Liberty County officials, newly elected and reelected, sworn in to new terms

After being called constable, police chief and Special Ranger, Jimmy Belt has added another title to his name - judge. He is now the Precinct 2 Justice of the Peace for Liberty County. Belt (right) was accompanied by his wife, Joan, as he took his oath of office from County Judge Jay Knight (left) on Tuesday, Jan. 3.

Tuesday’s swearing-in ceremony in the 75th State District Courtroom in the Liberty County Courthouse was a scaled-down version of years past. This was mostly due to the fact that several reelected officials were sworn in beforehand so they could resume their duties without an interruption in service to Liberty County citizens.

The Honorable Judge Mark Morefield of the 75th State District Court, The Honorable Judge Chap Cain of the 253rd State District Court, County Court at Law No. 2 Judge Wes Hinch, Pct. 2 Commissioner Greg Arthur, Pct. 4 Commissioner Leon Wilson, County Surveyor John Moorman and all but one of the County’s six justices of the peace had their oaths administered before the ceremony. The only judiciary members yet to be sworn in were County Court at Law Judge Tommy Chambers and Pct. 2 Justice of the Peace Jimmy Belt.

Presiding over Tuesday’s ceremony was County Judge Jay Knight, who spoke briefly about all the changes headed toward Liberty County as a result of growth.

“If you don’t like change, I can’t fix that because you are going to see plenty of that. There is a lot of growth on the west side all the way from Cleveland to Dayton. Eventually it will spill over across the river. We will see a lot of action in the County Clerk’s office with land transfers, a lot of action in the County Engineer’s office with plats being filed, and approved or disapproved. We have a really good team here,” Knight said.

He added that the changes will be challenging while also rewarding for Liberty County, if handled properly.

“I believe we are prepared and with the team we have in place, we will get there. My encouragement to you, as members of the county, is to come to commissioners court, send us a letter or a phone call. Don’t get on Facebook and bash everybody. It doesn’t do any good,” he said. “I will answer a phone call or an email, and anyone who is serving right now will do the same thing.”

Though Judge Cain had already taken his oath, he asked Knight for a moment to address the few dozen residents who had gathered for the ceremony.

“I am starting my 33rd year here. I thought it was important for me to be here today because what we are doing is very important…It’s very important that we have this continuity, that we have these men and women who are here willing to serve and keep this county safe and running, and funded,” Cain said.

He then shared a story about Judge L.B. Hightower, who was known as the “Bear-Hunting Judge.” Hightower served as a judge in Liberty County from 1888 to 1917.

“He was a real institution. Around the turn of the century, he had a case. A young black man who had a family was arrested for stealing his neighbor’s pig. That was pretty serious back then. Judge Hightower started the evidence, and he asked the man, ‘Why did you do it?’ He said, ‘My kids are starving. A bear broke into my pens and killed all my pigs and chickens. I don’t have anything to fee my kids.’ Well, Judge Hightower was a celebrated hunter. When Teddy Roosevelt came through on what became a nationwide hunt, he hunted in a forest just north of here. Judge Hightower led the dogs on that hunt with Teddy Roosevelt. He hunted with Ben Lilley, who was a celebrated frontiersman. [Judge Hightower] took his dogs out and, by the end of the day, he had killed that bear. So, he returned the next day to the courthouse and he placed the gentleman on probation. He also told him when he could to replace his neighbor’s pig and gave him the bear meat to feed his family,” Cain said, explaining that Hightower understood justice.

“I think we have judges today in this courthouse who exemplify that kind of justice. I think we have law enforcement officers in this county – I know many – who exemplify that kind of justice. We have men and women who work hard to make sure we are safe and healthy, and that our County is properly funded. I will end with that. I want to thank you for giving me the opportunity to serve the last 32 years. I want to tell all those who are being sworn in today that what you are doing counts, what you are doing is important and I am happy to be here to be a part of it,” Cain said.

Following Cain’s remarks, the swearing-in ceremonies began with Judge Chambers up first. After taking his oath, Chambers thanked Liberty County voters for giving him the opportunity to serve again.

“I really appreciate it. It’s a pleasure and an honor to work here with the people I see day to day. You give me inspiration to come to work also. Please continue to pray for me to have strength and wisdom. Thank you very much,” he said.

County Clerk Lee Haidusek Chambers came to the ceremony with her entire staff, all of whom were sworn in as clerks earlier that morning. Chambers explained that her clerks were a major factor in her success as county clerk, so she wanted them to take part. One by one, they each read a small portion of her oath of office. Chambers’ grandson, A.J. Chambers, held the family’s more than 100-year-old Bible, as she took her oath.

“I had my whole staff participate because I want to brag on them a little bit. In the last four years, they have done amazing things. We have converted every computer system we had to new, better software with more online access. We have created a webpage for public information. I don’t think there is any area that we haven’t automated yet except for notices, and that is going to be happening this year,” she promised. “They have done a lot of work. Our office has more than doubled in collected. We see growth continuing to grow this way. Liberty County’s growth hits us first. If you want to know what’s happening in Liberty County, take a look at our reports. It will blow your mind.”

County Treasurer Kim Harris also brought along a contingency as she took her oath of office from her sister-in-law, The Honorable Judge Julie Kocurek, 390th State District Court in Travis County, Texas. Accompanying her were her husband, Matt Harris, Texas Rangers Brandon Bess and Josh Benson, Benson’s daughter, Ava, and Judge Cain.

Harris has served Liberty County as county treasurer, handing the county’s payroll, insurance and human resources, for the last 16 years.

“I have enjoyed every minute of it. It has been challenging at times, fun at time, just really a blessing, and I appreciate all the days that I am able to do this,” she said.

Lastly, Jimmy Belt was sworn in as Pct. 2 Justice of the Peace. Belt kept his remarks brief, saying that he is thankful for all the voters in Pct. 2 who decided to make a change in the November general election.

“I appreciate all my friends, all the support that I have here today. It means a lot that they came to the ceremony. I am very appreciative of everybody and thank you for showing up today,” Belt said.

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