New On The Bench

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Tuesday's elections resulted in changes across the nation and right here at home. And no where is the change more noticeable than with Brazos County's justices of the peace.

There will be three new justices beginning next year. Vera Lara-Hooge already works in the county judicial system. Now she's the justice of the peace elect for Precinct 2 Place 1. "I'm actually looking forward to January to serve the citizens of Precinct 2," Lara-Hooge said. "I plan on being a fulltime justice of the peace and fair and impartial and I'm ready to do my job."

Also elected to serve Precinct 2 is Tommy Munoz who, like Lara-Hooge, works for the county court system. Munoz is the court coordinator for County Court Law #2, but is looking forward to the new challenge. He said he believes his 15 years working in the the court system will help with the transition from behind a desk to behind the bench.

The third justice-elect is Mike McCleary. The rancher and builder will have his court in Precinct 1. He says his admiration of the law lead him to pursue the judge's seat. On his own, he began his own training in law. Over a number of weeks McCleary has been observing a local judge perform his duties. He is confident that not only he, but the other two new justices will be fine if they fulfill a key goal: "...make everybody feel like they're treated properly with respect."

In one night all three went from having one job to another where the fates of others are in their hands. In order to make sure those hands are prepared for the responsibility they must go through immediate training. Experienced judge of the 361st County District Court, Steve Smith says the new JP's will have to hit the ground running.

In their first year all three will go through 80 hours of mandatory training from the The Texas Justice Court Training Center. Smith says, "They'll under go about 40 hours initially of training in areas of substantive law. In other words what the law is in the state of Texas."

And those first 40 hours are crucial to the three justices. Each must complete 40 hours of that training before they can be sworn in. These three, like all judges, will now have to keep up with additional training mandated by the state throughout their service on the bench.