Christopher Maher, Alice Echo-News Journal
When Richard Terrell was elected as district judge in 2004, he inherited an office that was reeling from political allegations and the removal of the previous judge from the bench for misconduct.
Now, four years later, Terrell says he has removed politics from the office, put personnel in place who are working effectively, and has initiated programs to address problems in the community.
Terrell graduated from Alice High School in 1974, and received a bachelor's degree in political science from the University of Texas at Austin in 1978. He graduated from St. Mary's University School of Law in 1980 and was licensed in 1981.
Terrell and his wife, Belinda, have two children, a daughter who is in college and a son who attends Alice High School.
Following law school, Terrell worked for a firm in San Antonio, and later returned to Alice to work with a local attorney.
He served as assistant county attorney, and then as district attorney from 1989 to 1992. In 1992 he was hired as the city attorney for the City of Alice, a position he held until he was elected as district judge in 2004. Following his victory in the primaries, and facing no opponent in the general election, Terrell was appointed by Gov. Rick Perry to serve the unexpired term of former judge Terry Canales, who had been removed from the bench.
Terrell said his first year in office was spent trying to rebuild a system that had been decimated by scandal.
"I kept my promise. I took the political election activity out of the offices I have authority over," Terrell said. "I wanted to make sure that anyone who came before my court knew darn good and well they were going to be treated fairly, I was going to apply the facts of the law and that was it. I made it very clear to the people that walk in that courtroom that everybody is going to get a fair shake."
In addition to his duties in the courtroom, Terrell is also responsible for the adult and juvenile probation departments and the county auditor offices of both Jim Wells and Brooks counties.
Within the first year he reduced his own budget, Terrell said, and changed the mindset in the auditors' offices in both counties.
"I went in there and told my auditors 'I'm not concerned about the political consequences of what we do. I'm concerned about getting the job done and getting the job done right,'" Terrell said. "When you take the political activity out of this office, it's amazing what a quality product these people can put out when they don't have the political pressures."
Terrell also appointed Dahlia Garcia as the head of the adult probation department, and that has brought positive changes, he said.
"The department was on the verge of losing its state certification," Terrell said. "She turned that department around within a year, and has had excellent annual evaluations ever since."
Garcia and Terrell initiated a pre-trial diversion program called "Drug Court," that monitors and counsels individuals as an alternative to prison.
"We are the only non-metropolitan jurisdiction in the state of Texas that has this program," Terrell said. "It has been amazingly successful. We have roughly a 75 percent success rate."
In the courtroom, Terrell said he addressed the backlog of cases left on the docket when Canales was removed from office, and he has begun to work on what he called "dormant" cases on file.
"We have so many dormant cases that have just been sitting there, and we are slowly, but surely addressing that," Terrell said.
"The most significant thing is that we have control of the current filing of cases, and people who want access to my courtroom are getting it."
The primary issues facing the office of district judge in the immediate future, Terrell said, are family-law cases in which child custody is an issue, a trend of increased behavioral medication for children who have been placed with Child Protective Services and a need to establish a better system for handling emergency hearings.
To address those issues, Terrell said he has enacted a standing order requiring all parents in family cases in which children are involved to attend parenting classes and has begun an extensive review of the medication prescribed to children in CPS custody
He also hopes to create a county court-at-law in the future, when office space is available.
"I think a big asset will be the creation of a county court-at-law that will be much more accessible should an emergency situation arise. Obviously, I can't be in two places at one time," Terrell said. "But we manage to do it. If we have an emergency, I figure out how to get in there somehow, even if I have to do a lot of driving in the same day."
When asked why voters should choose to re-elect him, Terrell said his experience sets him apart from his opponent.
"We've done the job. I've kept my promises I made to the voters last time, and we showed them," Terrell said.
"We're out here for the citizens that voted me in and put me into this place, and we've done that, and we're going to continue to do that if the voters deem it appropriate to put me back in this office."