Austin federal Judge Sam Sparks takes senior status, will work less

Jan 03, 2018
Hand out photo of Judge Sam Sparks who became the second recipient of the Sandra Day O’Connor Jurist Award in September. CREDIT: Courtesy of American College of Trial Lawyers. Received 11/15/10 for 1122achievements.

U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks has reduced his workload on the bench by taking senior status, a member of his staff informed the American-Statesman on Wednesday.

The move became effective on Sunday. In his semi-retirement role, Sparks is expected to work less while keeping his salary.

Sparks, 78, has presided over federal criminal and civil cases in Austin since his 1991 appointment by President George H.W. Bush. Known for his no-nonsense approach, he has bruised the egos of many lawyers, but maintains a reputation in the legal community for being fair and prepared. He presided over several high profile cases in 2017, including a battle over a state abortion law in which he blocked Texas from requiring that fetal remains be buried or cremated. An appeal is pending in the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

In his new role, Sparks is expected to handle about 15 percent of the courts’ workload annually. There are two other U.S. district judges in Austin, Robert Pitman and Lee Yeakel.

Sparks declined to comment for this story through a staff member.

This is a developing story; check back for details.