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U.S. Federal Magistrate Judge, the Honorable B. Dwight Goains, a Jehovah's Witness

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B. Dwight Goains was a federal magistrate judge for the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas. He was appointed to this position on November 10, 2007, and he retired from the court on November 9, 2015.


Federal magistrate to retire

March 19th, 2015 under Top Stories

In conversation with the Honorable B. Dwight Goains


On November 9, the Honorable B. Dwight Goains will retire from an eight-year term serving as the U.S. Magistrate Judge in Alpine, Texas. At 66 years old, Goains has nearly 30 years of experience working within the U.S. legal system – first as a criminal defense attorney, then as a federal prosecutor, and finally in his current position as Magistrate Judge. The Big Bend Sentinel/The International sat down with the judge to discuss his career, his thoughts on the U.S. court system and his plans for retirement. See the interview below.

The Honorable B. Dwight Goains

How did you end up in this position?

Well, when I started out, I was a criminal defense attorney in Waco for 13 years and did a lot of big cases—capital murders. I might have tried more capital murders than anybody in Texas. If you go back to the Waco Tribune, they had an article that said I represented the baddest of the bad.

Why were you interested in criminal defense?

When I went to law school, as soon as I took the criminal law class, I said, “I’m going to be a trial lawyer.” I just liked it. It’s like being a doctor and not seeing blood. If I was going to be a doctor, I was going to be a surgeon. I always wanted to be a trial lawyer and that’s what I did. After that I decided, I’m going to need some retirement and you never get it as a criminal defense attorney. So I went to the U.S. attorney’s office where I was a federal prosecutor. I started in 2001 and I was there for almost seven years before I got appointed to the bench.

What sort of cases did you work on?

I tried a ton of them, from aggravated sexual assault to murders and rapes. I like to say, I did so many capital murder cases that I really became an expert in CSI. It was fun but at the same time, you get burnt out.

Are you a supporter of capital punishment?

I think you need to go by whatever the law of the land is. If the state of Texas says you can get the death penalty, and you qualify, then you get the death penalty. ThatÂ’s the law.

Do you consider Alpine your home?

No. Home is Waco. I was born in Clifton, which is close to Waco and I grew up in Robinson, which is five miles from Waco. I like [Alpine] but IÂ’ve got nine grandkids in Central Texas and itÂ’s just too far. We get to go back on the weekends. But seeing them is not the important part; itÂ’s missing all the little things, like when theyÂ’re in school and they have a little play. WeÂ’re going back to Central Texas after I retire.

What are your plans for retirement?

My wife and I are both JehovahÂ’s Witnesses so we put a lot into our Kingdom Halls and have always promised Jehovah God that the day IÂ’m eligible to retire, IÂ’m going to retire. WeÂ’re both going to be full-time pioneers. WeÂ’ll be knocking on doors, starting bible studies, teaching people what the bible really teaches.

Has your line of work ever been at odds with your religious beliefs?

They donÂ’t because one of the big things about the bible is that is says you pay CesarÂ’s things back to Caesar and GodÂ’s things back to God. JehovahÂ’s Witnesses obey the law, they pay their taxes, they respect the government, and they follow the laws of the government. If itÂ’s against the law to run a red light, you donÂ’t run a red light.

Have you ever had felt any moral conflicts throughout your career, or as a defense attorney?

No. When I was a criminal defense attorney, I never lied for a client, ever. I might argue that the state prosecutor or the federal prosecutor didnÂ’t prove their case, but thatÂ’s a different situation. YouÂ’re not saying your client didnÂ’t do it. IÂ’m saying you didnÂ’t prove it.

How would you define your term as the magistrate judge?

I think the biggest goal IÂ’ve had is to be fair and to base things on the evidence. And I think IÂ’ve been pretty good at that. Since I was a criminal defense attorney, and I was a federal prosecutor, I know where both sides are coming from. In fact, I can usually guess their defense and I know where the prosecutors are coming from. I also know what their weaknesses are.

What are the most common cases you deal with here?

