By PHILLIP WILLIAMS
The Gilmer Mirror
Several speakers paid tribute to longtime 115th District Judge Lauren Parish at a retirement ceremony attended by an estimated audience of more than 200 persons on Wednesday of last week at the Gilmer Civic Center.
She did not seek re-election to a seventh four-year term this year and said she will take senior judge status, meaning she can be assigned to hear cases in which judges have disqualified themselves.
After her first election in 1994, when she had an opponent in the Democratic primary and a Republican opponent in the general election, she was unopposed in all five of her bids for re- election. She was elected as a Republican for her last term, but switched back to the Democratic Party in 2016 over dissatisfaction with GOP Presidential candidate Donald Trump before he was elected.
Parish, who followed five other speakers with backgrounds in the law at last week’s more than one-hour ceremony, choked up in addressing the audience, saying her office was the “greatest honor of my life” before unveiling artist David Terry’s portrait of herself, which will hang in her courtroom.
The judge said she had “seen some of the finest lawyers in the state of Texas,”and praised attorneys in Upshur and Marion Counties, who “do their job as zealously as anyone in the state.” She expressed appreciation to the counties’ respective bar associations.
“The thing I will miss the most is my daily interaction with these lawyers, who also happen to be my friends,” Parish said. She then explained that her judicial philosophy came from the movie Jerry Maguire: “Show me the money.” That is, she explained, show evidence.
She said her attitude toward lawyers was “help me help you” by giving information to her since cases are not decided on gut instinct. The judge also warned lawyers against excessive talking. In addition, Parish thanked her court coordinator, Teena Henson, saying she even served as the office’s custodian since “there’s no janitorial services provided the judge’s office”; her longtime court reporter, Deanna Drennan; and her bailiff, Becky Pope, who the judge termed “my cat herder in chief.”
The retiring judge also wished her successor, longtime Upshur County Judge Dean Fowler, “the best” after he replaces her Jan. 1. Fowler, county judge for the past 16 years, was elected without opposition this year to the district court bench. First of the speakers, Byrd, said his time with Parish had begun in November 2006, when he was elected district attorney, and that there had been much “clamor” about having a Republican prosecutor and a Democratic district judge. But when they met, he said, she was “kind and inviting” and he knew “it was going to be a good thing.
“There’s no Republican or Democrat,” Byrd said, telling Parish “You are the embodiment of what a judge should be. . .You have a strong desire to do what is right. “You were kind and decent to all, even when that was difficult,” Byrd added. He also noted the judge even made homemade cinnamon rolls at Christmastime for attorneys, helped the Highway 80 Rescue Mission in Longview, and helped the Upshur County Library.
“You made a difference,” Byrd summed up. A senior state district judge, William R. Porter, likened Parish to her late father, Welby K. Parish, who during his noted career as an attorney practicing both criminal and civil law served as Upshur County judge and later district attorney. (Welby Parish died in 1987, but his widow, Betty Parish, attended the ceremony honoring their daughter.) Porter said the judge was like her father in that she “can be a very loyal friend” or a “fierce take-no-prisoners enemy if you make her one.”
He said he did not know if Lauren Parish had a middle name, “but it should be Welby Jr.” Porter, who shared serving Marion County with Parish till retiring in 2010, told a humorous anecdote about how she “had one of her defendants write her a love note, ask her for a date. . .(and add that) ‘I knew there was something between us the minute our eyes met.’”
The speaker said Parish had reached “burnout” in her profession, but “she did a good job” and had a “good moral compass,” applying the law fairly and impartially. Another speaker, Judge Brad Morin of the 71st District Court in Marshall, said he once worked for Parish and that “since I became a judge, I have relied on her” and received “sound advice.” He termed her his mentor. He recalled she had sent him a letter listing “the top 10 things I have learned from the bench,” one of which was “If both sides leave unhappy, then you have made the right decision.
“She set the bar of what judges should be,” Morin declared. Veteran Gilmer attorney Dwight Brannon, senior member of the Upshur County Bar Association and district attorney in the late 1970s and early 1980s, thanked Parish for never holding him in contempt and told anecdotes about her.
“You have been truly a friend” who “kept us true to the faith and to the Constitution,” Brannon told the judge. Former 71st District Judge and ex-Harrison County District Attorney Sam Baxter noted Parish was the first female and youngest district judge (she was first elected when in her mid-30s) for Upshur and Marion Counties. He said he met Parish in 1990 when some “crazy guy” sued her and her father’s estate and he represented her. Noting he had himself been on the bench, he said he advised her against running for the office the first time she sought it.
But after she took office, he noted, she would call him and say, “I’ve got this issue. What do you think?” Now, Baxter noted, Parish has disposed of more than 55,000 cases in 24 years, more than any other judge he knows of., and has presided over more than 450 trials “to a jury conclusion.” “Justice has been served in Upshur and Marion Counties,” Baxter said.
The ceremony had opened with Pope instructing the audience to rise before a procession of robed judges took the stage. Judge Parish then entered with several others before Byrd welcomed the audience and Buford Jones, a minister, said the invocation. Byrd then led the audience in the pledge of allegiance and introduced the judges, along with several elected officials from Upshur and Marion Counties, before making his opening remarks honoring the judge.
Judges and justices listed as in attendance, who were from state appellate courts or are state judges, included Josh Morriss, chief justice of the Texarkana-based 6th Court of Appeals, and that court’s other justices, Bailey Moseley and Ralph Burgess; James Worthen, chief justice of the 12th Court of Appeals in Tyler, and that court’s other two justices, Brian Hoyle and Greg Neeley.
Another appellate justice attending, David Bridges, was an assistant Upshur County district attorney in the late 1980s. Other judges listed as attending included Paul Banner, Joe Black, David Brabham, Jack Carter, Alfonso Charles, Joe Clayton, Diane DeVasto, Donald Dowd, Jeffrey Fletcher, Bill Miller, John Miller, Kent Phillips, Robert Ralston, Kerry Russell, Rebecca Simpson and Tim Womack.
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