Naked City

McCown Leaves the Bench

State District Judge Scott McCown -- arguably Travis County's most outspoken jurist -- will leave the bench Sept. 20 to become the executive director of the Center for Public Policy Priorities, an Austin think tank that complements his advocacy interests on behalf of abused children, low-income families, and poor school districts. "I've been on the bench for 14 years and I'm ready to leave," he said. "This new job marries all my interests."

Few were surprised by McCown's resignation announcement on Monday. Last year he applied and was a finalist for the executive director's post at the Texas Dept. of Protective and Regulatory Services, but didn't get the offer. At the same time, McCown, 47, had placed himself in the running for the administrative judge position -- the top spot in state district court. Perhaps sensing that he lacked the full support of the other judges, he withdrew his name and the job went to Judge John Dietz.

Travis Co. Democrats wish McCown well, but they also wish his resignation had come in time to send up one of their own to serve out the remaining two years of his term. Because he'll leave the bench before the November election, Gov. Rick Perry will appoint McCown's successor, likely a Republican. McCown said he informed his future employer of the sticky timing issue while he was under consideration for the job, but it did little to expedite the process.

McCown's departure will create a huge void at the courthouse, his colleagues say. "He is a workhorse," said one. "He pulled beyond his weight and was really a force to be reckoned with on the bench. But he was also at the age where you decide to become a lifer on the bench, or you do something else ... a lot of judges retire to become mediators because you can make a lot of money. But with Scott, it ain't about the money, it's about the kids." Frustrated by his limitations from the bench in child welfare matters, McCown made waves in 1998 when he petitioned the Legislature and then-Gov. George Bush to make drastic improvements to the state's failing system of dealing with abused and neglected children. The judge's actions prompted the 76th Legislature to pony up an additional $200 million to hire more caseworkers.

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Scott McCown, Center for Public Policy Priorities, John Dietz, Rick Perry

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