Over here, all we really do are drugs and immigration. It’s just the same stuff over and over. Every morning, I get to work, I meet the agents – Border Patrol, DEA, DEA task force, Homeland Security, postal inspectors – who bring in their complaints. I ask them if it’s true and correct. Then we sign the charge. We do their initial appearance and tell them what they’re charged with.

Does it ever get tedious?

It can be. My counterpart Judge Counts over in Midland, sometimes I cover for him and he covers for me so we can get a day off every once in a while. I always liked going to Midland because they have different cases. Like, theyÂ’ll have someone stealing copper out of an oil field, or every once in a while someone might actually rob a bank or something.

From a legal perspective, how do you see drugs and immigration affecting this area?

ThatÂ’s hard to say because thatÂ’s not my call. We just take in cases. WeÂ’re not the Congress that sets the laws and weÂ’re not the Border Patrol or Homeland Security. They have all their rules. We just take one complaint at a time and I process it.

Between immigration and drug cases, is it a pretty even split?

I used to say it was 70 or 80 percent drugs but it may be closer to 50/50 now. Now, you have more people trying to come into the United States.

So youÂ’re saying itÂ’s not that the drug cases havenÂ’t lessened; itÂ’s just that there are more people come into the U.S.?

I think thereÂ’s just more people coming into the U.S., for whatever reason.

Looking over your career, do you feel confident in the United StatesÂ’ justice system?

ItÂ’s not perfect but itÂ’s the best in the world. Nothing is perfect. Sometimes I witness a case and wonder, should the defendant really be found guilty because the prosecutor has a better style of argument?

How do you think it could be improved upon?

You’re not going to ever be perfect when humans are involved. If you get one person on the jury who says, “They’re guilty – I don’t care what you say,” and you get another one who says, “They’re not guilty, no matter what you say,” then how do you square that?

 Have there ever been moments in your career where you wished it were different?

I don’t bicker with the laws. Our U.S. senators and congressmen make those laws. My district judge told me once that we’re a lot like Walmart greeters. We just greet everybody to the judicial system. But the big decisions, like whether there should be abortion or not—we don’t deal with that kind of stuff. That’s what the defense circuit and U.S. supreme court does. We don’t. We’re in the trenches.

WeÂ’re not into the ideology and whether you should carry firearms or not carry firearms. Some of these states have passed laws where you can smoke marijuana in state. When the U.S. government says that you can smoke marijuana, prosecutors wonÂ’t be prosecuting them.

So you donÂ’t have any opinion of your own on the issue of marijuana?

No. It is black and white. If they say itÂ’s law, itÂ’s law.

What are your hopes for the judge who will replace you?

I wish the next judge the best. I hope he has the same attitude. It’s going to have to be someone that’s humble. Have you ever met a haughty judge or prosecutor? I don’t think haughty people make good decisions. You’re not over here snapping a whip. It doesn’t work that way. My job is to hold court and to organize. It’s just like the president of the United States. He’s only as good as the people who surround him. You get the best people around you and everything else works out. It’s a real team effort. These staff people –the probation officers and pre trial officers – don’t get enough credit but they make you look good. And I honor them for what they do.

When the Fort Davis government class comes in (we always give them a tour), I always ask them, “Who is the most powerful person in this court room?” Of course, they all say the judge, but that’s not true. The most powerful person in the courtroom is the prosecutor. He’s the one that can decide firstly whether he’s going to prosecute you. And if he decides to prosecute you; he’s the one that gets the complaint file. He’s the one who takes it to the federal grand jury; he’s the one that decides what you’re going to be indicted for and once that happens, I can’t dismiss that charge unless the government files a motion to dismiss.

But then I also ask the government students, “Who is the most important person in here?” And they always want to come back and say, the judge. It’s not the judge. The most important person in there is the defendant. He’s the one that I’m there to protect his constitutional rights.

Is there anything youÂ’ll miss?

I just appreciate my staff and all the people that work here. TheyÂ’re the ones that do all the hard work and make it go easy. I consider them the bosses. TheyÂ’re the ones that call the shots. TheyÂ’re the ones that know whatÂ’s going on. I appreciate it and I wish them the best.


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