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Hometown: Beaumont, Texas

Degree(s) Obtained / Years Graduated from SAGU:

B.A. – Criminal Justice, Wiley College, Marshall, Texas (1999)

J.D. – Texas Wesleyan University School of Law (2002)

Graduate Student SAGU (Clinical Psychology & Theology)

Q. Tell us a little bit about you.

I am a Magistrate Judge and currently one of the presiding judges overseeing the S.T.A.C. Court program located in Frank Crowley Criminal Court Building, Dallas, Texas. S.T.A.C. stands for Successful Treatment of Addiction Through Collaboration. The mission of the Dallas County S.T.A.C. Program is to collaborate with the judiciary, community supervision, treatment, and other agencies to assist those in our community challenged by substance use disorders into rehabilitation and restoration. Before becoming a presiding Judge of S.T.A.C. Court, I operated my law firm successfully. I am the President of Lionheart Legal Group, P.C. and the owner of its subsidiary, the Law Office of La’Donna Harlan. My firm handled cases involving family law, estate planning, probate, and more. I am an experienced attorney and Judge who is spiritually grounded. I understand what it means to face highly sensitive and convoluted issues with the mindset to move forward to a positive resolution.

I am blessed daily to allow God to show me how to balance family, faith, and career.

I am currently a candidate for two master-level Clinical Psychology and Divinity degrees.  I received my BA in Criminal Justice from Wiley College in Marshall, Texas. I have a Juris Doctorate from Texas Wesleyan University School of Law (currently Texas A&M School of Law). I proudly served my country as a Judge Advocate in the United States Army, where I served in various positions and received many accolades. I received an Army Achievement Medal for outstanding work as a Brigade Trial Counsel (Prosecutor) and an Air Force Medal for Establishing a Superior Employee Theft Program for the Army & Air Force Exchange Service, to name a few. I was named as a Special Assistant United States Attorney while serving at Fort Sill Military Installation. I previously worked as a Professor at Everest and Westwood Colleges, teaching various Paralegal courses. I also received my certification as a Master Life Coach.

As an ordained minister, I am passionate about ministering the Word of God and committed to bridging the gap between faith and mental health knowledge. 

I am currently a member of the State Bar of Texas (admitted 2002), the Supreme Court of the United States, Criminal Justice Panel for Northern District of Texas, Board Member of the Texas Association of Specialty Courts, All Rise, NTBH Suicide Prevention Council, Alpha Lambda Beta Sorority Inc. and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.

Q. How did your time at SAGU influence/ prepare you for your current work? 

When I applied to SAGU, I wanted to gain more insight into mental health to help me understand the language used by the counselors and assessors assigned to my court. We staff cases before court and discuss the client’s mental health, addiction, and criminal behavior. Initially, I found I was totally dependent on the counselors and assessors for knowledge about the clients, but now I know the clients from every aspect. I can better understand the information provided to me by the assessors and the counselors. I am able to make a truly informed judicial decision because I understand their dual diagnosis. I am not guessing or hoping I know. I truly understand every facet of the client’s behavior. I can also look at the client’s demeanor, behavior, and communication pattern and know whether they are in a crisis situation or just being defiant and resistant to the court’s direction. 

SAGU also taught me the importance of treating every client differently when it comes to mental health. Every case is unique. Symptoms may look the same on the surface, but you have to dig a little deeper to ensure you are not causing additional harm to the client. Every professor I have worked with pushed me to go beyond the surface and truly understand my profession and calling from God. This is not just my career, but it is my ministry. 

Q: How did each of you know you wanted to be in your current field? 

I knew I wanted to be in my current field as a Judge over a Drug Treatment Court because I have a heart for people that others have counted out. I know too well what it is like to be the person others did not think would make it. When I learned I could preside over a court that exhibited God’s grace by allowing them the chance to reset their lives on their own terms, I did not hesitate at the opportunity. I have seen addiction all my life based on the environment, and I did not understand it. I did not understand mental health. Once I learned more, I knew in my heart the current field was the place God wanted me to be to make a difference. I wanted to be his vessel. Once I received my certificate as a Master Life Coach, I knew I wanted to take my knowledge to another level. So now I am one step closer to being a Judge and licensed psychologist. 

Q: Tell us a little about your role in your current field and how it differs from similar roles in your industry.

Being a Judge is an amazing accomplishment regardless of the court you preside over. Judges have the responsibility of impacting the lives of others in various fields whether it be family law, civil law, probate law or criminal law. The role of a Judge should not be taken lightly and should always be done with the people you are impacting in mind. My role as a Judge over a drug treatment court is different because I get to know the clients in different way. Yes I am the Judge, but most days I am in the role of the listener, the motivator or the encourager. The bottom line is I have to show up knowing some of the clients need me to understand them and meet them where they are in order to get them where they desire to be. Every week is not the same but it is my role to constantly be ready for the next leg of their new life and support them on their journey. In that capacity my role is unique and I love every minute of it.

Q: Tell us about a memorable/funny moment in your career.

In 2019 I was sworn in to preside over S.T.A.C. court. I was ready to make a difference in the cient’s lives. I was prepared to give them everything I had to help them reset their lives. I just knew God would use me to be the difference maker in their lives. I was not prepared for the moment that changed me forever. My father passed 16 days after I took the bench as the Judge over S.T.A.C. Court. I was devastated. Who I thought I would be for the clients they became for me. They inspired me. They motivated me. They did not know my dad died, but God used their lives in a way they would allow me to keep going. Their drive and determination to win and become better gave me drive and determination to keep pushing forward. They did not know it, but God knew it. He loved me enough to allow me to be their Judge and during the roughest time of my life their transformation pulled me through. God is so wonderful!

Q: How has SAGU left an impact on your life? 

SAGU has left an impact on my life because it has allowed me to bridge the gap between my faith and my profession. I am embarking on yet another journey in my professional life, but I am doing it with faith and with confidence. SAGU has blessed me with dynamic professors who allowed me to believe in my ability as a future psychologist because they had ensured I not only know the material but how to correctly apply it. SAGU has also given me a new perspective and confidence as a Judge. 

Q. What would you tell a current SAGU student today? 

I would tell a current student to trust the process. The professors have wisdom and insight beyond homework assignments and class lectures. Allow them the opportunity to build your confidence and knowledge in the subject matter in a way that will allow you to be light years ahead of those at other institutions. Enjoy your time at SAGU and get involved. SAGU has so much to offer, but you have to be open to receiving the love, resources and opportunities presented to you while you are here. 

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About SAGU:

Southwestern Assemblies of God University is a private Christian university located 30 minutes south of the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex in Waxahachie, Texas. The university was established in 1927 and now offers more than 70 associate, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees on campus or online. More information is available at or by calling 1-888-YES-SAGU.

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