Ted Staples, who has wielded the gavel since 1991, is closing his office in Tuleta.
Bee County commissioners have appointed retired Corpus Christi Police Captain Robert Bridge to replace Staples.
Bridge is expected to run for the Republican nomination for that office in March. He will have a Democrat opponent, Julissa DeLeon James, in November.
Staples was born in Tuleta in 1936 and graduated from Pettus High School in 1955.
In 1962, Staples landed a job as a state game warden. But by 1968, he had left that job because, in those days, it was just too difficult to make a living on the pay.
Staples went on to spend 11 years working at Chase Field Naval Air Station and another 11 years working with Coastal States Oil and Gas Co. and 10 years with Houston Petrochemicals.
He filed for the Precinct 2 justice of the peace job in 1990 and won.
Since taking office, Staples has earned quite a record.
“I had a lot of drug cases,” the judge said. “Over 200 from 1990 to 1994.”
He has also handled more than 21,000 traffic cases over the years.
Staples boasts about performing more than 200 marriages during his time on the Precinct 2 bench. “And I never charged for any of them,” he said.
One of the most interesting aspects of Staples’ life has been the number of famous folks he has met. Those include the popular country singer Jim Reeves, five presidents and other national politicians.
Staples said when Reeves would come to Bee County, he would take the singer to the O’Brien ranch in the eastern part of the county.
“He was a great human being,” Staples said of Reeves.
The presidents Staples met over the years included John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson and Ronald Reagan.
Of course, Staples met George H.W. Bush and his son, George W. Bush.
“John Tower was a good friend,” Staples said. Tower was a Republican senator from Texas.
But the judge is most proud of the numerous federal and state lawmen he has befriended over the years.
That includes members of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Central Intelligence Agency, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, Internal Revenue Service and Drug Enforcement Administration.
Many of the federal agents he has met over the years still stop in to chat, and he hosts those old friends often on hunting excursions to Bee County.
Of course, Staples knew and worked with every local and state law officer who ever served in Bee County. That includes Hank Whitman, who became head of the Texas Rangers in 2009.
Staples also met John Walsh, host of the one-time television program “America’s Most Wanted.”
The judge said the job he is leaving to Bridge has improved since he took office. “I came in making half the salary of the other justices of the peace,” Staples said. But he managed to rectify that once the county commissioners realized the scope of work he had in north Bee County.
Staples said he sometimes heard as many as 26 cases a night. His secretary for more than a dozen years, Cheryl Fudge, worked many long hours. “And she had to train her own self,” he said.
Mostly, Staples is proud of the way he has conducted the JP’s office in Precinct 2.
“I’ve had people come in here and ask ‘is this a Republican office or a Democrat office?’ I said this is a fair office.”
Of course, not everyone has agreed with Staples’ decisions. “I’ve had four dogs poisoned over the years,” he said.
Staples plans to do what most folks do when they retire and spend more time with family members. His wife, Nancy, died in 1982, but he has three daughters, all living in Corpus Christi, and eight grandchildren.
“I won’t be doing anything for money,” Staples said.
He expects to keep on hosting all the law officer friends he has made over the years. Most of them are retired now, and they have more time for South Texas hunting trips.
Mrs. Fudge, Staples’ secretary, also plans to spend more time with her family after retirement.
She has a son in Schertz and a daughter in Beeville and one granddaughter.
“I’ll do something totally different,” she said. She intends to spend a lot more time concentrating on the show cattle business she and her husband, Jeffrey Fudge, have in Mineral.
During a send-off party in the Bee County Courthouse last week, every elected official and justice of peace came by to wish Staples and his secretary well.
One of those attending the event, newly appointed Justice of the Peace Bridge, said he is looking forward to taking the job.
Bridge said a new community building is being constructed and his office will be just inside the door there.
Gary Kent is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 120, or at reporter@mySouTex.com.