returning emails related to issues with defendant compliance to bond conditions. Then I begin my docket where we go through 100 or more cases per day. Some cases are new and require an arraignment (formal reading of charge and rights). Many cases require review for bond conditions and/or setting bonds. Other cases are reviewed for discovery/evidence receipt. Finally, many cases are set for jury trials or resolved by a plea or dismissal. After the docket, I review sign several other court orders, attend specialty court twice a month, and monthly committee(s) meetings. It can be long days but it’s all worth it.

Additionally, they might not know what their elected official is responsible for. What is your role in comparison to other elected offices on your level?

As a judge, my primary role is to preside over all matters within my court. The jurisdiction for a criminal misdemeanor court in Harris County is class A and class B misdemeanors. Those are cases with ranges of punishment up to $4,000.00 fine and a year in jail (class A); and up to a $2,000.00 fine and up to 180 days in jail (class B). I also hear appellate cases from municipal courts. I hear misdemeanor cases from arraignments up to and through their resolution which may include jury trials.

What do you think people would be surprised to know someone in your position does?

People would be surprised at how many committee meetings judges attend to maintain a voice in the administration of county business as it relates to the courts. Many routine administrative tasks can cross over into the courts in an inappropriate and sometimes illegal manner. Judges must be active members of committees as major stakeholders to insure courts remain independent and separate.

What are 3-5 skills needed to be successful in the elected office you served in/are currently serving in?

Litigation skills have been very helpful, judicial temperance, compassion, and humility.

What’s the best part about serving in elected office?

The difference I can make in a person’s life…sometimes a complete 180.

What has been the accomplishment you’re most proud of while in office?

Talking to students/children who visit the court.

In terms of finances, how much money did you have to raise for your campaign?

$10K approx.

What’s one piece of advice you would give to someone who’s thinking about running for the position you serve/have served in their community?

Be yourself.