Denton County District Judge Margaret Barnes said she’s been at the right place at the right time, leading to her career in law that has spanned about 35 years.
Now, she’s in the right place and the right time in her life to leave the bench, see her children more and go on more vacations.
In the 2022 election, Denton County voters will choose a new judge to take a seat on the 367th District Court bench as Barnes, 62, won’t be running for the seat again. Barnes, a Republican who has sat at the 367th District’s bench since 2010, will start the next phase of her life come January 2023 when a new judge takes her place.
“I’ve been on the bench more than 20 years,” she said. “I’ve been a lawyer for a really long time. I don’t need to work for the rest of my life to prove anything. I would love to see my children more. … I want to take vacations. … My partner [Rich Hatler] is just the best thing ever. We are planning on having a great time traveling.”
She said Hatler has been an integral part of her success.
“He has always been my biggest supporter and best friend,” Barnes said. “During election seasons he shared his business skills to give me advice and feedback.”
Barnes, a Detroit native, moved to Texas and has lived in Denton County since 1983. Her two daughters, ages 30 and 32, live out-of-state and Barnes said she loves traveling internationally with them. At her Denton-area home, she has cows and two big, fat Labradors that she loves to walk. Barnes also likes to spend time at her local National Skeet Shooting Association club.
“I love Denton County and I just love Texas,” Barnes said. “The Square, unless anyone’s been there, they don’t know how cool it can be there.”
Barnes graduated from Southern Methodist University’s Dedman School of Law in 1985 and passed the bar exam in 1986.
“None of my brothers and sisters went to college,” she said. “My mom raised five kids. I just decided I wanted to work hard and I happened to be kind of in the right place at the right time. My former husband, his job moved him to Oklahoma City, so I started law school there. His job again moved him to Texas. I was lucky enough and had grades good enough to transfer and went to SMU Law.”
Barnes became an assistant attorney for the city of Lewisville in 1986. In 1999, Barnes said she was selected by then-Denton County Probate Judge Don Windle to be a court master, a position now called associate judge.
Barnes was appointed to the Denton County Court at Law No. 2 in 2002. In 2010, she was appointed by then-Gov. Rick Perry to fill the vacancy for the 367th District Court and has had the position ever since.
In the 367th District Court, Barnes sees a little bit of every kind of case.
“There is now one court that only does [Child Protective Services] cases, one that does family and one that does criminal,” she said. “The rest of them sort of take the rest.”
The ones that stick with her involve children, from the haunting stories of abused children to the wonder of adoptions.
“The Denton County Bar Association hosts an adoption day in November each year and it’s the happiest day of the year,” she said. “CASA [of Denton County] decorates the second floor of the courthouse and all of the judges get to do adoptions for families that are adopting CPS children.”
For much of her career, Barnes said she was in the right place at the right time.
“I always wanted to be a judge, but I didn’t know what it would take,” she said. “I was very happy when I graduated and then things started really picking up. It must’ve been some population, maybe a spurt or something, but the county kept needing to add additional benches. I was selected for probate court by a presiding judge, so that got me in the back door.
“[Being a judge] is a very prestigious thing,” Barnes said. “How I did that was probably a lot of luck and being in the right place at the right time to take advantage of the opportunity.”
Speaking of the right time, Barnes said she’s ready to come off the bench once her current term ends. Barnes was reelected in 2018 for a four-year term.
“I’m just not running [next year],” she said. “I’m looking forward to taking vacations and seeing my children. I’ll be working through December 2022.”
For those who will be running for her post, Barnes said her advice to them is to work hard and be kind.
“You don’t [get to] take a Thursday afternoon off to go golfing. There is a lot of hard work,” she said. “Everyone deserves the judge to be kind. Never lie to your client or to a judge. And it is an honor and privilege to have served Denton County.”