In a South Asian First for Ft. Bend, Stuti Trehan Patel Becomes Assoc. District Judge

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Judge Stuti Trehan Patel with her husband Hiren and daughter Priya and her parents Lalita (left) and father Surinder Trehan.

By Jawahar Malhotra

SUGAR LAND:  While her family, friends, colleagues and well-wishers sat waiting for the oath ceremony to start in the courtroom that would soon become hers, her concern was for the separation of state and religion; as the prevailing thought among judiciary is not to keep religious books in court, and she intended to make sure there would be none in hers either.

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The newly sworn in Judge Stuti Trehan Patel is formally introduced by Judge Maggie Jaramillo to the guests in the court room.

“We are sworn to uphold the law,” Stuti Trehan Patel said in a telephone-tag interview, “and should keep that separation”, as she recalled that day, Monday, July 27 when she took the oath of office from Judge Maggie Jaramillo to become the Fort Bend County’s youngest and first South Asian Associate District Judge for the 204th and 400th Districts.

It was an exciting prospect for her to be appointed to the bench that Judge Pedro Ruiz was vacating after 12 years to pursue private practice with a civil law firm in Sugar Land, as “this is the county where I grew up and is special to me”, the hometown girl said.

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Stuti Trehan Patel’s husband Hiren and daughter Priya watch with Hiren’s parents Raman S. and Sushma Patel as the oath of office is administered.

Patel, 43, was born in Jullunder, Punjab but moved with her parents to the US when she was 2 years-old, only to return to finish her 7th and 8th grades in Delhi before once again returning to Houston. Her parents, Surinder and Lalita Trehan run successful Montessori schools in Ft. Bend and also another K through 12 school in Gurgaon, just outside New Delhi. Her older sister Nidhi and younger brother Dhruv, are also involved in the family business. In a twist of destiny, as judge she is emulating the work of her grandfather Ishwer Singh Hora who was a Circuit Court judge in India.

A product of the Ft. Bend schools (Dulles, Colony Bend, Sugar Land and Clements), Patel went on to graduate with a Bachelors in Sociology in 1993 from the University of Texas in Austin where she met her future husband Hiren Patel, 45, who was finishing his degree in computer science. She joined the Bates College of Law at the University of Houston to get her Jurisprudence degree in 1996 and he got his MBA from the Bauer College there. They have two children, 15-year-old Dhilan and 9-year-old Priya. Hiren works as the CEO of the family hospitality business, Medallion Investments which owns five hotels in Houston, that his father Raman S. and mother Sushma Patel started years ago.

Patel began her career as a legal intern in the Harris County District Attorney’s Office and also interned at the U.S. Federal Bankruptcy Court of the Judge Letitia Z. Clark. She received her State Bar of Texas License in November 1996 and was admitted to the Southern District of Texas Court in September 1998. She worked as an associate attorney with Watts & Associates, P.C where she practiced law in the area of general civil litigation and then moved to the Harris County Domestic Relations Office as Attorney and Mediator in the area of child support and visitation enforcement and assisted with prosecution of both court-assigned and private cases, successfully mediating contested cases involving children.

For the past fifteen years, she has worked with the Ft. Bend District Attorney’s office, with a short sabbatical from 2005 to 2008 to take care of her growing family, where she was one of the Assistant DAs who work for Ft Bend DA John Healy. She did her last rotation handling general felony cases in the 240th District Court that she will now preside over. Unlike the Judges of the Senior District Court benches, hers is not an elected position, which is why she applied for it when it came available, and was elated when she discovered she had won over the other candidates. Judges Jim Shoemake and Jaramillo and Healey complimented her on her dedication and work at the oath taking ceremony.

Patel realizes that her case load will focus on her areas of expertise, mainly in criminal, family violence, protective orders, with civil and taxation added to it for which she is preparing her skills. Although South Asians make up 20 per cent of the Ft. Bend population, she doesn’t see the same ratio in court cases, and those that she sees center on domestic violence, DWI and white collar fraud. On the flip side, she sees the same low ratio of South Asian victims of aggravated robbery and burglaries or home invasions.

Stuti Trehan Patel is aware that as the first South Asian in the Greater Houston Area in this position, she will be setting a watermark for her community which has its eyes on her. But it’s clear that her down-to-earth attitude and calm conversational style easily win people over, allowing her to handle the delicate but conflict-laden cases that she must preside over.

Photos: Memories by Elvia