Behind the bench: Brummett continues family legacy as Lubbock County Court judge
Tom Brummett stood between his wife, Christiana, and daughter, Mia, as he placed his left hand on a Bible, raised his right hand and swore an oath to serve as judge of County Court at Law 2.
As a prosecutor for nearly two decades, Brummett, 51, was taking on a role he's set his sights on before even going to law school.
"This has always been the intent. This has always been the purpose. This has always been the goal," Brummett said after his family helped him don his judge's robes at the end of his Jan. 3 investiture ceremony.
Dozens of Brummett's friends and family members packed into his courtroom to support him. He said the significance of the ceremony was not lost on him.
"At the back of your mind, there's also that voice that tells you the seriousness of this and the solemnity of it," he said. "That you have been entrusted with an amazing amount of trust to make decisions that impact people's lives."
Brummett was one of three newly-elected judges to be sworn in that day. John Grace was sworn in as judge of The 72nd District Court and Frank Gutierrez was sworn in as judge of the Precinct 3 Justice of the Peace court.
Mark Hocker, the judge of County Court at Law #1, served as the investiture ceremony's host and described Brummett as a very fine man and lawyer.
"It has been a pleasure to work with you from across the bench, and I know it will be an even greater pleasure to work with you as my newest colleague," he told Brummett.
County Court at Law 2 is one of three statutory courts in Lubbock County. It is one of two that deals with both family law, civil and misdemeanor criminal matters.
Though misdemeanors cases, which potentially carry up to a year in jail, may not compare to capital offenses or felonies in terms of severity of punishment, they are still serious, Brummett said.
"As a prosecutor I always rolled my eyes at this, when people go, 'Oh, something's only a misdemeanor.' And you're like, 'You know what?' Somebody that's been arrested from drunk driving, that's not 'only' anything to them. I guarantee you the victim of a domestic assault doesn't consider that's an 'only' anything. And for somebody that can go to the Lubbock County Jail for one whole year? That's not an 'only' anything," he said. "And so, it is serious."
Brummett said county courts at law are often the first many people step into when they face the criminal justice system, which gives him a chance to hopefully help guide people away from more serious crimes.
"This is an opportunity, hopefully, to get corrective behavior when it's needed at the ground level, before people have become hardened or gone past the point of being able to affect their lives and I'm very aware of that," he said. "So that seriousness is always at the back of your head."
Brummett, who was born in Lubbock and grew up in Corpus Christi, earned his bachelor's degree from Texas Tech and received his law degree from Indiana University School of Law in 2002.
He initially planned to work as a lawyer in the tech industry. However the dot-com bubble bust derailed those plans and he quickly pivoted to criminal law.
"(Criminal law) was an escape door because we didn't know what else to do," he said. "You gotta eat, you gotta pay your student loans now, right? So we came down to Lubbock, and I said, 'hey this is a good place for me to try and reach out since I'm from here."
He found a job as a prosecutor at the Lubbock County District Attorney's Office and handled misdemeanor cases in County Court at Law #2.
"Judge Drue Farmer is the judge that swore me in as a brand new, baby lawyer," he said. "(I) didn't know anything going on but in practicing in that court and being exposed to what happened and the older more wiser attorneys that came before me in there."
Brummett said he planned to work as a prosecutor to gain trial experience then start his own practice after about five years.
He stayed for nearly 20.
"I just fell in love with the job," he said. "And I went to my wife at one point and said, 'This is what I want to do for a living.' With the exception of being a judge."
Brummett moved up in the district attorney's office, prosecuting felonies and specialized in impaired driving cases. He led the prosecution of manslaughters resulting from drunken driving wrecks. He also served as the chief of misdemeanor prosecutors for 14 years, a role that helped him kept in close contact with the court he would one day preside over.
"I was able to pass on the lessons that I have learned to generations of other newer attorneys practicing there," he said. "Some of them may agree with me on that, they're in the courtroom, some of them may not but I always strove to do the best I can and to help them do the best that they could and those are the lessons."
He said Farmer and the judges he's practiced before showed him that a judge had to balance protecting the community from those who would harm it while protecting the rights of those accused of crimes, making sure they're treated fairly and consistently.
Brummett is not the first in his family to serve in Lubbock County's criminal justice system.
The West wall of the County Court at Law #2 courtroom is lined with portraits of past judges. One of those portraits is of Brummett's grand-uncle, Dudley Brummett who was the court's judge in 1976. Dudley Brummett was also the Lubbock County attorney from 1951-1954 and was the Lubbock County judge from 1955-1958.
"I walked past his picture every day down there on the second floor when I walk into the DA's office," Brummett said during his campaign speech when he announced his bid to run for judge of the court.
Hack Brummett, Dudley Brummett's father, and Tom Brummett's great-grandfather, was also a judge in Dickens County.
Brummett said he initially planned to run for judge when Farmer retired. However, in 2019, Jim Bob Darnell, then judge of the 140th District Court announced he was retiring and Brummett made his first run at public office and announced his candidacy for the bench.
That election turned into a four-way race that resulted in a runoff election between Brummett and Douglas Freitag, who now presides over the 140th District Court.
A year later, Farmer announced her retirement and Brummett, with one campaign under his belt, ran again. The race also resulted in a runoff election this time against Lubbock attorney Bob Nebb. Brummett won the runoff in May and was unopposed in the general election in November.
"I think there's no mistakes and everything happens for a reason and now I understand what those reasons were," he said. "This is not a consolation prize. This is not the silver medal. This is where I need to be."
This article originally appeared on Lubbock Avalanche-Journal: Brummett continues family legacy as Lubbock County Court judge