By BRAD KEITH
TheFlashToday.com NEWS & SPORTS – FREE & LOCAL
STEPHENVILLE (December 15, 2015) — In the Warren family, milestones are tracked based on the following landmarks in time – the release of Star Wars movies, The History Channel and Stephenville Yellow Jacket state football titles.
As she prepares for her retirement as court administrator of Erath County Court at Law, Warren refers often to those significant events while recalling when others took place.
Like a juvenile murder trial in the summer of 1994, which she easily remembers because “it was the summer between the first two state championships.”
That was one of the most difficult cases Warren has been a part of during a career spanning 34-1/2 years and five judges.
“That is one I will never forget. He was a scary kid,” Warren said as she recalled the case of a 14-year-old boy killing his stepmother. “If that hadn’t happened when he was 14, I don’t know what he might have done years later.”
Warren vividly recalls the emotion in the courtroom on the second floor of the courthouse, a few paces from the office she still works from today.
“The worst part was he lived with his father here, and his mother came from Abilene for the trial and sat in the courtroom every day with tears just streaming down her face. My heart just broke for her,” Warren remembers. “I had teenage kids at the time, we had just won a state championship and were fixing to win another one. We were happy and healthy, and then to look at her was just so difficult. It was so humbling and made me so appreciative for all the many blessings I have.”
While that particular defendant has picked up three additional charges during his time in prison and remains incarcerated, Warren is quick to point him out as an extreme case. Many others have ended on much better terms.
“What’s rewarding is to see a juvenile who got themselves into trouble, they’ve gone through the system and get straightened out, then they come back and thank the judge that worked the case. Sometimes they even stop and thank all of us that were a part of it,” she said. “That always makes you feel good.”
Warren said she sees that most often when out with her husband, retired juvenile probation officer Dale Warren.
“We were at Angel Tree the other night, and a man came up to Dale and said, ‘I bet you don’t remember me,’ and Dale told him, ‘Yes, I sure do,’ and the man thanked him for helping set him straight,” Warren said. “Stuff like that never gets old.”
County court deals primarily in juvenile crime, misdemeanors, family law and child custody disputes and probate cases.
“We don’t do a lot of happy things. When you probate wills and it’s somebody you knew and were close with, that’s very difficult, and it’s happened far too often here recently,” Warren said. “It’s a small community, so far too often we know their loved ones, and they come in and are still grieving and sometimes you’re grieving with them.
“(Child Protective Services) cases can be difficult, too. Sometimes you see them move forward from them and go on and do well as a family, and that’s rewarding to see,” she said. “It happens, but unfortunately, it doesn’t happen very often.”
When Warren first started in 1981, the criminal cases on file were numbered in the 14,000s. Now, she files cases numbered in the 46,000 range.
“That’s 32,000 just criminal cases,” she said. “And there’s no telling how many civil, guardianship and probate cases. I can’t even begin to tell you because the numbering system changed when it was computerized.”
She does know that juvenile crime cases started with the number 992 when records were computerized in 1998. The number is now in the 1,400s, Warren said.
“That’s 500 juvenile cases in the last 17 years, and that’s just the last half of my time here,” Warren points out. “That’s a lot of cases.”
Warren has worked for five judges, going back to when the county court and county court-at-law were one and the same. Mary McCoy was Erath County Judge when Warren first reported for duty at the courthouse.
“Mary taught me everything, I was the new girl then, so I had to learn it all,” Warren said. “And we were doing everything then. We had all the court-at-law stuff, then all the administrative stuff for the commissioners.”
Randy Thomas was next in line, and Warren says he “was such a delight to work for, he really was. He was the judge who went to the commissioners and said, ‘now is the time to do something about the courthouse,’ and that evolved into the beautiful building we have today. Randy doesn’t have his name on that plaque down there, but deserves a lot of credit for that.”
Bill Hailey followed Thomas.
“He was a retired high school principal, not an attorney, but he was a very good man,” Warren says of Hailey.
Bart McDougal came next in line.
“McDougal really got the county court-at-law off and running,” Warren says.
And now, current judge, Blake Thompson.
“He is excellent to work with. He’s very conscientious and hard working and goes into every case well prepared whether it’s a revocation or will probate.”
Warren, whose son, Jeffrey Thompson, is defensive coordinator at Stephenville High School, says she may be retiring from work, but will never retire from being the self-professed, “biggest Yellow Jacket football fan in the world.”
“Who else do you know who tied blue and gold ribbons to Moo-La right down there on the square?” Warren challenges. “We’ll have our season tickets to Stephenville football games until we bequeath them to someone in our will!”
Funny enough, that has happened before.
“We’ve had one or two will probate cases where someone has left their season tickets to Stephenville football games to someone,” Warren said. “And we’ve had season tickets come up for dispute in divorce cases.”
As Warren frees herself to track her five grandchildren and enjoy some traveling with Dale, she says she will never stray from the friendships she has made through the years, especially those with the “second floor gang.”
“The friendships I’ve made here are just countless. Everyone here is so wonderful, and especially here with our second floor gang, we’re like one big family,” Warren says. “If one of us hurts, we all hurt. If one of us is happy, we’re all happy. We keep up with each other’s kids, grandkids and family. It’s a special group up here.”
Warren is officially retiring on Friday, December 31, but with vacation days stored up, her last day of work will be Wednesday, December 23. A retirement ceremony will be held this Friday, from 2-5 p.m., at the courthouse.
“I’ve spent about two-thirds of my life here. I will miss the daily interaction with everyone, but don’t get me wrong, I’ll come back and say hi,” she says with a genuine smile. “Who knows, I might even bring them lunch now and again.”