Even as she was donning her cap and gown at her graduation from Orangefield High School in 1994, Courtney Burch-Arkeen knew that she wanted to work in the field of law.

“No one else in my family is a lawyer,” she said. “But, I knew that I wanted to work in law. When I left for the University of Texas, I wanted to work in the state capitol. And, while working on my undergraduate degree, I worked for State Representative Ron Lewis.”

Last week, the state senate confirmed that Burch-Arkeen will now don a new black robe — as the 128th District Court judge.

Former district judge Patrick Clark retired from the bench, leaving the position vacant. The position will once again be up for election in 2012.

“I know that at least six applicants applied,” she said. “It has been a life-long goal of mine to become a judge. When I found out I was elated and excited.

“I’m very eager to take on this new challenge.”

Burch-Arkeen has been practicing family, criminal and civil law for the past 11 years, but says that she got her first inkling for the courtroom while in the classroom at Orangefield High.

“I excelled in speech and debate in high school in my junior and senior years,” she said. “I was also on the first mock trial team to go to state competition in Dallas.”

And, even today, Burch-Arkeen is leading the way in firsts, as she is the first female district court judge in not only Orange, but for the entire surrounding Southeast Texas areas of Jefferson, Newton and Chambers counties.

She is also the first Republican judge in Orange County history, according to County Clerk Karen Jo Vance.

“I plan on running for reelection in 2012,” she said. “We’ll see how it goes. I’ll have 20 months to prove to the people of Orange County that I can do a good job.”

After graduating from the University of Texas in 1997 with a dual major of sociology and government, Burch-Arkeen went to the University of Houston Law Center which she graduated from in 1999. Upon passing the bar exam and receiving her license in May of 2000, she joined Larry Hunter’s law practice in Vidor as an associate and worked up to partner in 2003.

“I learned from Larry (Hunter) to always be prepared,” she said. “And, former Beaumont attorney Elizabeth Petit taught me to always be compassionate. I always wanted to seek out advice from other experienced lawyers. Now, I try to pass on that advice by mentoring younger lawyers coming into the field.”

Being married to Cody Arkeen for the past four years, Burch-Arkeen said one thing that has greatly changed her perspective on family law was the birth of their son, Paxton, now 18 months old, as she was able to see things from a parent’s perspective.

“It is so easy to pass judgment on someone’s parenting skills when you don’t have children,” she said. “When you are actually in that situation, you realize that you can’t just generalize each family situation. You have to look closely at the facts and do what is best for that particular family.”

Burch-Arkeen will make her move from her practice in Vidor to the 128th District Court office in Orange sometime in the next three weeks and is anxious to get to work.

“As a lawyer on this side of the desk, I just always wanted a judge to treat me fairly and not show favoritism in a case and I can honestly say that I have always been treated fairly,” she said. “I want to be that kind of judge, one that is fair and reasonable. My colleagues and fellow judges have all been very supportive of this new appointment and I hope to have the continued respect of my fellow lawyers while in this position.”

Burch-Arkeen said that she passes on what she received in mentoring to young lawyers today by telling them to work hard, be prepared and thoroughly done with their research by the time they get to the courtroom. What others have done for her she wants to pass on and do for others.

“Helping people,” she said. “It is what gets you there.”