Judge Jenny Rymell

Judge Rymell Cracks the Glass Ceiling

By Adam Karp

 

Judge Jenny Rymell went from television personality to first local woman on the bench, all in a space of just over ten years. How did she accomplish this amazing feat?

Her career path, after studying the law at St. Mary's School of Law in San Antonio, included stops as an Assistant Parker County Attorney and Assistant General Counsel of the Texas Bar Association. In this last post, while cracking down on professional misconduct, Rymell took to the public access airwaves as host of In League, a monthly Fort Worth cable network telecast in which participants grappled contentiously with issues ranging from local to national concerns. Once she had developed her cachet as a television personality, Rymell was the natural choice when there was an opening for a Fort Worth municipal court judgeship. But she didn’t stop there. On January 2, 2003, she became the first female civil county court at law jurist in the history of Tarrant County, Texas--a jurisdiction of over one million people and home to Fort Worth.

From 1997 to 2001, Rymell disposed of over 40,000 cases and heard over 1,000 trials in municipal court (Texas's name for small claims court). In June 2001, Rymell resigned her seat to run for civil county court at law judge, as required by the Fort Worth city charter, but not before presiding over a first-of-its-kind forum in the state of Texas. Given her specialty as a juvenile law instructor at municipal court judge schools, Rymell wielded the gavel in Fort Worth’s truancy court, institutionalizing the court for wayward youth.

From June 2001 through November 2001, Rymell was the consummate politico. She learned how to allocate funds to pay for name recognition blitzes. Also, for five months Rymell ate virtually no meal privately because of the large number of groups she was addressing at breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. The most critical campaign strategy for Rymell—who defeated a male 48-year-old attorney in the Republican primary by a margin of 12 points, and then bested another 48-year-old male attorney in the general election by a whopping 24 points—was doorbelling.

Working five days a week, Rymell personally visited over 6,000 Tarrant County households, devoting about 70 percent of her waking hours campaigning and schmoozing. Nevertheless, she still found time to preside as assistant judge for Richland Hills municipal court. Rymell's election was a strong mandate from the people of Tarrant County, with 60 percent voter turnout in the general election, or more than 700,000 votes cast. (Part of the high turnout was credited to the Tony Sanchez-Rick Perry showdown--the most expensive governor’s race in the history of the United States.)

Rymell's metamorphosis from municipal judge to county judge included a dramatic change in caseload dynamics: her dispositions decreased from 10,000 a year to just over 1,000; the cases she heard shifted from largely criminal misdemeanors to small claims matters under $2,000 and civil suits between $500 and $100,000; and the people she saw from her bench changed from adolescent pro ses expecting "Judge Judy"-style groundings and grown-ups eager for effacing dressing downs by "Judge Joe Brown" to attorney politesse and a more sophisticated level of managed turmoil.

Rymell's remarkable feats include such accomplishments as her selection as Director of the Year for the Texas Young Lawyers Division (1997–98); President of the Fort Worth-Tarrant County Young Lawyers (1998–99); Chair of the Board of the Texas Young Lawyers Association (2001–2002, managing some 23,000 attorneys); Assembly Speaker for the ABA Young Lawyer Division (2001–2002); ABA State Bar of Texas Young Lawyer Division Delegate (2002–2004); and the Texas Lawyer’s nomination as one of the 40 Outstanding Lawyers under 40. All this by the tender age of 36.

When Judge Rymell runs for her second term in 2006, although she may no longer qualify as a "young lawyer," she will continue to exude her youthful spirit and exuberance–her trademark along her successful path from general practice to judicial stardom.


Adam Karp is a solo practitioner of animal law and collections in Seattle, Washington. He graduated from the University of Washington with a J.D. and M.S. in statistics. He founded and serves as chair of the new Washington State Bar Association’s Animal Law Section and is adjunct professor of Animal Law at Seattle University School of Law.
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