Reflections on Paul Gartner

North Texas prosecutors, especially those in Tarrant County, mourned the untimely death of a cherished friend and colleague, Paul Gartner, who died unexpectedly during the last weekend of December. After graduating from his beloved Baylor, he cut his prosecutorial teeth in the mid-late 1970s in the Tarrant County CDA’s office, then returned to Waco and entered private practice until serving as the McLennan County DA during the late 1980s. In 1991, Paul pursued federal prosecution and, in the Fort Worth office of the U.S. Attorney, supervised and tried a multitude of complex criminal cases during his 15-year tenure.

Newspaper accounts of Paul’s sudden demise described him as a “tenacious prosecutor.” While the tenacity label was certainly true, Paul’s real gift was the ability to mentor others, especially in prosecution.

When Paul was my boss in the Waco DA’s office more than 16 years ago, he was a constant and patient source of advice. I’ll never forget the week we attended an Advanced Criminal Law Seminar together; he made sure that I met Chris Marshall, his friend and former Tarrant County colleague. Paul arranged for me to sit directly across from Chris during lunches so that we could “talk cases,” cementing the connection that launched my future at the Tarrant County DA’s office. After Paul lost the 1990 election, we both headed to Fort Worth. While discussions about lawyers, judges, and politics always permeated our lunches, Paul steadfastly reserved time to discuss “our girls,” his two amazingly brilliant daughters, Amanda and Ashley, and my sweet child, Hillary. Amanda recently joined our office as an assistant prosecutor, and Ashley just began a highly competitive doctoral program at Baylor.

I’m not the only person Paul took under his encouraging wing.  I suspect there are hundreds. When sending out office e-mails for memorial contributions after his death, my door was instantly graced by one of our newest hires, Kelly Meador, who informed me that she would not be in our office but for Paul. She met him through a law school professor, and Paul touted prosecution as a career and encouraged her to apply at our office.  

Moments after Kelly related her story, another attorney arrived at my door singing Paul’s praises. Jake Battenfield interned at the Department of Justice and met him there. Paul’s advice promoted prosecution as a career path, and as with Kelly, he encouraged Jake to apply with our office.

Longtime prosecutors extol Paul’s influence as well. As a police officer in the 1970s, Greg Miller met Paul working on high-profile prosecutions. They became friends; as Greg puts it, “I don’t know why he liked me, but he did.” Paul, along with others, encouraged Greg to enroll in law school and become a prosecutor. Now Greg is one of our most experienced attorneys and serves as a deputy chief.

Richard Roper, the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas, describes Paul as passionate about everything, especially people. Anyone needing assistance on a case would get the “full Paul Gartner treatment,” which meant that he would not simply impart a quick answer but would instead sit down, digest the issue, bounce ideas back and forth, and check back later to learn the outcome. Nothing received superficial treatment. Richard said that while Paul focused on assisting less experienced federal prosecutors, he treated everyone’s queries as important.     

After Paul’s untimely death, hundreds of people attended his memorial services in Fort Worth and Waco, and the wait at visitation to greet his family consistently took 45 minutes. During my wait, I overheard repeated murmurs of ways Paul had touched others’ lives with his counsel and his role-modeling. It’s the first time I’ve seen so many attorneys shed tears (even the dark-suited federal ones!).

Paul’s mentoring abilities also included the fact that he led by example. Paul modeled unquestionable integrity and ebullient passion for his family (who always came first), his challenging cases, and his love of Baylor sports. (Paul was this year’s Baylor Bear Foundation President and, in more than 30 years, he had only missed two home games!)

Thankfully, we have myriad tenacious prosecutors in this state, which is good. But I’m not that sure that we have quite as many prosecutors who are gifted mentors. Paul’s compassionate and positive influence will be sorely missed, but his legacy lives on through so many other prosecutors because I suspect that those who were guided by Paul through the years will try to follow his lead, especially one new prosecutor in Tarrant County who knew him not only as a mentor, but as her father.