Name: Dan Gus
Current position: Partner with Walker Sewell LLP
City of residence: Red Oak
Cum Laude Graduate of Boise State University with degree in political science
Magna Cum Laude Graduate of Boston College Law School
Professional credentials/certifications/ commendations (relative to office):
Licensed Attorney and member of the State Bar of Texas
Prior experience (relative to office):
Current partner with Walker Sewell LLP specializing in complex business litigation
Former in-house counsel and financial controller for a North Texas investment Company
Former Associate with Locke Liddell & Sapp n/k/a Locke Lord Bissell & Liddell
Family: Married to Amanda Spilsbury, five children: Jade, 2; Maya, 4; Hope, 10; Max, 11; Benjamin, 13
Hobbies: Basketball, vegetable gardening, reading good books, and spending time with friends and family
Campaign Web site:
QUESTION 1: In your own words, why are you running for district judge?
ANSWER: I am running for district judge to help solve a growing problem in the Texas court system. In Texas, we have experienced a loss of well-qualified judges and judicial candidates as they seek more lucrative opportunities in the private sector. This has resulted in a decrease in quality in the administration of justice in our courts. While I enjoy my private sector career, I increasingly witness cases in which judges struggle to correctly apply the law with impartiality. I have witnessed my clients’ frustrations as they see their interests harmed by poor administration of the law.
It has become such a recurring problem that I feel compelled to work to solve that problem by surrendering my law practice to become Ellis County’s next district judge. I can be a greater force for protecting people’s rights and holding the guilty to account as a judge handling hundreds of cases than as an attorney handling a smaller number of cases.
QUESTION 2: What is your experience in jury trials of felony criminal cases?
ANSWER: My practice has been focused on complex business litigation, so I have not tried felony cases. However, judges rarely have had trial experience in every area of law that comes before them.
In the 40th District Court, there is a substantial number of both civil and criminal cases, which are both very important. Fortunately, I am often hired to represent clients with novel and complicated legal problems that have required me to master new areas quickly and thoroughly. Thus, my demonstrated ability to handle a complex civil litigation practice shows that the felony criminal docket is well within my capabilities.
QUESTION 3: Would you say your legal experience is principally criminal or civil and what proportion?
ANSWER: My practice is devoted to complex civil litigation. I deal with some of the most complicated legal issues that have required me to perform at the highest level of the legal profession.
My cases require substantial legal research and writing and I have developed an extensive knowledge of the law that many attorneys do not have the opportunity to develop.
QUESTION 4: What is your experience in the type of civil jury trials heard in the 40th District Court, specifically title to land, employment, personal injury and contract?
ANSWER: The 40th District Court’s civil docket is primarily made up of large civil cases in which the amounts in dispute are in excess of $100,000. My legal practice has been devoted to handling large civil disputes. I have represented individuals, small businesses and Fortune 500 companies in complicated cases.
The types of cases I have handled have included multi-million dollar contract disputes, catastrophic accident claims involving both personal injury and property damage, termination of license agreements regarding the use of land, property boundary disputes, class action lawsuits, commercial insurance disputes, franchisor/franchisee litigation, securities litigation, and disputes regarding the control of privately-held corporations.
My experience in handling high stakes litigation will translate well into managing the demands and pressures of a full criminal and civil docket.
QUESTION 5: Do you endorse or oppose, and why, the concept of “jury nullification,” that is do you believe that a jury should be informed by the judge that the jury is free to disregard or ignore a law with which they disagree?
ANSWER: I am a staunch conservative who firmly believes in the rule of law because the consistent rule of law is the greatest protection of our lives and liberty. When we substitute the rule of men for the rule of law, then our rights and freedoms are placed in jeopardy.
I believe that the proper forum for making law is through the initiative process or through the legislative bodies made up of our elected representatives. If we believe that a particular law is unjust, then that law should be changed through those avenues. As a conservative, I want the courts to apply the law and not make the law.
Therefore, just as I do not want judges to ignore the law in favor of their own prejudices, I also do not want judges instructing jurors to ignore the law if they do not like it. I trust jurors to make the right decisions in cases and that they will do so within the confines of the law. Therefore, I will respect the verdicts rendered by jurors.
QUESTION 6: What changes, if any, and why, do you think should be made (in the administration of cases) in the 40th District Court?
