Christine Weems of Spring was a personal injury attorney for 18 years. She won the election for judge of the Texas District Court 281 in November, becoming one of the first two Vietnamese American judges ever elected to the bench in Harris County. She owns a local theater company, Cone Man Running, and acts in, writes, and produces plays. She’s a mother to three children. Oh, and she runs two half-marathons a year. Feeling not at all inadequate, Houstonia called her up for a chat.
Why did you decide to run for judge?
I just happened, a couple of years ago, to try a case in front of a judge who I thought made some questionable rulings. I found out that that judge had never tried a case before taking the bench. That’s actually a lot more common than you realize, because we elect judges. I’ve always been the kind of person who, when I see a problem, I try to fix it. I can’t in good conscience complain about the fact that experienced lawyers don’t run for judge if I didn’t at least try to run myself. It’s like people who complain about the president but didn’t vote.
What was it like running a political campaign for the first time?
It’s very stressful, because you don’t know enough to know what’s important and what’s not. You stress about everything; you have to accept the fact that you can’t go to everything. Even when people with experience are telling you, well, don’t worry about that, you can’t help but be like, what if? I kept telling myself, if I lose my primary campaign by less than 2,000 votes, that’s on me.
How did you get into theater? Did you do it in high school?
Not at all. I was very shy. I had a lot of difficulties speaking in front of people. It took mock trial in college for me to get over my stage fright—I played a police officer, I played a grieving grandmother, I played someone who slipped and fell. It’s fun. When you graduate from law school, you start realizing that you just don’t go to trial very often. You don’t get the theatricality of presenting a case. So I auditioned for a play at Theatre Suburbia, and I got cast as the lead, not having ever done a play before. Then I just did an endless stream of plays, like 10 shows in a row.
How did Cone Man Running come to be?
We know so many people who are playwrights, and it’s just so hard to get original work produced. We wanted to give people those opportunities. We do a lot of regional and world premieres.
How does it feel being one of the first two Vietnamese people elected to the bench?
I still can’t wrap my head around it. I find it so hard to believe that in a county as large as Harris County, with a large Vietnamese population, that it hasn’t happened before. I’ve represented a lot of Vietnamese people. I know that for them, and for all my clients, it’s intimidating to consider being part of a court process where you feel like you’re not being represented. There’s nobody like you up there. Jason Luong—the other Vietnamese judge, a criminal district court judge—and I are both very excited about the prospect of Vietnamese people seeing representation, people like them on the bench, and maybe being less fearful of the process.
Does that up the pressure on you?
No. At the end of the day, I don’t want to be known as the first Vietnamese American judge to sit on the civil district court bench. I want to be remembered as a really good judge—that people thought I was fair, that their clients got a fair shot in my court.