Out district clerk who co-founded Dallas Stonewall Democrats to step down after 2014, but says he may run for another position in the future
Dallas County District Clerk Gary Fitzsimmons announced this week that he won’t seek re-election to a third four-year term next year.
Fitzsimmons, who’s openly gay, has been outspoken on county and court issues, as well as LGBT issues.
“I’ve been somewhat controversial, and I’m proud of that,” he said.
He said he decided last year that he wouldn’t run for office again, but wanted to decide before June 30 for fundraising reasons.
“It’s one of those things where making a decision and taking action are two different things, but I decided summer of last year,” he said. “I’ve never worked harder in my life, and I think after two terms I have really shaken things up around here and I’ve really been able to change the face of the judicial progress.”
Fitzsimmons’ signature project since taking office in 2007 has been his implementation of an electronic filing system. He recalled watching people in his office push around court files in old grocery carts and said it was like “stepping back to 1985.” Records have now been digitized in the civil, family and criminal sections.
“Other than Travis County, we’re the second county to be able to accomplish that in our civil and family courts,” he said. “And we’re the only county to have all of our criminal case files digitized.”
But he’s gotten some pushback with criminal judges since the electronic filing system began in 2010, with many claiming the electronic system has led to missing documents and incomplete files.
More recently, after five pages went missing from a court file sent to the Court of Criminal Appeals, District Judge Larry Mitchell was ordered to hold a hearing about the mistake. The hearing became heated and Fitzsimmons later went on a rant on Facebook about Mitchell’s inability to adjust to the electronic system.
Fitzsimmons said mistakes happen with any system and that the criminal judges have always resisted the digital change.
“The criminal courts of Dallas County are mired in antiquated processes. It’s not just that it’s the digital record keeping, it’s everything,” he said. “Those folks just refuse to change.”
Fitzsimmons has also been an advocate for change in the LGBT community, urging the county to add domestic partner benefits, which went into effect in January under the leadership of County Judge Clay Jenkins.
Jenkins said Fitzsimmons would be remembered for his accomplishments in office and was proud to have him as a supporter.
“Gary is the best District Clerk in Texas. He was an early and strong supporter when I ran and a valued ally after I was elected,” Jenkins said. “Along with John Warren, he brought the courthouse into the 21st century and led the state on paperless filing.”
Warren, Dallas County clerk, said he was saddened to learn that Fitzsimmons will not serve another term and was proud of the work the two have done with the Texas Supreme Court and the Office of Court Administration to develop appropriate rules and guidelines for the electronic filing mandate.
“Gary’s knowledge, passion and work ethic as a district clerk is unmatched in the state of Texas,” Warren said. “The relationship we’ve forged in creating efficiencies in Dallas County is one of the best in the country. … I will miss him as my district clerk. Regardless of where he lands, he will be successful.”
Fitzsimmons is a founding member of Stonewall Democrats of Dallas and has remained active in the group, which has strongly supported him in the past.
Omar Narvaez, Stonewall president, said the organization was proud of his work as district clerk and is glad he announced his decision early, which would allow time for qualified candidates to come forward to replace him.
“Although we’re disappointed that Gary is not going to run for a third term, we applaud him in the work that he has done. He has really brought the county forward,” he said. “We’re very proud of him because he is one of the founding members of Stonewall Democrats and we look forward to seeing what his next venture will be.”
Fitzsimmons will spend the next year and a half overseeing an e-filing system in civil courts that begins in January, as well as a criminal case management system.
As for a future office run, Fitzsimmons said he doesn’t have “any plan to do so, but it would be fun.”
Any future run would be for a “purely political office,” he said, as opposed to his mostly administrative position now.
He lives in state Rep. Roberto Alonzo’s House district. Alonzo is a strong LGBT ally, so he wouldn’t challenge him and he doesn’t want to move out of Oak Cliff.
While he said it’d be nice to give the LGBT community another out representative in Austin, he said he hopes he’s made the local LGBT community proud of him for his advocacy in the courts and in the community.
“I think that public service reflects on the community and that’s really important to remember that progress is made when we elect gay and lesbian people and they become civic leaders,” Fitzsimmons said. “I hope that the initiatives that I’ve brought, and even the controversies that I’ve created and what I really stood for, I hope the LGBT community can be proud of that.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 21, 2013.