ANSWER: Judge Knize deserves a lot of credit for his efficient management of the criminal docket in the 40th District Court. The data compiled by the Texas Office of Court Administration indicates that the 40th District Court performs very well in this area. One adjustment I would make would be to end the practice of refusing plea bargains if a defendant seeks an evidentiary hearing on a motion to suppress.
The civil docket has not received as much attention as the criminal docket. The data from the Texas Office of Court Administration shows that 76 percent of the civil cases in the Ellis County district courts take more than 18 months to resolve.
In this category, Ellis County ranks 253rd out of the 254 Texas counties. I will require attorneys in civil cases to submit scheduling orders early in the case that provide a schedule for bringing a case to trial in a timely fashion.
The time allotted to bring a case to trial will depend on whether the case is filed as a Level 1, Level 2 or a Level 3 discovery case. When a client hires an attorney to file a lawsuit, the client typically expects the attorney to move the lawsuit forward.
Thus, absent unusual circumstances, attorneys who fail to submit acceptable scheduling orders will risk having their cases dismissed for want of prosecution. This will help guarantee that civil clients receive the attention that their cases deserve. Summary judgment procedures are important tools to help move cases forward in accordance with the law.
If the law and undisputed facts clearly indicate that there are no fact issues that require a jury trial, I will grant motions for summary judgment on particular claims or defenses.
QUESTION 7: Do you believe that our courts in Ellis County should continue to specialize, such as continuing assignment of all felony criminal cases to the 40th District Court or should all cases be allocated among all the courts in Ellis County having jurisdiction?
ANSWER: I would prefer to transition away from our current system in which family cases are assigned exclusively to the 378th District Court and the felony and large civil cases are assigned exclusively to the 40th District Court. I want to maximize the use of the two courts we have, and I think the current system does not allow us to do so. Moreover, there has been talk of creating a third district court for Ellis County.
If that happens, the current division of labor must be changed to incorporate the addition of the new court.
QUESTION 8: What do you believe makes you the best qualified for the position?
ANSWER: I have an unrivaled range and depth of experience that comes from handling some of the most complicated litigation for clients with the highest expectations. To succeed in my work, I have had to perform at the highest levels of the legal profession.
I also have had the benefit of working with and against some of the best lawyers in the country. For instance, I recently argued a jury charge alongside one of our retired Supreme Court justices. The opportunities I have had during my career have allowed me to develop and demonstrate a mastery of the law that many lawyers never have the opportunity to develop.
Moreover, I have practiced before many different judges throughout the state and observed what works and what does not work when it comes to administering a trial docket.
Perhaps more important than my experience is the fact that I have the demeanor and temperament that a judge should have. While I will demand excellence, honesty and integrity from the lawyers who appear in the 40th District Court, I will also treat all parties with dignity, respect and patience. As someone who has invested considerable time in training younger lawyers, I will use my role as judge to encourage younger attorneys to perform with the professionalism to which their clients are entitled.
QUESTION 9: Do you believe the Constitution is to be interpreted in a manner consistent with what the framers intended.
ANSWER: I am a strict constructionist and I believe in applying the Constitution according to its original intent and plain language. I firmly believe that many of the systemic problems we have in our government today stem from the expansion of government beyond the limits envisioned by our founders. If we adhere to a strict reading of the Constitution, we will be better off.
QUESTION 10: What will you do to ensure criminal cases are handled in a timely and efficient manner to ensure defendants are guaranteed their right to a speedy trial.
ANSWER: As I mentioned above, Judge Knize deserves credit for managing the criminal docket so that most criminal cases are resolved promptly. I do not anticipate significant changes in that regard.
But we must be careful that the new judge will manage the docket to make sure that cases do not get off the track to a speedy trial. For instance, when one of the other candidates served as a judge, he allowed a misdemeanor defendant to remain in jail for more than 300 days awaiting trial on an offense that had a maximum sentence of 180 days.
The Waco Court of Appeals called that delay “presumptively unreasonable.” That case not only was a disservice to the defendant, it was a disservice to the taxpayers who had to fund the incarceration of the defendant for a length of time that was much greater than the maximum sentence the defendant could have served if convicted.
I will track every case on my docket to make sure that the prosecutors and the defense lawyers are moving each case toward a prompt and speedy trial so that the constitutional right to a speedy trial is defended and the taxpayers’ interests are protected.