Kith and kin of the cosmopolitan Karen Crouch know that it’s rare to find the former judge at home on her birthday. And as she sits before me in her spacious living room in Castle Hills, I sense she’s not entirely pleased about this homebody turn either, certainly not on the day she turns 54. The 2011 car accident that took the life of her sister-in-law has pinned certain limitations on Crouch’s “Energizer bunny” lifestyle, including preventing her typical birthday travel plans this year. However, “certain” doesn’t mean “many” and her current campaign as the crimson choice for judge of County Court at Law Number 10 (vs. the deliciously scandal-prone Democratic rival Tina Torres) and a new half-hour radio program, “Women and the Law with Karen Crouch” on News Talk 930 AM KLUP, seem to have her saddled up and sauntering down the road to full recovery.
“There’s no new version of Karen. There’s just an older Karen,” she says, speaking of herself in the third person as she often does. Her “Texas big hair,” a signature look in her promotional material, isn’t on display today. It’s pulled back in a bun and her pale face is au naturel.
Crouch and her husband Gerald Flores wanted their three school-age children to visit every state before traveling abroad but the accident, which took place in Vermont, interrupted those plans. Breaking a birthday tradition, this year she delayed their upcoming trip to Alaska by a month as per her doctor’s recommendation. After they visit The Last Frontier, they’ll have together seen 45 of those 50 states. “Travel is the best teacher,” says Flores, who was once a history teacher himself.
The two pieces of Murano glass on the shelf are mementos from a month-long trip to Italy that Flores raves was “fabulous.” In 2011, they embarked on a 54-day road quest through the Southeast United States and recently, Crouch and her kids managed to plan their spring break vacation to Costa Rica (and purchase tickets) while Flores was taking a short nap.
Crouch evokes a “calming” moment experienced last year in the Blue Grotto, the sea cave on the Island of Capri. “When you go in, it’s totally turquoise and the illumination that comes into the cave makes the water like ... iridescent,” she said. The oarsman who sang “Happy Birthday” to her in Italian could have been the icing on anyone’s cake.
But far from her rocky Italian shores, she feels the challenge of making legalese “interesting” on her radio show. Having served for 16 years on the court-at-law bench, she knows “no subject of the law can be covered in 30 minutes.” However, episodes like Humorous Things that Happen in a Courtroom could spark a Sunday-morning dialogue among listeners.
Well, this is her hope.
Like iCivics.org founder and retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, Crouch feels today’s government classes aren’t up to par. She vividly recounts the enthusiasm of her German-born, high school government teacher. “He instilled that passion in people,” she says gently shaking her fists. “I think that one of my strengths is to take a complicated subject and simplify it.”
Women, she feels, still grapple with “the gender issue” and thus are her target audience. Recently, an insurance provider called and requested to speak to Flores because the legal jargon was “probably a little too complicated” for Crouch. When Flores asked why the agent wanted to speak to him, Crouch patiently replied, “Because they want you to give me permission to deal with it.’”
Although still recovering from “accident issues,” like the hole in her back “about the size of a 50-cent piece,” she feels “more herself” than she did in 2012 when she lost her judicial bid to Laura Salinas in the 166th District Court Democratic primary.
This year, she won 51 percent of the Republican primary vote and there’s a sudden proliferation of her strategic signage on the Southeast Side. “There are very few areas where we have that much of a stronghold,” she says, referencing Flores’ former position as assistant principal at the area’s Highlands High School.
Custom-made photo albums, which could easily be mistaken for flipbooks, cover the coffee table. “You know me, I’m a pictureholic,” she says. “My children are a gift from God. I’m determined to document their milestones.”
She also cares for her mother, mother-in-law and her brother (who has a mental illness and lives in an independent living facility). “Family is first,” she says. “We’ll deal with the other things as they come.”
One of those other things is Election Day.
“I’m making memories with my family,” she says pointing out a photo of her children in a cave in Sicily known as the Ear of Dionysius. “I could be here today and gone tomorrow.”
She turns a page.
“You never know.”