Mike Denton for Travis County Attorney Democrat

From Army Brat to Army Officer to Austin Attorney

Mike Denton Family
Mike, his wife Ann, and their daughter, Rachel, in the barn where they keep rescued horses

Mike Denton was raised by an Army Sergeant Major father and mother who worked as a secretary on the military bases and attended schools scattered across the United States and Europe before graduating from Theodore Roosevelt High School in San Antonio.

He was accepted to the U.S. Military Academy and earned his degree from West Point in 1973. For the next six years, Mike served as an Army Airborne officer. 

 After leaving the Army, Mike was accepted into the University of Texas School of Law, graduating in 1984. He spent two years at a private law firm before embarking once again on a career of public service.

Having set his eyes on public service, Mike Denton decided to join the Travis County Attorney’s Office, where he would eventually head the criminal division. Being in private practice was ill suited to Mike’s passion for public service.

Prosecutor Against Pro-Life Protesters

In the late ’80s, the notorious Operation Rescue announced a national effort to block women from entering clinics where abortions were performed. Austin was one of the targeted cities.

Mike Denton, then Director of the Criminal Trial Division in the County Attorney’s Office, took on the case. First, Denton worked with providers and police officers to determine the best way to arrest protesters in an orderly and peaceful fashion. The arrests went off without a hitch.

Second, the County Attorney’s Office filed  charges against Operation Rescue itself. That hit them hard because it exposed the organization to significant fines.  Operation Rescue suddenly ended their protest and hightailed it out of Austin.

Mike Denton of Travis County Nationally Recognized
Criminal Justice Reformer

During Denton’s 13-year tenure at the County Attorney’s office, Mike Denton chaired the Travis County Family Violence Task Force, which recommended the creation of a new domestic-violence court in Travis County. Under Mike’s leadership, the task force won the support of the Travis County Commissioners Court and then the state legislature for creating this court, and Mike decided to run to become its first judge. He was first elected to preside over this new court, County Court #4, in 1998, and was re-elected five more times.

In two decades of judicial service, Mike Denton gained national recognition for his progressive reforms that finally gave domestic-violence victims a voice at the Travis County Courthouse.   Judge Denton made sure these victims were protected, supported, and had access to counseling.

Judge Denton also required that all offenders undergo rigorous evaluations to determine whether they were likely to repeat the crime. He ordered them to complete additional counseling programs if the crime was related to a problem with alcohol, drugs, or mental health, and he made sure they turned in any firearms in their possession.

In the years after Denton became the domestic violence judge, murders in Travis County that could be tied to domestic violence began to decrease.  By 2017 these numbers had fallen so far that the proportion of murders tied to domestic violence was lower than any other Texas metropolitan area.

But Mike’s reforms didn’t stop there. He observed that veterans charged with misdemeanors were often suffering from PTSD, and he decided to create the Travis County Veterans Court. After finishing his regular docket in Domestic Violence Court, he volunteered his evening hours twice a month to make sure veterans received counseling and treatment as an alternative to the sentences and punishments they would have otherwise received. The cases were then dismissed and records expunged after completion of the programs.

He also devoted additional time to another of his innovations, the Phoenix Court, where those who have been coerced into participating in the commercial sex trade get the counseling they need and receive the services and support necessary to start fresh in life.

The Mike Denton Family

Ann and Mike Denton got married two days after he graduated from West Point, and they’ve been together ever since. They have a grown daughter, Rachel.

Ann has also made a big impact in Austin. She is a well-know counselor and advocate for the homeless and affordable housing. She rescues abused horses and restores them to health in a barn at their home.

Mike Denton’s Awards
  • Best Public Servant, 1997 Austin Chronicle awards
  • First judge to receive the Sheriff Wayne Barton Award from the Travis County Sheriff’s Office. 2003
  • Superior Service Award, Travis County Constable Precinct 5, 2003
  • Austin Safe Place (now Safe Alliance), “Good Guy” award, 2014
  • Paul H. Chapman Award, Foundation for Improvement of Justice (a national award)
  • Veteran Service Award, ATX Veterans, 2019
Mike Denton’s Advocacy Work
  • Taught other judges how to handle domestic violence cases in Arkansas, California, Georgia, Idaho, Louisiana, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, and Texas
  • Educated legislators about domestic violence, sexual assault, sex trafficking, prostitution, and the need for gun control and Veteran Issues

Judge Denton has helped thousands of women escape a life of fear and brutality. Sometimes, he even saved their lives….. He didn’t do it because times had changed, and it was the politically-correct thing to do. Mike Denton was one of the brave leaders who actually changed the times.

Margaret Gómez

Travis County Commissioner, Precinct 4

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