A Life of Judicial Honor
Walking into the rather ordinary office with taupe colored walls would give no one a factual idea of the diligent life lived of its occupant, the Honorable Judge Michael W. Shuff. There are the shelves housing a myriad of books and walls decked with certificates, diplomas and the like but the ostentation one has come to assume is standard for a judge’s chambers is missing. Taking up a corner space on the second floor of the Orange County Courthouse, Judge Shuff is completing his public service duties by week’s end. On Feb. 14, the Orange County Commissioners Court accepted Judge Shuff’s letter for retirement ending a 31 year career in the judicial position.
For the Orange county Court-at-Law judge, his education started with his school days in Silsbee and continued with his graduation with a Bachelor of Science Degree in government from Lamar University in 1972. From there he obtained his Law degree from St. Mary School of Law in San Antonio. After a short stint there in private practice he moved back to Southeast Texas where he landed in Orange county as an Assistant District Attorney subsequently serving in that capacity 3-1/2 years before being appointed to the County Court of Law No.1 position in June of 1979. The appointment came to fill a vacated spot. He has run and won unopposed since that time. The Statutory Court of Law arena over which Shuff has presided these past 31 years covers legal issues from misdemeanors, divorce settlements and custody cases, juvenile cases, civil cases involving monetary amounts of up to $100,000, and estate probate.
Very relaxed and congenial and kicked back slightly at his desk, Shuff recounts various legal matters and court procedures. He is ready for retirement, but also admits he has been careful to watch the news, not become the news. “I am a public servant therefore a public figure so sometimes it can’t be helped.” Little doubt exists that when dealing with issues involving juvenile offenders, and general domestic disputes, tempers can flair at any involved in the case. When asked if any particular case stands out, Shuff shakes his head no but adds,” if you want to see the most negatives in human nature just look to the child custody or contested will cases. People can say anything in the heat of the moment, or use their children as tools in a fight.” Still, even in saying this he says people see their side as justified and it may be, proving he still strategically thinks in an unbiased manner when approaching subjects of judicial nature. This is what he has done for 31 years. It is what society wants from their judges, sincere fairness.
Shuff, when asked about jury trials and their outcome in the types of cases that came across his desk, says, “They almost always get it right. I can think of only a few cases where I thought the jury was possibly not quite correct. Of course there are legal means for appeal in those types of cases but I never once overturned a jury verdict.” Another legal term spills from his lips but done so just in a matter–of-fact tone no haughtiness or self-congratulations, simply facts gleaned from his memories of seating enough cases that he wore our four sets of judicial robes, “but probably thirty suits and I had more hair when I started out, “ he adds with a smile.
Retirement is by no means an end however. In one corner stand a driver and a putter. Golf? Yes. Fishing? Yes. Travel? Absolutely. After raising two children, one son and one daughter, travel will be a priority. He and his wife, of nearly 40 years, plan to take their travel trailer and see the United States.
“I don’t have any plans to travel over-seas, I just want to see this beautiful country.” Visiting their daughter on the west coast, where she is a financial analyst, is a priority. Their son lives closer, an attorney, in Houston.
“I am actually one of those who reads when I am in a museum.” He smiles again with a glint in his dark eyes and a dimple in one cheek. “When kids are small you can’t do too much of that kind of thing.” With the kids grown there is now more time to spend on his bass boat fishing up bragging rights with a close friend about who has the biggest catch.
Shuff recently purchased a digital camera to get the official brag captured for the sake of truth. With catch and release it was decided there would have to be visual proof, so whoever gets the biggest catch gets his picture taken before setting the fish loose to be caught another day.
A public servant done with 31 years of servant hood, Judge Michael Shuff, soon to be bass fisherman bragging champ, museum display reader, star gazing, RV traveler. And from his smile and his plans he will be ‘judiciously’ wise in whatever he chooses in the future as well as having been so in the past.