Jefferson County Criminal District Attorney Robert “Bob” Wertham said of his decision to lead a life of public service, “I wouldn’t do anything different.” However, in 2022 he will retire from nearly 50 years of civil service and is looking forward to spending time with family and friends.
At an event at the Jefferson County Courthouse on Thursday, December 15, friends, colleagues, and the Service-to-Other will join Wertham in setting the legal standard in courts near and far, fighting for the weak, and fighting for justice. Celebrate decades of passionate advocacy for
Driven to success despite modest means, the teenage Wertham graduated from Beaumont High School and then hired a paintbrush as an apprentice to help pay for his college education. After earning his bachelor’s degree from Lamar University in 1971, he sailed in his tanker Eclipse to earn money to attend his school at Baylor University Law. Wertham seized his first chance and returned to his hometown to serve his beloved community.
Wertham first worked for the Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office when he was in his twenties. The young prosecutor was so fresh, he hadn’t taken the bar exam yet. This is unprecedented as all lawyers must pass the bar exam before becoming a lawyer.
“I remember it as vividly as it was yesterday,” Wertham recalled on the eve of his retirement celebration from the same office more than 40 years later.
After the boss asked, “Who are you?” the young lawyer was handed his first case. The trial was to start immediately.
“We won eight lawsuits before we had a license to practice law,” laughs Wertham. Luckily, Wertham did what the best lawyers do: open a private practice. Now in the law practice for nearly 50 years, Wertham fondly recalls his days at Waldman & Smallwood, where he partnered in 1977.
Yet, as a recurring theme throughout his life, the public service vocation was too big to ignore. In 1980, Wertham was appointed District Judge in the 60th District Court of Jefferson County by then-Governor Bill Clements. In addition, he has served as Visiting Judge of the 58th, 317th, and 279th District Courts of Jefferson County, and has presided over courts in Harris, Smith, Brazos, and Hidalgo Counties.
Judges at the time had to practice for five years as lawyers before reaching the bench. When Wertham took over the 60th District Court, he had spent five years and five months as an attorney.
In 1981, Wertham made another career move to the position of U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Texas. He held this position for the next 12 years and hired many of the prominent lawyers who now practice law on behalf of the public. Judge of the Peace and incoming Jefferson County Criminal District Attorney Keith Giblin, current Federal Magistrate Stuart Pratt, and Criminal District Court Judge John Stevens.
“They are all very proud of me,” Wertham said.
When Wertham took over as chief prosecutor for the Eastern District of Texas, the office was in turmoil. His $100 million sentence against Texas drug lords and “cowboy his mafia” was just the beginning of a portfolio of big wins attributed to the East Texas District during Wertham’s tenure. The Warham crew carried out one attack after another against federal criminals and took steps to create gun-free school districts.
“We took one of the weakest offices in the United States and turned it into one of the strongest in the country,” Wortham is proud.
In addition to working on gun control to keep children safe, Wertham also enacted pretrial diversion and deferred sentencing under his leadership to humanize the justice system. Proud of the U.S. Department of Justice.
“It brought some sanity to criminal law,” explained Wertham. “Don’t let a single mistake drive someone crazy for the rest of their lives. Everyone deserves a second chance.
“You have to have a vision and think about what you can do to make the world a better place.”
Those who worked with Wertham and his eloquent Esquire band in its heyday recall the work in similar respects.
“Bob is a force of nature,” Tom Keenhoff, a former assistant U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Texas during Wertham’s tenure, said of his former boss. “He sets high goals for himself and pursues them. He has been a judge, a prosecutor and a lawyer. I’m here.
“Bob’s motivation is service. He’s happiest when he’s helping the public.”
Washington’s change meant a change in Wertham’s position in the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Never far from his home, Wertham became a partner at Reaud, Morgan & Quinn LLP in Beaumont, where he spent more than a decade in the Southeast where he defended the Texans.
“We were very productive,” recalls Wertham. “I’ve had nothing but great jobs in my life.”
While working at the law firm, Wertham remained focused on public service. In 1997, while a private attorney, Wertham was called to the Senate to report findings on the federal government’s role in protecting children from gun violence on school campuses. Wertham, part of a panel of high-ranking officials including the National Legislative Speaker of the Washington, D.C. Police Fraternity, appeared before the Senate and said, “Stand up for millions of school-age children… they want a safe haven.” I want to have a place, free from violence and intimidation,” Wertham explained before federal leaders.
“It is a sad comment for our society that the most dangerous time a student spends is in school,” Wertham repeated. If this is not a case where the federal government needs to step in and add force, then there is no question that the federal government needs to get involved in.”
By expanding on the “gun-free/drug-free” school district impetus that Wortham began in Beaumont during his tenure with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which is now commonplace in America, lawyers believe that Beaumont-area campuses should take this step. He detailed how he profited from the In the year before the Federal Gun-Free School Zones Act was enacted, the Beaumont ISD reported 17 gun incidents on campus, including four middle schools.
But civilian life couldn’t hold onto Wertham forever.
“I was doing well with Reaud, Morgan & Quinn and decided it was time to return to public service.
In 2007, Wertham was elected District Judge of the 58th District Court and served until 2014 with the Jefferson County Criminal District Attorney’s Office when his expertise was called for again.
Returning to his roots in the District Attorney’s Office, Wertham once again responded to calls to tackle criminal prosecution. Wertham stepped firmly into the community by resigning from his judicial court and announced that he would be elected Jefferson County District Attorney in 2014. There was no objection.
Wertham’s career has been honoured, including Jefferson County’s Outstanding Young Attorney, St. Thomas Aquinas Stewardship Award, St. Thomas More Public Service Award, Press Club of Southeast Texas’ first Newsmaker of the Year Award, and ATF Arson Detective. Distinguished by awards and recognition. Award of the Year, Department of Justice Award for Outstanding Achievement, Department of Labor Award for Outstanding Prosecution, Distinguished Postal Inspector Award. Wertham was named a Legend of the Southeast Texas by the Beaumont Foundation of America in 2007, LU’s Mirabeau Society, President of the He Circle, Friends of the Arts, and was named LU Distinguished Alumnus in 2019. was selected as
Wertham has been a high school and college football umpire for 33 years, a member of the St. Jude Catholic Church and its parish council, a trustee of the Firefighters Retirement Board, a trustee of the Court-appointed Special Advocate for Southeast Texas, and Jefferson. County 100 Club.
Wertham has spent recent years at the Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office overseeing the prosecution of the death sentence, a “no probation offer” for the Heinous Criminals Policy. Beaumont Independent School District sues former electrical contractor for criminal fraud committed against school district taxpayers.
While Wertham clears his personal belongings from the DA office, his successor hangs pictures and fills the bookshelves. Incoming Jefferson County DA Keith Giblin remembers Wertham being the lucky young man who gave him his first job at the U.S. Attorney’s Office long ago.
“For some reason he gave me my first job 31 years ago.”
“He always gives me work when I’m off work,” Giblin half-joked. was promoted to the rank of magistrate in a federal office that put young lawyers on the payroll.
“This guy is a true icon,” summarized Giblin.
Now that Mentor has entered his retirement season from public office, Wertham is thrilled to be there to hold the reins of justice for the community the Gibrins call their home.
“I can’t think of a better person to play this role,” said Wertham. “I couldn’t have picked a better person.”
December 15th marks the day we say goodbye to our dog at the office, but that doesn’t mean Wertham says goodbye to a community in which he’s held vested interests for decades.
“I always enjoy what I can do for my community,” said Wertham. “Beaumont will always be my home.”