ANGLETON — County Commissioners were adamant that the public should choose the next County Court-at-Law No. 1 judge in the 2020 election cycle following Greg Hill’s resignation after just 8 months.
Commissioners discussed how to fill the vacancy during Commissioners Court on Tuesday morning, with County Judge Matt Sebesta recommending the position is best suited for someone who won’t seek the seat after the appointed term is up.
This is to ensure that the people are choosing the elected official instead of “just five guys,” Sebesta said at the meeting.
Sebesta said he can think of no one else to fill in for the remaining 15 months other than retired judge Jerri Lee Mills, and asked the court to consider putting her appointment on next month’s agenda.
Mills previously held the Court-at-Law No. 1 position for 24 years before she announced her retirement last December and Hill succeeded her in the seat.
”One of the things I wanted to do was have someone who could come in and knows the process,” Sebesta said during the meeting. “I asked her if she was appointed is she going to seek election for the position, and she said absolutely not.”
Though Mills said she was happy in retirement, she said she would be excited to come back and serve for the remaining term.
”I had already been contacted by Dude Payne about a week earlier to ask me if I would consider it and I told him I was really happy in retirement,” Mills said. “After talking to both Commissioner Payne and Judge Sebesta, I agreed I would come back if approved by the court. I really have no hesitation at all, I am not going to seek re-election, so if approved, I would start Oct. 1.”
Mills added that if she fills the position until the next election, no candidate will have an advantage over the other.
”It levels the playing field. I promise the citizens I will do a good job,” she said.
Under the law, anyone serving as a Court-at-Law judge effectively resigns when they announce they are seeking another seat, as Hill did when he said he would be running for a congressional seat in the 22nd District due to current Rep. Pete Olsen announcing plans not to seek re-election.
Commissioners are then allowed to appoint someone to fill in the interim, as long as it is not the person who decided to resign. Hill is allowed to remain in the position until an appointment is made, according to the law.
Before being sworn in, Hill previously told The Facts that Mills was a trustworthy and fair judge.
“She is a fair-minded judge and she follows the law … and she has done it right,” he said. “She is also a very caring individual. Sometimes you don’t get that when you’re dealing with the black letter of the law, so it’s nice to have a judge that’s also compassionate.”
Commissioner Ryan Cade said he had some concerns, however, about appointing someone who made it clear she was ready to retire.
”I have a great amount of respect for Judge Mills, but she left because she was ready to retire,” Cade said. “She was ready to move on from this position. … That’s my concern. … I talked to a number of other people and I think I’d like to hear from them,” he said at the meeting.
”This process is for us to appoint somebody; we should go through that process. … A new judge might be more productive,” Cade said.
Commissioner Dude Payne asked Cade why he thought someone who had limited experience would be better than “someone who has 24 years of experience and thousands of cases under her belt.”
Sebesta said the commissioners need to work together to come to an understanding of what the goal is in filling the position.
”Just because we appoint someone does not mean that they wouldn’t seek re-election as well,” Sebesta said. “The thought process I had with Judge Mills was let’s keep it clean and let’s let the voters decide who’s going to come in,” he added.
The commissioners will re-examine the appointment at the next meeting at 9 a.m. Sept. 10.