Wise County lawyers feel the man behind the bench of the 271st Judicial District Court is top-notch – fair, thoughtful and impartial.
But they’re not the only ones.
Lawyers outside the county agree with that verdict.
Earlier this year, the Tarrant County Trial Lawyers Association (TCTLA) named Fostel the recipient of the Charles J. Murray Outstanding Jurist Award.
Although Fostel is the fifth recipient of the honor, he is the first judge outside Tarrant County to receive it.
“They could’ve picked a judge from Denton, Parker or any of the other surrounding counties, but they picked our very own judge in Wise County,” said Mike Simpson, who has practiced law locally since 1977. “Not only do we think he’s a great judge, I hear all the time from lawyers outside of the county who say Judge Fostel is the best trial judge there is. This award is evidence of that. He earned this honor by impressing lawyers outside Wise County.”
The association planned to recognize Fostel Saturday at its Annual Judicial Dinner Celebration, which honors civil courts judiciary in Tarrant, Dallas, Johnson, Parker and Wise counties.
“It means a lot,” said Fostel, who has served as district judge since 1995. “It means that attorneys from Tarrant County who have appeared before me feel like they get a fair trial in my court and that I run it soundly – which is what I strive for every day … I am humbled by it and probably not deserving of it.”
But those who work with Fostel disagree.
“As out-of-town lawyers [his court] is always a pleasant place to practice because Judge Fostel is always prepared,” said John Jose, president-elect of the TCTLA. “He’s read his motions, and he understands the law and the issue probably better than the litigants.
“No. 2, he runs a very efficent docket, and you can always expect to get a trial in a relatively short period of time, which is appreciated by all parties,” he continued. “And No. 3, you always know you’re going to get a fair trial. You’re going to get balls and strikes called fairly.”
Named in memory of a distinguished Texas trial judge in the ’70s and ’80s, the Charles J. Murray Outstanding Jurist Award is presented annually to a deserving federal or state judge who has served on the bench for a significant period of time and has exhibited an exceptionally outstanding reputation for competency, efficiency and integrity.
“When you look at the definitions and the principles of the award, you see why Judge Fostel is our selection,” said Coby Wooten, president of the TCTLA. ” … He’s one of the longest-serving judges we have. He’s never had an opponent from either party. In addition to being a good judge, he’s a really great guy.”
To select a recipient, the TCTLA board of directors opens the floor for nominations and discusses the qualifications and background of each candidate.
“Then the recipient of the award is ultimately determined by a majority vote of the board members of this organization,” Wooten said. ” … This award is a democratic award – not meaning politics, but the process itself.”
Fostel’s was among four nominations brought to the board this year.
“Once we got into discussion it was pretty obvious he was the top choice,” Wooten said. “It’s a testament to how well-respected he is.”
Although Fostel grew up in Irving, he has spent his entire career in Wise County.
“My mom grew up here,” Fostel said. “I always felt close ties. I never had the desire to practice in the city.”
Fostel earned an undergraduate degree from Texas Christian University and attended Texas Tech University School of Law.
After earning his license in 1973, he joined the the law firm of W.B. Woodruff, which later became the office of Woodruff, Fostel, Wren and Simpson.
In 1994, he was elected to the bench.
“From a courtroom perspective, he believes in the right to a jury trial and the sworn oath that attorneys take,” Wooten said. “That we as attorneys have to advocate for our clients – all of them, the good and the bad – and [we have] to protect the very rights most take for granted or don’t even know about until they need that very protection.
“[He believes] the process allows for protections or safeguards to guard against waste or bad practice, but that everybody should have a fair shot and access to the court system, a jury trial and verdict, either good or bad,” Wooten said. “That a right to have a jury of their peers determine their case is paramount to our United States system.”
“He exhibits all the things you’d certainly want to honor in a trial judge,” Jose said.