By Liza Bilich
This past summer, I was given the opportunity to be a part of the Dana Huffman Campaign for Judge in my hometown Frisco, TX. Dana Huffman is a lawyer, activist, and judge for those who call Collin County home. She has been practicing law for over 24 years in Texas and continues today as a mediator for family civil cases, probate, and helps with estate planning. As a woman, I wanted to know what made her tick, what got her into law, what made her want to be in a position of power, and what it means for her to be a judge in a community she calls home. Dana is a very active member of her community, so I was also interested in what her passions are and what drives her to give back to Collin County on a daily basis.
Q: Where did your interest in Law come from?
A: I always wanted an intellectually challenging career. I knew I didn’t want the typical 9-5 desk job where it wasn’t exciting, and things weren’t happening all around me. I thought Law would be right up my alley after I realized I loved speaking with people and hearing their stories. I am also a fast processor of information. I could think fast and come up with something to say very quickly, so I knew being in a trial setting wouldn’t be an issue.
Q: What does a typical day look like for you?
A: I don’t really have a typical day. However, I do start my day the same by looking at jail magistrates and going from there. I try to end my day with the non-profits I feel passionately about whether it be meetings, going to the organizations, or staying in contact with those interested, as I am on the board of two organizations in Richardson, TX.
After receiving background information on who Dana is and how she came to be, I wanted to dive deeper into what gender in the criminal justice system means to her. The criminal justice system is vastly overrun by male counterparts whether it be officers, lawyers, or judges like Dana. I wanted to know how she fits into the mix.
Q: How is it being a woman involved in the criminal justice system?
A: In my day-to-day life as a judge, I feel very respected in terms of being a woman amongst my male counterparts in the office. I haven’t been faced with many obstacles in court with people thinking I am fit to do my job or fit to be a tough judge that some cases need; however, it does depend on case to case how I am treated by those involved. In my past, I have been looked down on because I was a female judge by visiting attorneys or defendants. I can remember one case where cultural backgrounds were a huge factor. We have to accept that in some countries, women aren’t seen in positions like myself or women aren’t allowed to hold roles of power, so that came into play when I made my final decision in the case. In this case, the defendant asked to see my supervisor to make sure I had issued the correct and approved action, but I actually don’t have a supervisor; I am my own supervisor. I had to consider that culture could be a factor that separates our beliefs on people that hold power, so I had to approach the situation carefully. In the end, we were able to set apart our differences and see eye to eye on the issue.
Q: Can you elaborate on what you meant by visiting attorneys and their opinions?
A: I can remember a few instances where attorneys coming to my court for a case were not aware of the fact that I was the judge on the case before I took the stand. I was asked one time if I could retrieve coffee for an attorney, assuming he believed I was a secretary or intern in the courts system, but he was very confused when I declined and took the stand for the case. Overall, I do feel respected, but there are instances here and there where I feel undermined in my work because I am a woman.
Not only is Dana Huffman a judge and a self-practicing attorney, she is also a huge activist in her community involved in a wide variety of non-profits and organizations. Throughout my research and working with Dana, she has been involved in Women Organizing Women Democrats or WOW. I wanted to learn more about her involvement and how she feels being part of an organization that has not only endorsed her as a candidate but supported her efforts and respects her as a woman.
Q: Can you tell me more about your involvement in WOW and what that means to you?
A: WOW is a group of women who provide support and endorsement for those campaigning for office. I first attended an introduction WOW meeting a few years ago and I decided to join that day. I was very impressed with how full the meeting was. There wasn’t an empty seat in the house. I also quickly learned how supportive and active these women were in their communities. They are endlessly supportive of women running for office and women holding positions of power, no matter the industry. They were very vocal and inviting and I felt that even though I hadn’t joined yet, I could still voice my opinion and be respected. When they decided to endorse my campaign for running for judge, I was ecstatic because I love what the organization stands for and how they hold themselves in our community. I was very excited to get involved and become a part of something so great. You could say I am a huge fan of women supporting women.
Q: What other activism do you take part in in your community?
A: I have been involved heavily with animal rights activism for a good part of my life now. I got started when I found a stray dog in my neighborhood and contacted the Richardson Humane Society for further details on what to do. I am now on the board of the Richardson Humane Society and take an active role in promotion and helping people get involved in their local shelter or becoming an activist in other organizations. I also hold a board position for the rescue organization Take Me Home, along with actively foster[ing] dogs and having one of my own.
Finally, I wanted to speak to Dana more about her role as a candidate right now. She is involved in a wonderful group called the “Magnificent 7” who are like-minded individuals running for office in North Texas this November from all different backgrounds.
Q: Can you tell me more about the background of the “Magnificent 7” and what your involvement means to you?
A: Basically, we are a group of seven people running for office in 2020. We all come from very different backgrounds, but I think that’s what makes it so great. We wanted to be able to represent what our counties looked like: diverse in race, gender, and ethnicity. We support one another in our endeavors and often offer advice for our campaigning on what is working and what isn’t. I love working with them because we all have unique perspectives and ways of thinking so it is really beneficial to bounce ideas around and learn from one another. I think especially in today’s time, we want to represent all perspectives and give a voice to people who might not have one in their community or feel comfortable speaking out. We all try to be very supportive of everyone’s ideas and respect our differing backgrounds because that’s what makes politics so great in the first place.
Throughout my time helping Dana with her campaign, I have become aware of so many issues we still face today in the criminal justice system. Whether it be the number of women who hold positions or women having a voice in politics in general, there are so many areas to grow. However, I think Dana is the perfect person to show me that differences in opinions don’t always have to set us apart from people as long as we are supportive and open to everyone. Her role in the “Magnificent 7” illustrates her actively accepting differing opinions and viewpoints and not having tunnel vision. Her job of being a judge has opened her eyes to being a woman in power and what that means for girls today. She holds herself to a high standard, but sometimes, that’s what women have to do to be respected and seen on the same level as a man. She conducts her job every day with the utmost elegance and continues to show the importance of women in high positions of law. Her ideal of women supporting women is just a small window into her life of being a feminist. While being in a position of power can be hard, especially for a woman, she is always accepting of obstacles thrown her way and handles herself in situations in ways that I admire. She’s not just a judge, an activist, someone in power, or Dana herself; she is a feminist who is paving the way for women after her and certainly setting the standards high.