Shannon Baldwin wants to be Houston’s first out African-American judge.
Go into it for the passion, not the money,” Shannon Baldwin says of criminal law. “You will never earn as much money as the time you put into it. But your passion will sustain you.”
Baldwin’s passion has not only sustained her—it has also earned her OutSmart’s Gayest & Greatest Award for Best Attorney this year. Baldwin, who’s raising a foster daughter with her wife, says she’s honored, and that being recognized by her own community is the highest compliment.
She recalls that she decided to become an attorney during her junior year of high school, after a government teacher took her class to see the Harris County courts through a program called Houston Open. As Baldwin sat in a jury box, one of the judges told the students that the courthouse was a place “for the people,” and that by working in the judicial system, one could change lives.
Baldwin was overwhelmed. Her teacher took an interest in her and helped her believe she could do whatever she wanted. “Make your mark, Shannon!” the teacher wrote in Baldwin’s senior yearbook.
In 1995, Baldwin began her studies at the John Marshall Law School in Atlanta. Unlike in high school, everyone there was a good student. She soon realized that if she was going to survive, she needed to step it up. “I took some knocks, but picked myself back up and graduated cum laude,” she says.
From the beginning, Baldwin was drawn to criminal law. “It’s a field where we really serve people,” she says. “No matter how bad the offense, everyone is still entitled to have their rights protected. They are innocent unless proven guilty. It’s also a service to the victim. If I give the best defense possible, that means the defendant won’t be able to appeal easily if found guilty.”
It’s not always a popular job, but Baldwin knows she’s making a difference. Recently, she defended a man charged with aggravated sexual assault. It was difficult to accept the case, but she worked hard, and as the trial moved forward the prosecution’s case began to fall apart. The wrongfully accused young defendant was saved from a jail term.
“The most important quality of a good attorney is empathy,” Baldwin says. “That takes you a long way. It’s a huge responsibility, but you also get the chance to change lives.”
After practicing criminal law for two decades, Baldwin says she’s ready to become a judge, and she’s running as a Democrat for the Harris County Criminal Court at Law No. 4 seat in 2018.
“We have a broken criminal-justice system,” Baldwin says. “A good judge follows the law and ensures that nothing happens in a court that violates anyone’s rights. But [the Harris County Courthouse] has not been a good place for defendants.”
Baldwin believes that Harris County’s current criminal-justice system is one of intimidation, and she wants to help transform this environment. She is ready to make her mark. —Brandon Wolf
Best Bank/Credit Union
Finalists: Amegy Bank, Bank of America, Capital One, JP Morgan Chase
Best Female Attorney
Shannon Baldwin (tie)
Phyllis Frye (tie)
Finalists: Patricia Cantu, Debra Hunt, Fran Watson, Clyde Williams
Best Male Attorney
Raed Gonzalez (tie)
Mitchell Katine (tie)
Finalists: SK Alexander, John Nechman, Dwane Todd, Jim Walker
Best Female Financial Planner/Advisor
Finalists: Felicia Flores, Janet Friedman, Britt Kornman
Best Male Financial Planner/Advisor
Bryan Cotton (tie)
Rick Dickson (tie)
Finalists: Shawn Kuehn, Mike Ryan, Travis Smith
Best Female Accountant/Bookkeeper
Finalist: Pam Moore
Best Male Accountant/Bookkeeper
Jason Doxey (tie)
Gary Gritz (tie)
Finalists: Greg Ault, Merlin Cavallin