December 20, 2023 626 PM
394th JUDICIAL DISTRICT — Last Tuesday night, District Judge Roy Ferguson — who represents Presidio, Brewster, Jeff Davis, Hudspeth and Culberson counties — announced on social media that he would not be running for a fourth term on the bench. “Overseeing justice in Far West Texas has been the greatest honor of my career,” he tweeted. “Next stop? Wait and see!”
Feguson has presided over a massive 20,000-square-mile district since 2012. His court handles a wide variety of business from felony criminal charges to family law and civil disputes. The district judge also fulfills administrative duties — Ferguson also oversees county auditors, probation departments and sets policy for lower-level courts in the district.
Judge Ferguson ended up in Far West Texas as part of a lifelong pursuit of improving access to justice. Just a few years after being admitted to the bar, he left the big city for Marfa in 1999 because he felt he could make a difference in an area traditionally underserved by the courts. “I wanted to go somewhere where I felt I had more of a personal ability to serve than in Houston with the other tens of thousands of lawyers,” he said.
When former District Judge Ken DeHart decided to step down in 2012, Ferguson decided to run for office. “It became clear that the best way I could serve was no longer going to be just the people that I represented but everyone who came into the system,” he said.
Over the past 11 years on the bench, Ferguson has been involved in a wide variety of projects: he currently serves as one of five Executive Committee members in the Texas Access to Justice Commission, which extends legal services to the poor in civil cases. In addition, he serves on the Texas Children’s Commission, overseeing the child welfare system, and the governing council of the State Bar of Texas Family Law Section.
He has also long been interested in the intersection of technology and the law — he serves on the state bar’s Computer and Technology Section council and the Judicial Committee of Information Technology, advising lawyers across the state on using technology in the courtroom and overseeing statewide e-filing.
Recently, he’s taken an interest in AI: he joined the state bar’s Task Force on Artificial Intelligence. “We’re working right now to create standards and recommendations to lawyers and judges for how to use — and protect everyone from misuse — of artificial intelligence,” he explained.
Ferguson has harnessed technology in more lighthearted ways, too — he’s an avid X (formering known as Twitter) user, alternating between cracking wise and educating the public about legal matters. He still identifies on social media as the “Lawyer Cat Judge,” citing an incident in 2021 where attorney Rod Ponton accidentally activated a filter during Zoom court proceedings that turned him into a virtual kitten.
Ferguson isn’t exactly sure about his next steps, or whether he’ll have to relocate from Far West Texas. “I’m going to wait and see what opportunities present themselves and then go from there,” he said.
He was proud of the legacy he would leave behind as a district judge. “When I ran back in 2011, one of my goals was to take a system where even the winners felt like the process was broken and failed and turn it into a process where even the losers felt like the system was fair,” he said. “We have put West Texas jurisprudence on the map for the very first time.”