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Roy Sparkman earns praise, discusses role of faith in court

WICHITA FALLS, Texas (BP)–Roy Sparkman has developed a reputation as an honest, fair district judge who expects sufficient preparation from those who bring cases to his courtroom in Wichita Falls, Texas. Last fall, in the Texas Lawyer newspaper, he was portrayed as someone whose Christian faith helps him measure with a straight stick.

“I was a little surprised that so much of the article focused on my church membership, Christian background and concerns lawyers may have had concerning that aspect prior to my taking the bench,” Sparkman, a member of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee since 1998, told Baptist Press. “At the same time, I took it as a compliment that they believed I had lived my life in such a manner that they knew I was a Christian and sought to live by Christian principles.”

The article said Sparkman is a “bottom-line, big-picture person” who doesn’t want to waste anyone’s time in the courtroom.

“He runs a tight ship,” Stephen Bjordammen, a lawyer familiar with Sparkman’s style, told Texas Lawyer. “When he says 8:30 [a.m.], you need to be there at 8:30. When he says, ‘Let’s take a 10-minute break,’ it’s a 10-minute break.”

Sparkman, 53, was a trial lawyer for more than two decades and won the bench for the 78th district in 2000.

Stephen Briley, a lawyer in Wichita Falls, told Texas Lawyer he was concerned before Sparkman took the bench that he would not be fair because “he is a conservative, a Republican and a lifelong defense lawyer.” But his assessment changed after watching Sparkman at work.

“You get a fair shake in Roy’s court,” he said.

Once the article was published, Sparkman said he received feedback from several friends who agreed with the positive statements made about him. Some Christian friends appreciated the fact that his faith was included.

“I got the impression that some people were encouraged by the fact that a Christian could stand on principle, yet still make it in the legal world and be respected both as a professional and as a Christian,” he told BP.

Sparkman, a deacon at First Baptist Church in Wichita Falls, said the foundations of his faith were laid by parents who taught him the importance of daily devotions, church attendance and other keys to a close walk with God.

“I seek to have a quiet time daily, attend church regularly, teach a Sunday School class for newlyweds and pray daily for wisdom in the decisions I make,” he said.

As a judge, Sparkman often makes decisions that deeply impact people’s lives, such as which parent will be allowed to raise a child, whether someone will go to prison for the rest of his life or whether someone will experience financial ruin as a result of his ruling.

“In my mind, all of those types of decisions necessitate a foundation of values and a source of wisdom that is much deeper and more encompassing than what the world can offer,” he said. “Through the experiences over the years, the confidence and assurance that I have received through my faith and staying in the Bible and receiving regular Bible teaching have proven invaluable in going through difficult days, difficult challenges, difficult decisions and even sometimes attacks on my faith.”

Sparkman recalled an experience from his time as a practicing attorney when both sides had fought aggressively in court and his client had won. The opposing counsel then told Sparkman, “And I thought you were supposed to be a Christian.”

“That was a very personal attack to me, it hurt deeply, and yet I did not believe I had done anything ‘un-Christian,’ so I ultimately took it as a compliment that the lawyer thought that was the worst thing he could say to hurt me,” Sparkman said.

In 1992, a defeat after his first run for district judge caused him to rely even more intently on God, Sparkman said. The loss was public, he was mentally and physically tired, and he started immediately to second-guess and wonder why God would allow him to lose after he felt led to run.

“I still had my faith, but I found myself discouraged,” he told BP. “At that point, God brought me to Isaiah 40:31, ‘… but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.'”

Over time, Sparkman realized that the loss was in fact something positive because more time in private practice benefited him financially, he was able to accomplish some things professionally that he would not have done as a judge, and the path was cleared for him to run unopposed in 2000.

“Through that verse I was able to wait until another time and be renewed, and things worked out better than I could have imagined,” he said.

While he said he does not feel worthy of being made an example of, Sparkman acknowledged the need for more Christians in the marketplace, those who will stand up for Christ in the midst of a society that questions their faith — sometimes aggressively. And in light of the recent presidential race when the mainstream media chided Christians for their stance on social issues, Sparkman said it’s a great affirmation for Christians to see other Christians succeed in the secular world.

“In that greater context of where many Christians perceive our society and nation today, not so much as a compliment to me, but in general, I think Christians are very excited to see Christians that have managed to succeed in some challenging areas — like the legal field — but still maintain integrity and Christian principles,” he said.

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  • Erin Curry