As a criminal prosecutor and assistant district attorney, John Warren has seen much more than his share of domestic violence, sexual assault, and child abuse cases. Now, by founding the nonprofit Men of Action, he hopes to help prevent family and sexual violence by redefining manhood. Warren, who was elected district attorney last spring and takes office in January, is a member of the Rotary Club of Gainesville, Texas.
THE ROTARIAN: What led you to become a criminal justice lawyer?
WARREN: I thought I was going to specialize in estate planning or financial planning, but it was very boring. The first year into my career, I’d have to read 120-page wills, and after a while I just became glassy-eyed and realized, “This is not for me.”
I had always been scared about practicing in a courtroom, but I wanted something new for my life. My fear was public speaking, but they say you have to face your fears, so I took a job with the DA’s office in Dallas.
There was no “Here, let me hold your hand and teach you what to do.” The very first day, I learned that if you’re going to be a prosecutor, you can’t have any feelings. All the old-time criminal-defense lawyers know they’ve got fresh meat, and they just try to run right over you. But I developed a thick skin. It’s been close to 10 years now.
TR: So how did a thick-skinned prosecutor become involved with efforts to end domestic violence?
WARREN: First I prosecuted misdemeanors, like DWIs, and then they move you up to felonies – child abuse, drugs, murder. I helped prosecute one case in which a father had molested both of his daughters for years, and the judge gave him life in prison with no parole. That was a very trying time for me. I had to talk to children all day, every day, about what had been done to them, and I had two small children of my own. It was hard.
Eventually my wife and I moved back to Gainesville, where her family has been for generations, and I was hired as the first assistant DA for Cooke County. There’s a family shelter here called Abigail’s Arms, and my wife and I said, “We’re going to get involved,” because I had seen the devastation of what was happening to children like those.
At the end of our volunteer training, I said, “I need to start a group for men, to give us a voice to say, ‘We’re here and we don’t approve of this, and 99.999 percent of us do not want family violence in our community. ’ ” A lot of children these days don’t have good male role models. We want to provide a model for men. I want men to know how a woman should be treated. Our society and culture show one way, but many times it’s not the right way.
We’re trying to build Men of Action’s membership, and we’ve had several events to get the word out. I’d like to start hosting events, like maybe a softball or golf tournament, to raise money for Abigail’s Arms.
TR: How does your work with Men of Action overlap with your life in Rotary?
WARREN: I’ve had people from Abigail’s Arms speak at our club meetings, and we have several Rotarians who are interested in joining Men of Action. I’ve always believed that service to your community is very important, but I think Rotary really instilled a servant’s heart in me.