Changes From the Bench: Conversations with Judge Tameika Carter and Judge J. Christian Becerra

By Courtney Hopson –

Judge Tameika Carter

Judge Christian Becerra

Recently elected to the bench in Fort Bend County assuming office in January of 2021, both Judges Tameika Carter and J. Christian Becerra are passionate about serving their community, and they both have something in common:  they are trailblazers in their respective courts as first judges representing their respective cultures.  We spoke with both of the judges to learn who they are, what’s important to them and the impact they have had while being on the bench.

Judge Tameika Carter, 400th District Court

Judge Tameika Carter was elected as the first African American Judge of the 400th District Court in Fort Bend County in November of 2020. Born and raised in Oakland, California, her personal testimony is what brought her to Texas to study law at Texas Southern University. Carter served as an Assistant District Attorney where she was able to serve as the Chief of the Mental Health Division, which is an intense passion of hers.

Judge J. Christian Becerra, 434th District Court

Alongside Judge Carter for our conversation is Judge J. Christian Becerra. Becerra has dedicated his life to serving the community, and he is the first Hispanic Judge of the 434th District Court in Fort Bend County, where he was born and raised. He is passionate about protecting his community by actively fighting for liberty and justice while keeping mental health a priority.

Q:  What brought you into law?

Judge Carter: “Personally, being affected by the system as a child, I have always had an emphasis on reformation. I saw the disparity and the treatment in the court system, and I knew that change needed to happen. These are real people with families who suffer because of their loved ones. I want everyone to be treated fairly, because they have families that are impacted by their decisions.

“As a prosecutor I knew the impact of my abilities and that transpired to my position on the bench. There is no reason why we are still doing things the way they were twenty years ago. These cases are real people with real families and having personally experienced family members incarcerated, I wanted to do things differently. I don’t care about your background or where you’re from; my number one principle is that you will be treated fairly in my courtroom. People make mistakes, and sometimes, we must look at more than what is on paper.”

Judge Becerra: “I never expected to be in this position. I was born and raised in Fort Bend, and this county means absolutely everything to me. I come from a big family that is still here. I wanted change. There is no reason why defendants were waiting seven plus years to go to trial and fight their cases. This is something that I needed to do. I saw a need, and I love my county, and I wanted to do everything I could to better serve them.

“As Judge Carter said, it became about numbers and not seeing these cases as actual people. My goal coming into this is to change this broken system. Nothing was working. We needed a working system for the people of my community, and I will do anything I can to make that happen. I absolutely love what I do, and I know in my heart this is my purpose in life.”

Q:  What were some of the biggest issues you have seen being on the bench?

Judge Carter: “Cases were moving painfully slow. The county was growing, but everything was stuck in ‘this is just how we do things.’ I wanted to be a part of the change and growth, especially during the time of COVID. There is a misconception about Democratic judges not caring about public safety, which has always rubbed me the wrong way. I am a member of this community, and I want myself, as well as my family and friends who live here, to not live in fear and to feel safe. If someone is truly a threat, then yes, they deserve the consequences that are coming to them. However, if there are rehabilitation options for them, and they aren’t a threat to society, they deserve the chance of rehabilitation.”

Judge Becerra: “There hasn’t been any change here since I started as an intern in the District Attorney’s office in 1996. Cases were taking years to go to trial. The whole statement that we’re soft on crime is ridiculous. We take the time and give the attorneys their time to build their cases, so we can evaluate the entire case. We sit as impartial judges, and our job is to weigh all of the evidence to find the best course of action for every individual defendant. It is our responsibility to not only look at the facts but the entirety of the person and their case.”

Q: What innovative changes have you both brought into the system?

Judge Carter: “We worked. We couldn’t open trials as soon as we sat on the bench due to COVID. There were so many things we had to do to get approved to go back to having trials. Once we started having trials, our numbers started moving. We have the best numbers, because we were working. As simple as that sounds, all we really did to increase the dockets was work.

“We also started a drug court program to provide offenders the resources to get clean and live their lives while remaining out of the system. It’s hard to fight addiction and get off that cycle. You can’t expect everyone to just make a change because you put them on probation.

“When you’re blessed, and in a position to give back, it becomes our responsibility to show people you can break the cycle, make it out and live a positive life. I love talking to kids in underserved communities to let them know they can make it out.  We’re here to do a job, and we have a responsibility to the entire community. There is nothing more rewarding than seeing these offenders get clean and these families be able to get their loved ones back. To unify families and see the changes of offenders – it makes everything we’re doing worth it.”

Judge Becerra: “People are struggling with mental illnesses and don’t have the support or resources to get help. We have a mental health court program, which is growing. Our program helps get offenders on a regulated medication schedule and have someone supervise them to provide the support that they need. Everyone is working to make these people successful. We hosted a graduation two weeks ago and to see the impact that this program has had on these people was such a beautiful thing.

“There are many people who are dealing with mental health illnesses, and instead of getting the resources they need, they usually turn to drugs, which increases these crimes. If we can deal with the cause before it happens, we can potentially avoid these offenders from committing these crimes. If we can help these people become positive members of society, we can prevent them from going to the penitentiary in the first place.

“Good people make stupid decisions, and it’s our responsibility to hear the facts from both parties and give these people a fair trial. I made mistakes in my past just like everyone else, and I believe everyone deserves a second chance. It starts with us. We both work in the community and talk to different organizations to truly make an impact and the numbers show it.”

Q:  How do you manage your work-life balance?

Judge Carter: “Family is extremely important to me. Although all my family is back in California, I live here in Fort Bend County with my husband and my 10- and 11-year-old. I am here at court all day, but I do my best to monitor my time between work, family and the community. My gym time is also very important to me, that’s my stress relief. I give that hour to myself where I decompress and really carve out that time to take care of me. I underestimated the weight on some of the decisions we make.  When someone’s life is in your hands, and you must sentence them to 30 or 40 years in prison, it makes you think and can keep you up at night, even when the sentence is justified. These are still people who have a mother, father, sometimes kids themselves. I truly care about what I do, so it impacts me, and I pray for strength to do what I do.”

Judge Becerra: “I have three daughters, all college graduates, who live in the area, so I get to see them often. I am everywhere all of the time, but I love it. I am tied to this community, and it means a lot to me, which is why I take it so personal. Sentencing someone to life, even when its warranted, weighs on you. Being in the position I’m in has brought me closer to my faith and my church. I wake up at 4 am every day to run and get all that out before I get on the bench. Sometimes it’s a lot to take in, and you have to have that relationship with God and the support from your family at home. My wife is the champion of all champions, and she does things that allow me to take on the world every day. I plan to do this until I can’t do it anymore, and I feel so blessed to be here.”