James Harris of Denison is looking forward to completing a few things after next week — a full round of golf and a full night’s sleep being two things on his list. After 44 years of service, the last 19 of which have been as the justice of the peace for Grayson County’s Precinct 2, Harris is retiring.
Family members, friends, local officials and co-workers gathered Wednesday afternoon for a reception at the county’s sub-courthouse in Denison. The site has served as Harris’ office and civil court since he became judge in 1994 after the late Harlan Sewell stepped down due to health issues and Jim Holt retired.
In familiar fashion, Harris, hands in his pockets, quietly mingled with the reception attendees. He kept his remarks brief when addressing the group.
“It’s certainly been interesting and, most of the time, fun,” Harris said. “But after 44 years of public service, it’s time to step away awhile and see what else is out there.”
Prior to the official start of the festivities, Harris recalled his long career. He first worked with the Denison Police Department and then the Grayson County Sheriff’s Department for a total of 24 years. It was then that he was appointed to the justice of the peace, Precinct 2 position where he has remained. During those years, there have been lots of changes in how the office operates, as well as his job duties.
Computerization and doubling the size of the office staff to keep up with the growing number of civil cases were cited by Harris as big changes to the office since he began. Also changing have been the number of cases Harris has handled in his courtroom.
“There have been lots of changes in civil cases, which have more than doubled just in the last four or five years, and the jurisdictional limit has doubled for civil cases. There are a lot more magistrate duties now than in the past,” says Harris. “Evictions have picked up a lot due to the economy and (school) truancy has become a big issue.
“I think truancy has always been a problem, but wasn’t high on the schools’ agenda until state funding was cut, so the schools had to start enforcing attendance in order to get the money they needed,” he says. “I see a lot more people not able to pay for their traffic tickets and having to do community service, and there are a lot more credit card cases because people have lost their jobs and can’t pay their credit card bills.”
Through the years, Harris says, he’s had many experiences that he will long remember — good, bad and bizarre.
“We had a lady in court for eviction one day who had roaches crawling out of her hair,” said Harris, shaking his head. “That’s not a funny memory, but it’s one I’ll keep. I also got to do my oldest daughter’s wedding in 2000 and, so far, it’s stuck!”
The long hours and middle-of-the-night calls won’t be missed by Harris, who will turn 65 next Tuesday. He says he’s got plenty to keep him busy. He plans on riding his horses more, and he and his wife hope to garden more and travel. He also wants to indulge in another hobby he’s had little time for.
“It’s been seven days a week, 24 hours a day for a long time … In the last 20 years, I’ve only gotten to play six rounds of golf before getting called out,” says Harris with a grin. “And I certainly won’t miss all those night calls … The hardest for me has always been the inquests on little children.”
Thanking Harris for his long service to the county was retired Tax Assessor-Collector John Ramsey.
“Everyone knows what dedication this man has,” said Ramsey. “And I appreciate his help with the tax office over here (at the sub-courthouse). If any kind of disagreement ever came up, his office always helped handle it.”
Taking Harris’ place will be Frank Budra of Pottsboro.