By Joyce May
Killeen Daily Herald
– The administering of the oath of office to Coryell County Judge John E. Firth on Friday morning was met with cheers and applause by a large crowd that gathered in the 52nd District Courtroom to witness the event.
Judge Phillip Zeigler administered the oath of office to Firth, who was appointed by the Coryell County Commissioners' Court on June 15 to fulfill the vacancy left by the death of Judge Riley J. Simpson, who died of cancer on June 4.
"Surprising some and pleasing many, they went outside of their own number," Zeigler said, speaking of the commissioners' selection of Firth from a list of several applicants.
The appointment will continue until a judge is elected in a November 2008 special election to serve the remainder of Simpson's term through 2010.
In his speech following the swearing-in, Firth praised Simpson for his hard work and numerous contributions to the county, and he also thanked commissioners Jack Wall, Daren Moore, Don Jones and Elizabeth Taylor for their work.
"We all have a deep sense of debt for what you went through ... It was not an ideal situation because of Riley's untimely death," Firth said. "My pledge to the commissioners' court is to validate your choice."
Firth called on the assistance of other government officials and residents to aid him in the time of transition and what he called his own "steep learning curve" as the county moves forward with business.
The new judge also recognized his family and longtime co-workers.
Firth has already been hard at work touring storm-damaged neighborhoods in Copperas Cove with other city and county officials and knocking on agency doors in Austin seeking assistance for flood victims in the county.
Firth was in Austin on Wednesday visiting the Office of Rural Community Affairs and the Governor's Division of Emergency Management, as the county awaited word on whether state or federal funding would be made available.
Firth said the appointment as county judge begins the fulfillment of a lifelong goal to contribute his energies to public service.
Firth requested the two-week delay before taking office to allow him the opportunity to give proper notice to Army officials as he was serving as lead for an information technology project that involves training soldiers to use computers in the global war on terrorism.
Wall said commissioners took the job of making an appointment very seriously and appreciated those applicants who expressed interest in the position.
"We feel like we made the right decision. We are ready to move forward with county business," Wall said.
Born in 1947 in New York, Firth graduated in 1968 from the University of Redlands in California as a pre-law student with a religion/government major.
His early intentions were to attend law school and then involve himself in public service. A draft notice changed those plans, and Firth instead served 31 years in the Army, including time in Vietnam.
Firth attended Infantry Officer Candidate School in 1970. He considers his greatest honor during his military career as "being able to soldier with the greatest soldiers in the world" and joining the Officer Candidate Hall of Fame in 2003.
The new county judge first moved to Coryell County in 1989 and said he has considered it home ever since, even when serving military assignments overseas.
He and his wife, Jean, returned to their Copperas Cove house in 2000 after his retirement from the Army.
Firth also holds a master's degree in business administration with a management major from Texas Christian University, conferred in 1979, and a master's degree in counseling from Georgia State University, conferred in 1976.
Firth commanded Army units at the company and battalion levels, including serving as a battalion commander with the 1st Cavalry Division at Fort Hood, during which time the battalion deployed for combat during the first Gulf War.
Firth brings to the position a wealth of experience in budget preparation, judicial experience as a military commander administering the U.S. Uniform Code of Military Justice, including punishment adjudication, and in civil defense, disaster relief, general planning and information management.
On a county level, Firth has served on the Appraisal Review Board and as an elections official.
Contact Joyce May at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (254) 547-0428.