Kenda Culpepper: Paving the way for women in law
Kenda Culpepper is the first woman elected as Rockwall County District Attorney. In fact, she was the first woman elected as District Attorney in the entire North Texas area. Given Kenda’s impact on the North Texas legal community, it would be shocking to learn that Kenda originally intended on becoming an engineer. But after a summer internship with a lawyer and time spent with the Environmental Protection Agency, Kenda ultimately pursued a career in the legal field. She is paving the way for women in law.
Kenda was born in Amarillo but moved to New Braunfels soon after. Kenda remembers being welcomed into the community. Her dad was the head coach of a local school’s basketball team, making her very active in school from a young age. She would attend basketball games, walk in parades with the team, and even earned a spot in the school’s yearbook. In addition to finding a sense of community at a young age, Kenda was also introduced to politics. Kenda remembers being in the voting booth with her mom and listening to her mom talk about different political parties. Kenda’s parents were both Republicans, but her grandparents were Democrats. It was eye-opening for Kenda to realize that she could form whatever political beliefs she wanted without being constrained to her family’s beliefs.
After moving to San Antonio and in high school, Kenda started to learn more about the impact politics had on her day-to-day life. When she received her first paycheck while working at a retail job, she noticed a significant portion of her income had been taken for taxes. Kenda sought her dad’s advice who taught her about taxes through a fiscally conservative Republican's lens. Kenda went on to attend Texas A&M University where she joined the College Republicans. While working with the College Republicans, Kenda realized that she eventually wanted to run for office but didn’t know what type of office. She just knew that she wanted to make an impact.
Concurrently, Kenda discovered that she was passionate about serving the community. She accepted a summer internship with Beni Dean, an attorney in San Antonio. It was during this internship that Kenda decided she wanted to be a lawyer. Specifically, it was after she met U.S. Senator John Cornyn who was a trial judge in San Antonio at the time. Kenda went on to attend Southern Methodist University School of Law where she originally intended to study environmental law. Little did Kenda know she would shift her studies to criminal law while in law school. Kenda worked with the United States Environmental Protection Agency where she prosecuted “superfund” violators (i.e. companies that create some of the most contaminated land in the country). Her role as an environmental prosecutor pushed her to focus on becoming a criminal prosecutor after she graduated from law school, allowing Kenda to land a position in the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office.
Kenda’s passion for politics and criminal law melded together when she decided to run for Rockwall County District Attorney in 2008. Kenda married Jim Pruitt, a former Dallas County Criminal Court Judge (now also a former City of Rockwall Mayor). Kenda said that her dream to run for office really intensified when she was able to witness the political campaign process from the inside. “I knew it would be hard,” said Kenda, “…but I could do it.” Before adding her name to the ballot, Kenda became invested in her local political scene, founding the Rockwall County Young Republicans. She also served as the state chair of the Texas Young Republicans after holding other positions in the organization. Ultimately, Kenda was successful in her campaign for Rockwall County District Attorney, holding the seat since 2008.
While in this position, Kenda co-founded the Children’s Advocacy Center of Rockwall County. She also helped create the first ever regional veteran’s court in the country, a multi-county court with alternative rehabilitative programs specifically created for veterans who commit lesser, non-violent crimes. Kenda has also served as the President of the Texas District and County Attorneys Association. In 2021, Kenda was awarded the “Texas Prosecutor of the Year” title.
Kenda says the landscape for women—especially women in the legal field—has changed dramatically since she began practicing law. “It is never easy to get into politics, but it is less dramatic now, less scary, less uncommon.” When she first began working as a prosecutor in the early 1990s, Kenda was told she had to cut her hair and wear a dress to look more professional. She would also often be the brunt of sexist remarks in the courthouse, but remained undeterred. “I didn’t have time to play that game,” she said. Kenda advises the next generation of women+ to not be afraid to dream. “If you fail at something, you get yourself up, you dust yourself off, and you try again. Failing is not fun. It can be embarrassing, sometimes it's humiliating. But if you don’t keep trying, you let your detractors win.”