Judge thanked for 18 years of service

Published 9:30 pm Monday, March 6, 2017

Former Dallas County District Judge Nathaniel Walker was honored Monday for his 18 years of service with a handful of resolutions in a packed courtroom at the Dallas County Courthouse.

He was presented with resolutions from the Fourth Judicial Circuit and the Bar Association of Dallas County, as well as the city of Selma, the Alabama Senate and the United States House of Representatives.

“I’m just humbled by it. It’s nice to know and pleasing and reassuring to know that somebody cared enough to stop and take the time to recognize the years I was in office,” Walker said. “When you do a job like this for so long and you’re in court all the time dealing with contentious issues, you think nobody really cares.”

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Walker served on the bench from 1986 until he retired in January 2005. He graduated from R.B. Hudson High School in 1965, where he was also a student activist in the Voting Rights Movement.

Walker said he never intended to run for judge, but after his wife’s death, he felt compelled to do so. His wife, Jacqueline Burns Walker, was elected as Dallas County Tax Collector but died shortly after.

“All I wanted to do was practice law. I wanted to get before a jury, try to help as many criminal defendants as I can and make as much money as I can,” Walker said. “I did not want to run for judge, but after my wife passed, I just felt compelled to run.”

Walker said he was elected at a time when African Americans in Selma and Dallas County started to assert themselves politically.

Cartledge Blackwell, who presented Walker with a resolution from the Dallas County Bar Association and the Fourth Judicial Circuit, said Walker had a way with words in the courtroom.

“He’d look down from the bench to a young fellow or woman before him and really do an unbelievable job in the words that he said. It just seemed to get through,” Blackwell recalled. “I remember sometimes I’d be standing there in the room, and I’d say, ‘Wow, I wish I could do that.’”

Blackwell said Walker was also a very hardworking man.

“You think about the length of time a lawyer practices law. Some of them practice law 40, 50 or some odd years, but you take 18 years, and that’s a chunk of most lawyers’ practice,” Blackwell said.

“Having a court that had as much work to do and whatnot, he was a hardworking fellow. No lawyer is going to agree with any judge’s every ruling, but Judge Walker had a lot of consistency about him in certain subject matters.”

District Attorney Michael Jackson said Walker served as a role model for him early on in his career.

“I started off as a little young assistant district attorney in Marion … but I quickly came to Dallas County. Everybody told me about Judge Walker. They were like, ‘You’re about to really have real court here,’” Jackson remembered.

“Judge Walker ran his court just like a federal judge. You couldn’t get up and walk around. The lawyers couldn’t be running their mouths talking. He ran a stern ship, but it was good because it helped train me to be the attorney that I am.”

Walker said he can recall countless hours spent in the courtroom dealing with the most serious of crimes.

“My court had a heavy caseload. The dockets were long, and then the dockets got even worse with the advent of crack cocaine in the late 80s and early 90s,” Walker recalled.

“The criminal caseload just skyrocketed, the rapes, the robberies, murders, thefts, armed robberies. The cases became even more intense because you were dealing with serious issues.”

Walker said he now spends his time going back and forth between Selma and New York, where he went to school and now lives.

“I’m glad I did. I’m humbled by it,” Walker said.

“Being a judge is such a thankless job because you deal with such contentious issues all the time, but to me it is just humbling to think that somebody cared enough.”