Good civil judges tend to stay under the radar until they get a headline-making case. During that low-profile time, however, they can make life awful for an awful lot of people. Sometimes they do it through rulings that are either baffling or tend to favor one side (usually, since this is Houston, big bidness) over the other. More often, they do it in pettier ways: by being a prima donna with staff or the public; taking weeks to issue simple rulings that would move a case along; or keeping bankers' hours and showing up unprepared. Tracy Christopher of the 295th District Court is at the other end of the spectrum. Members of the Houston Bar Association consistently rank her among the top jurists -- 70 percent of the attorneys polled rated her "outstanding" in the most recent survey -- and it's because she knows how to run a tight courtroom that gives a respectful hearing to both sides. Even if it is under the radar most of the time.

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