PAnews.com, Port Arthur, Texas

March 10, 2014

Wortham resigns as judge of 58th District Court

Erinn Callahan
The Port Arthur News

BEAUMONT — Bob Wortham’s office is sprinkled with reminders of his Jefferson County upbringing — several Lamar University football helmets, a Kelly High School helmet, and a cardinal perched on the corner of his desk bearing a sign that reads, “Fear the Bird.”

By March 17, all signs of Wortham’s Beaumont background will have disappeared from the office he has held since being elected Judge of the 58th District Court in 2007. He announced Monday that he is resigning his position on the bench to pursue a full-time campaign for Jefferson County District Attorney. Wortham, a Democrat, will face Republican Perry Thomas, an assistant district attorney, in the November election.

“It’s a sad day for me,” Wortham said from his desk on the second floor of the Jefferson County Courthouse, 1149 Pearl Street.

It was not the law that motivated Wortham to resign his judgeship if he is seeking election to a nonjudicial office, he said, but rather a question of ethics.

Wortham said that had he not chosen to run for DA, he could have remained on the 58th District bench until he decided to retire. However, the Beaumont native said that his decision to run is in the best interests of the county.

“It may not be the best move for myself, but it’s the best move for the county,” Wortham said. “I can make a difference in Jefferson County. Everywhere I’ve been, I’ve made a better place.”

Wortham was appointed as the United States Attorney for the East District of Texas by President Ronald Reagan. During that 12-year tenure, he said, he developed a reputation for exposing corruption.

“I took a district that was sleepy and began handling some of the biggest cases in the United States,” Wortham said, citing a takedown of a fraud scheme in Port Arthur as an example.

Wortham will leave no cases on the docket for the month of March when he leaves office next week. As Judge of the 58th District Court, he said, he took a district with one of the highest numbers of cases and moved it into the number-two position in the county within five months.

Now, Wortham said, he wants to do more.

“A judge can’t do anything,” he said. “The DA is the gatekeeper. You don’t pass problems to someone else. I have the shoulders to carry all the county’s problems.”

At 66, Wortham said his life is just beginning.

“There’s a lot of steam left in this boiler,” he said. “If you find someone who

can outwork me, you’ve looked long and hard.”

Email: ecallahan@panews.com

Twitter: @ErinnPA