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County Court-at-Law No. 2 judge retiring after 27 years of service

By Gheni_Platenburg
Nov. 19, 2010 at 5:19 a.m.

Judge Juan Velasquez listens to an attorney during a case on Wednesday morning. Velasquez will retire after serving 27 years as a judge.

THE OFFICEThe County Court-at-Law No. 2 position was created by the State Legislature and activated by the County Commissioners Court to help with the caseload of misdemeanor criminal cases, juvenile cases, probate cases, eminent domain cases and civil cases where the amount in controversy is less than $100,000.

Juan Velasquez III was the first judge to serve in that court.

THE JUDGEBORN: Laredo. Juan Velasquez III was the son of migrant farm workers.

EARLY WORK: He and his family traveled to Michigan, Ohio and West Texas to work in the fields, leaving Laredo in May and returning by December.

SCHOOLS: Because the family traveled so much, Velasquez would attend three different schools every year until he finally graduated from Martin High School with honors in 1964.

DEGREES: He received an associate degree from Laredo College in 1966 and a bachelor's degree from Texas A&I University in 1969, where he majored in secondary education.

ROTC: During his time at A&I, Velasquez became the first Hispanic to be appointed commander of the university's ROTC Corps of Cadets.

MILITARY SERVICE: He went on to serve as an Army officer in the Vietnam War and attained the rank of captain. He received a plethora of awards including the Bronze Star, Army Commendation Medal and the Army Air Medal.

BECOMES ATTORNEY: After graduating from the University of Houston School of Law, Velasquez became a licensed attorney in 1977.

AWARD: During his time practicing law in Victoria, he won several awards including the Most Outstanding Young Lawyer in Victoria County.

LAW PRACTICE: He practiced law with the firm of Kilgore, Cole, McManus and Velasquez before taking on his current judge position.

From a young age, Judge Juan Velasquez had his mind set to become three things when he grew up: a teacher, a soldier and a lawyer.

Becoming a judge was not on the 63-year-old's original to-do list.

However, as Velasquez prepares to retire after working for 27 years as the judge for Victoria County Court-at-Law No. 2, he remains grateful for the unplanned blessing.

"It's been the most challenging and rewarding thing I've ever done in my lifetime," said Velasquez. "I'm really honored that I had the opportunity to serve."

Velasquez will work until the end of December, even though, the Victoria County Bar Association held his formal picture hanging ceremony and retirement party on Friday.

"I'm really appreciative of all the kind support that's been given to me. It's overwhelming," said Velasquez. "I never thought that a day like this would come by and it's here."

"He's been a great mentor to young attorneys," said Jill Sklar, president of the Victoria County Bar Association. "The bar wanted to honor a man who has dedicated so much of his life to the citizens of Victoria County."

The Victoria County Commissioners Court appointed Velasquez as judge in 1983.

Following his appointment, Velasquez ran uncontested throughout his entire time on the bench.

"I'm very happy that people in Victoria County had faith in me and supported me in my re-elections."

Before becoming a judge however, Velasquez did manage to attain his initial three career goals, though the road getting there was not an easy one.

"I'm happy that my parents got to see me become a judge. It was their inspiration and guidance that helped me to obtain all the things I have managed to obtain," said Velasquez.

Over the years, Velasquez's courtroom became known as a training ground for new prosecutors in the area.

"When I was young, I thought he was overly hard, but he said it was for my own good," said attorney James Reyes, who started his career in Velasquez's courtroom in 2005. "Now, I appreciate that. He prepared me to work in front of judges with different temperaments."

He continued, "I became a much better lawyer because I had him as my first judge."

Houston-based attorney Pamela Collins, who also started her career in Velasquez's courtroom, recalled Velasquez's resonating prosecutorial advice.

"He used to say, 'Never let them see you sweat', and that still holds true," said Collins.

Even Victoria District Attorney Steve Tyler reminisced over his time prosecuting in front of Velasquez.

"As a person, I'm better for having known him. As a jurist, I'm a better attorney for having practiced in his courtroom, and I'm in his debt," Tyler said during his speech at the picture hanging ceremony.

Working with juveniles was also a rewarding part of his job duties, said Velasquez.

"I wanted to show them that even though you may be poor or a member of a minority that you can accomplish anything you set your mind to do with hard work and through education," said Velasquez. "I'm hoping that I inspired not only children, but also adults to reach for more."

"He's made such a positive impact on so many people's lives," said Velasquez's son, Juan Velasquez IV. "I'm extremely proud of him. He's loved very much."

For Velasquez, his upcoming retirement is bittersweet.

Although he chose to retire so he could spend more time with family and travel, his retirement marks the end of an era of working alongside his wife of 15 years, Laura Weiser, who serves as County Court-at- Law Judge No. 1.

"I'm happy for him, but I'm sad for me. One of the real blessings of this job was going to work together everyday," said Weiser, who was recently re-elected for another four-year term.

"On the first Monday in January, Judge Weiser will get up and get dressed and she'll go to work. I won't," Velasquez said jokingly. "She expects breakfast and lunch, and I better deliver."

Velasquez had nothing but well wishes for the man who will follow in his footsteps as the new County Court of Law No. 2 judge, Republican Daniel Gilliam.

"I hope he'll enjoy it as much as I have."

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