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Lavaca County JP retires after 36 1/2 years in office

By Jessica Priest
May 30, 2014 at 12:30 a.m.
Updated May 31, 2014 at 12:31 a.m.

Lavaca County Justice of the Peace Alene Lyons is retiring after 36 years on the bench in a job that started out as a part-time position and evolved over the years.

YOAKUM - The photos of Alene Lyons' family are still on display in a cozy space across from the post office on Nelson Street.

A lot of children memorialized on the wall have grown leaps and bounds since the photos were first placed there.

On Friday she took down the photos as she retired.

Lyons, 72, was appointed justice of the peace, Precinct 4, for Lavaca County when there was a vacancy in December 1978.

She was elected the following year and has had an opponent only twice. In one contested race, she ran against the incumbent justice of the peace of Precinct 5. That's because county commissioners consolidated the two offices.

Now, after a career that lasted 361/2 years, her last day in office was Friday.

Her clerk, Hallie Hall, began her tenure as judge at 5 p.m. Friday just in time for her first weekend on call.

"Hallie will be really good. I mean, she knows the job," Lyons said Thursday, smiling. "It's going to be really hard for her to replace herself."

Hall was Lyons' clerk for 10 years before she decided to run for office. And then, she only decided to go for it at the last minute because Lyons wanted to step down.

Before she became a clerk, Hall managed convenience stores, working 12- to 14-hour days.

"I was ready for a change," Hall said, "and, goodness, look where it led."

"She took a pay cut to come here," Lyons added.

Before Lyons hired Hall, Hall's mother, Kathy, was the clerk for 10 years, too.

Originally, both Lyons and Kathy Hall were part-time county employees, working in a building near Wendel Motor Co. They also spent a majority of their time processing traffic tickets.

"At that time, nobody was sue crazy; now, they're sue crazy," Lyons said.

People think they are more familiar with the law. She sees a lot of people she describes as "apartment hoppers," who think complexes don't have the right to evict them until 30 days pass.

Most small-claims cases can be handled in a modest-sized room at the 113 Nelson St. location, but bench trials are handled at the county annex in Hallettsville.

Lyons also has performed more weddings and inquests as the years have rolled by.

Before becoming a justice of the peace, she'd never seen a body outside of a casket. Her first inquest was a suicide, a woman with a gunshot wound to the head.

"I mean, that's the hardest part, especially if you know the person. Of course, in a small town, a lot of times, you know the person. ... But it's part of the job," she said.

When she started, "a woman JP was just not heard of. They were all older men in their retirement ages, real old men," she added.

Before becoming a justice of the peace, Lyons worked in accounts receivable at Tex Tan Leather Co.

Her favorite part of working as justice of the peace has been helping people.

But now it is time for her to relax and enjoy her friends and family.

Lyons has been a widow for nine years, but she has two good friends from church with whom she travels to Fredericksburg, Kerrville, Las Vegas, Seattle and Nashville.

She also has a big family - four sons and nine grandchildren.

"I'm ready to do something different. I have a son who lives in Colorado, and I don't see him but maybe once a year, and I'd like to go visit," she said.

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