History-making Harris County court judges

HOUSTON (FOX 26) — Chances are you know plenty about Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. but do you know Maria Jackson and Darrell Jordan? FOX 26 News introduces you to two pioneering judges in Houston in recognition of Black History Month.

Yes, even in 2019, blacks are still making history. Take Harris County Criminal Court #16 Judge Darrell Jordan and Harris County 339th District Court Judge Maria Jackson. He's the presiding judge of the Harris County Misdemeanor Courts and she is the administrative judge over felony courts. For the first time, the two people holding those titles are both African American. 

“I think it’s great," says Judge Jordan. "Every day we're one step closer to achieving Martin Luther King's dream where people aren't judged by the color of their skin." 

"It's an honor to be in my position and during my tenure, I have rehabilitated and saved thousands of lives,” adds Judge Jackson, who has been on the bench for fifteen years.

One of the first changes Jackson made was cracking down on repeat driving while intoxicated offenders, making them check in at court more often.

“And I order the majority of the DWI offenders not to drive for the majority of their probation and to actually have a Breathalyzer with a camera and breathe into the breathalyzer at least three times a day." 

Sitting in her chambers, we learn that Judge Jackson actually considers herself shy.  

“Nobody believes me,” says Jackson with a smile.

Judge Jackson says she's also fair. 

“Everybody does not need to be sent away to prison and throw away the key," explains Jackson. "There are a lot of people that can be rehabilitated."  

Judge Jordan, who was elected in 2017, agrees. 

“If you have a person with a DWI and they go to jail for ten days, that doesn't help them with their alcoholism," says Jordan. "I try to encourage people as much as I can with my authority to change their lives. From the first day I got here, I've been fighting to make a difference, to follow the law and to do the things I raised my hand to do, swear and protect the constitution of the United States."  

Jordan also says he’s proud to be part of a new bail reform program. 

"It just started on Saturday," describes Jordan. "We passed a rule in early January where 85 percent of people arrested in misdemeanor court will automatically be released and they don’t have to pay any money." 

Judge Jordan says he wants to make sure that those who are in jail are sentenced to be there and not because they can’t afford bond. 

"Take somebody who perhaps was driving without a license," explains Jordan. "You leave their car impounded, that's incurring fees. They lose their job, they get evicted from their apartment and then 30, 45, 50 days later, they're released from jail and they have absolutely nothing.”

The judge says representatives from throughout the U.S. are calling about the program to implement it where they live.   

Both judges have tremendous success stories from ex-offenders. 

“In the late '80s, early '90s, I used to train and rehabilitate youth offenders and gang members," says Jackson. "Some of them are now teachers, nurses, coaches and ministers and they still keep in touch with me. I was at a department store and the cashier asked, 'Aren’t you Judge Jackson?' She said, 'You gave me probation and you told me to go out, get a job and change my life and I did." 

There’s one youngster in particular who said, "Judge Jackson changed my life. I wouldn’t be here if not for Judge Jackson." Who is he?

“He’s a young man who was labeled a habitual state jail offender," explains Jackson. "He had been in and out of jail since he was 16 years old. He had never been given a chance. I gave him a chance and he used it wisely.” Ten years after the young man was given that chance, he is a success story. 

In fact, after Judge Jackson gave him probation, instead of putting him behind bars, he is now holding a title that many people would recognize, but he’s keeping his past in the past and asked FOX 26 not to use his name in this story.     

Judges Jackson and Jordan are two history makers certainly worth learning about in any month. 

“It’s bigger than black history," says Jordan, who truly appreciates history and has framed pictures in his office of significant historical figures. "It's American history. I keep pictures of the late Congressman Mickey Leland who wanted to end world hunger, ended up giving his life, pictures of LBJ and Martin Luther King just as daily reminders of people who made ultimate sacrifices."