BELTON — Two new judges held hearings Thursday at the Bell County Justice Center as John Gauntt and Jack Jones sat behind their respective benches for the first time.
Neither donned a judge’s robe, and both looked to their experienced bailiffs for guidance in their first days presiding over the 27th and 146th District Courts. Besides that, their first hearings were starkly different.
The 27th District Court hears solely criminal cases. The 146th holds hearings for essentially zero criminal cases, with a strong emphasis on civil and family law.
County officials swore in Gauntt on Wednesday. He succeeded Judge Joe Carroll, who sat behind the bench for 24 years.
Gauntt is the 13th judge to preside over the 27th District Court, which was created in 1885.
One of Gauntt’s first hearings was a probation revocation hearing for a 22-year-old man who killed a friend accidentally while racing in a car. Adam Wayne Spicer, had been on probation when he “absconded,” prosecutor Ed Vallejo said.
He was 17 when his car struck and killed 18-year-old Bryan Lounsbury, a spectator to the illegal race on Farm-to-Market 2410.
“You’ll have to forgive me; this is my first day on the job,” Gauntt told Spicer. “I’ve stood on the other side where your lawyer is for some 40 years.”
Gauntt ended up delaying Spicer’s sentencing in order to allow for officials to conduct a pre-sentencing investigation. Spicer could face up to 20 years in prison.
Jones is the first new judge in more than 23 years to preside over the 146th District Court. He succeeded Judge Rick Morris, who was appointed to the office in 1989 and won election to five consecutive terms.
To start his day, Jones called the civil docket promptly at 9 a.m., only to find that several of the parties necessary had not arrived. One lawyer was en route from Houston, while another man had no idea where his lawyer was.
As his first official order, Jones granted a woman full custody of her 4-year-old son. The woman had stopped using drugs several months ago. She maintained partial custody of the child with his grandmother, who, until Jones’ ruling, was the boy’s chief guardian.
Jones swore the two women in, letting the boy’s mother know she needed to raise her right hand, not her left.
Standing in front of the judge, the mother told her story. The father remains incarcerated in federal prison after violating probation on a drug charge, and had already voluntarily forfeited any right to the child.
She now has two jobs and lives close to her mother, who will continue to provide support. After hearing the uncontested motion, Jones granted her custody.
Jones is the sixth judge to preside over the 146th District Court since it was created in 1960.