(Editor's Note: With the general election on Nov. 8 this is a conversation with Laura McClain, who is running for associate district judge in Garvin County. Next week the PV Democrat will feature a chat with incumbent Steve Kendall.)
With no plans to be an attorney and follow in her father’s footsteps Laura McClain later changed her mind when she realized it was just another way to serve people.
Now after decades in the courtroom on both sides of the aisle, McClain is making a push to be the next associate district judge in Garvin County.
She is in the challenger’s role as McClain is going against the incumbent, Steve Kendall, who’s served in the office for the past nine years, in a Nov. 8 general election.
McClain has been a practicing attorney for more than 30 years with the last eight as an assistant district attorney here in Garvin County.
You can throw in the fact McClain is fifth generation in Garvin County, graduated from Pauls Valley High School in 1982 and her father, Richard McClain, practiced law in PV before serving 14 years in the same associate district judge office she’s now seeking.
However, when flashing back to McClain’s youth she never had any intention of being an attorney or working to step into the role of judge.
“In high school I worked at the my dad’s office, bookkeeping, things like that,” McClain said, adding she was also a lifeguard instructor at Pauls Valley’s old swimming pool in Wacker Park.
“When I was in college I had no idea what I wanted to do.”
Instead, McClain’s interest was not in the law but physical education and recreation, which is what she studied in college.
“That was interest and passion – the service industry, helping people,” she said.
She later went to North Carolina to earn a master’s degree in recreation administration. After graduating she spent more than a year looking for a job up and down the east coast. The problem was not a lot of jobs were available back in the 1980s for the still new physical education and recreation industry.
“I wanted a path different from my family,” McClain said as her father and sister were both attorneys.
“I wanted to find my own path.”
McClain then turned her attention to law school and being an attorney when she realized she could still be able to serve others.
“It’s a helping profession. That’s how I see it, helping people solve problems, help them navigate areas they’re not familiar with.”
According to McClain, the most important thing about her many years as an attorney is learning “what you know and what you don’t know.”
“A good attorney figures out how to learn it and develop that skill.”
Her work in the DA’s office the last few years has focused much of her attention on trying to help kids.
That comes with the juvenile delinquent docket and graduated sanctions program, which is something McClain brought back a few years ago.
With graduated sanctions it’s a program meant to help Pauls Valley youngsters get through a process of education and rehabilitation, while also holding them accountable for their actions.
“If they succeed I don’t file charges on them. If they fail I file and we go to court. We’ve got to have accountability and consequences for these kids,” she said, adding there’s been a 72 percent success rate with the program.
“This is my passion, figuring out how to help these kids. One of the things I love about my job is that children and victims are important to me. The intent is not to punish; it’s to rehabilitate. I want to figure out how to fix these kids. That’s my focus. I want to encourage them to have a change of heart and decision making so I don’t encounter them as an adult. I want them to be law abiding citizens as adults.”
As for the adults and specifically victims in cases coming across her desk, it’s about helping them to be heard.
“I’m trying to help people who don’t have a voice,” she said. “You need to allow them to be heard. It may not be relevant but they’ve got to be heard.”
McClain says she’s thought about being a judge ever since she entered the legal profession.
“It’s been a goal of mine since I became an attorney. It’s the pinnacle of being an attorney,” McClain said.
“I’ve been on both sides; that’s critical. I’ve had the best example of what a judge should be – my father. As a judge you’ve got to help people solve problems. You’ve got to treat people with respect and guide them through the process.
“I’ve got a broad range of experience as an attorney and in my life. I tell people this is why I will be a good judge. I think my varied experiences will help me deal with and be equipped to be a good judge.
“I’m familiar with these various types of litigation. I’ve done just about every area of law to equip me to be a good judge.”
It’s even personal when it comes to seeking the associate district judge office.
“It’s silly and sentimental but that’s what my dad did. I feel like that’s where I’m best suited,” she said, adding the office is one that is able to focus on the needs of Garvin County.