ANGLETON — Greg Hill thought he would serve at least two terms as County Court-at-Law No. 1 judge. Instead, he quit the post just eight months into his first four-year term.
“It was a tough, tough decision,” Hill said by phone Thursday.
Hill announced his resignation Wednesday to seek the congressional seat being vacated by Rep. Pete Olson, R-Sugar Land, who said late last month he would not seek re-election. That leaves Brazoria County Commissioners Court with a position to fill, but there isn’t a need to do so immediately, District Attorney Jeri Yenne said.
“Commissioners’ Court does not have a deadline,” she said. “There is no time frame in which they have to make their appointment.”
Judges who resign are allowed to continue in their position until county commissioners appoint a temporary replacement, Yenne said, citing an opinion from the Texas Attorney General. Hill is expected to remain on the bench for now, County Judge Matt Sebesta said Wednesday.
Commissioners will discuss at their meeting next week how they will pick Hill’s replacement, Sebesta said, adding he has not yet talked to any commissioners about what the process might include.
The appointed judge likely will be a Republican, Sebesta said.
“The five members of Commissioners’ Court are Republicans; that is quite likely,” he said. “We will pick the most-qualified applicant.”
The appointee will have to meet the general qualifications for the office, Yenne said, adding the judge who resigned cannot be reappointed through this process.
County court-at-law judges must be U.S. citizens 25 or older, a resident of the county for at least two years and a licensed attorney who has practiced law or served as a judge for four years, according to the Texas Judicial Branch website.
During the same time Hill is on the Republican Primary ballot for Olson’s seat next spring, the contenders to replace him on the bench will be on the primary ballot as well. The primary winners then will square off in a special election to coincide with the November 2020 general election to fill the remainder of Hill’s original term, which ends in January 2023, Yenne said.
If someone other than the appointee wins the special election, it is up to the conditions stipulated by commissioners to determine when that winner will take office, she said.
The appointment could end in January 2021, when a General Election winner would be sworn in; in November 2020 after the election winner is certified; or if the primary winner would be unopposed, the primary winner could be put on the bench after that election, Yenne said.
Hill was elected after the 2018 Republican Primary, when Hill received 15,569 votes, or 69.47 percent, to 6,484 votes, or 30.53 percent, for Dora Bonner, a Clute attorney. He ran unopposed in the November general election and was sworn in to a four-year term in January.
Bonner did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday and Thursday.
Hill estimates he will serve as judge at least until the end of September, he said. He told the commissioners and county judge he does not intend to leave the county high and dry, Hill said.
People likely will express interest in this position, Hill said, but seeking the appointment carries a risk. Lawyers with their own practice who are appointed to the bench have to close it, which is not an easy process, Hill said. It took him two months after winning the bench to close out his practice, he said.
Brazoria County Republican Party Chair Shayne Green said he cannot endorse any candidates, but has called Hill and congratulated him on his congressional pursuit.
While he’s sure several people will express interest, he cannot name any contenders for the judge position, Sebesta said. There likely will be more interest than a general election, which requires having to impress thousands of voters, Sebesta said.
“When it’s an appointment, they have to impress three of five people,” he said.
It has been more than a decade since the county had to fill a judicial seat, a process Sebesta took part in as a precinct commissioner.
Brazoria County Court-at-Law No. 3 and Probate Judge James Blackstock resigned in late August 2008 as part of a plea agreement that stemmed from sexual misconduct allegations. Blackstock pleaded no contest to one misdemeanor official oppression charge and four misdemeanor assault charges.
About a week later, commissioners adopted a procedure requiring interested candidates to submit written resumes to the county’s human resources department. That process led to the appointment of Jeremy Warren on Oct. 14, 2008 by a 4-1 vote during a meeting Oct. 14, 2008, according to Facts archives.
Warren had been a prosecutor before the appointment. He has twice been elected to the position and remains on the bench.