Judge Taylor Heaton said he was a man of his word, and this refers to keeping the oath he took on Sunday afternoon.
Heaton was sworn into the new 475th Judicial District Court on New Year’s Day in front of more than 100 friends, family members, fellow judges, attorneys and other members of the community in the Smith County Commissioners’ Courtroom.
“The words of the oath to preserve, protect and protect are heavy words that many before me have sworn,” Heaton said. “I took the oath once four years ago, and I can tell you that this is a commitment to one of the highest callings in jurisprudence. I try to make very few promises, and by making few promises you ensure that you keep your word – that’s your top priority. I want to add my honesty to that promise.”
The Smith County native and Tyler resident previously served in his elected position as an Act 2 county court judge. Now Governor Greg Abbott has named him to head the new 475th court, which will hear felonies and juvenile cases.
“For the first time in 38 years, our district has adopted a new district court since the creation of the 321st District Court in 1985,” Heaton said. “The opening of this court is a blessing to our community and I am incredibly honored by this appointment. … I am honored to serve as your judge.”
While county and state leaders allowed the trial to become a reality, Heaton said a higher power did indeed make it possible.
“Make no mistake, I believe that an authority even higher than our governor is responsible for the appointment,” Heaton said. “He is responsible for everything in heaven and on earth.”
Ross Strider, Senior Pastor of Bethel Bible Church, agreed.
“You are here because God has appointed you as a servant, a minister of justice, a champion of truth, caring for what belongs to God in this community for His purposes, until and when the great day of his son’s return comes, in which when heaven and earth come together and Jesus, the supreme judge, will take his place,” Strader said. “I am grateful for the calling in your life, grateful for you and for the courage you have, for the humility you embody to follow God as He has called you.”
Smith County District Attorney Jacob Putman, who considers Heaton a great friend, spoke of the importance of the new court, which will be the county’s fifth district court and will open this month.
“Smith County has grown every year for decades and is projected to grow even faster over the next 10 years,” Putman said. “This growth comes in all shapes and sizes; it’s good jobs, industry, good news for our economy, but it also brings more criminal cases, more civil cases, more juvenile cases. It’s just the reality of our society… There will always be sin, there will always be crime, and it is growing with our population.”
Putman said the new court would allow prosecutors, judges and government officials to move cases more efficiently and effectively. County officials also believe the new county court will reduce the number of inmates charged with felonies and those currently awaiting trial. There are currently hundreds of inmates at the Smith County Jail awaiting criminal trials, and only county courts have the authority to hear criminal cases.
Putman said he believed in Heaton’s ability to handle the challenges ahead of him.
“This court will look at two different extremes: both people who need to be punished and people who need to be turned back and saved,” Putman said. “…I know Judge Heaton is right for the job, I know he’s ready for it, and I know that because I know his heart and what he believes in.”
Heaton and three others who spoke on his behalf at Sunday’s ceremony mentioned their faith and God’s hand in the Smith County court system.
“I believe that every person who goes on trial is terribly and wonderfully made,” Heaton said. “Every person who comes before the court has value and value, since God himself created us in his own image. This refers to the most guilty defendant in a criminal case and the juvenile, who is in the most difficult situation, because God created (them).”
He also talked about his fellow district leaders and elected officials and their values.
“Here in Smith County, you don’t have to follow your elected C-span officials to find out what their values are or who they are,” he said. “We are blessed here with some of the finest public servants you will ever find. They deeply respect the Constitution and the rule of law. We value our freedom, we will never forget what those who came before us cost.”
Heaton said that during recent interactions with other judges and officials from across the state, he learned more about how other counties operate and what their needs are. His biggest takeaway was, “What we have in Smith County is very rare. This is extremely rare across the state, across the country,” he said.
“After 16 years in the county in various capacities, I have come to believe that our local government here in Smith County is, has become, and will continue to be the best in the state, nation, and world,” he added. .
While thanking the leaders for their involvement in his nomination and all fellow judges for their mentorship, Heaton also thanked his wife Olivia and their three children Brandt, 13; Emily, 11; and Colleen, 7, for their support and love. He also thanked his parents and brothers.
Prior to his tenure in the District Court for Law 2, Heaton worked for over 12 years as an Assistant District Attorney with the Smith County District Attorney’s Office.
Heaton is a member of the Texas Bar Association. He previously served as President, Vice President, Treasurer, and Board Member of the Smith County Young Lawyers Association.
In addition, he was a board member of Smith County Habitat for Humanity and currently serves as a deacon at Bethel Bible Church. Heaton received a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Baylor University and a Juris Doctor degree from St. Mary’s School of Law.
Now with Heaton in her new role, Sarah Maynard will serve as an Act 2 Circuit Court Judge. She was appointed to the seat by the Smith County Court of Commissioners in a 3–2 vote.
Maynard was also officially sworn in this week, along with other judges and county commissioners.