To say District Court Judge Don Jones is a local boy who made good is decidedly an understatement. Jones, who is slated to retire June 30 after 31 years on the bench, has carved a niche for himself in the history of Erath County with an extensive career perfectly suited to his wise and prudent nature.
Born and raised in Stephenville, Jones went to school at Tarleton. And he wasn’t always certain law was for him.
“A lawyer had come to speak to us for career day. He told us, ‘You have to work 70 or 80 hours a week, and weekends.’ And I thought, ‘Well, I don’t want to do that.’ So I switched to business. After I graduated, Nicki (Jones’s wife) and I moved to Dallas. But I knew I wanted to go back to Stephenville, and I needed to get a profession. So I decided to go to law school.”
The next leg of his journey landed the newlyweds in Austin where Jones received his law degree from the University of Texas.
“Bob Glasgow (Jones’s cousin) was working for the governor. I was working in the attorney general’s office. We were sitting around one night, and I said, ‘I sure would like to go home,’” Jones remembered. “And Glasgow said, ‘Let’s do it.’ So we located an office and came back in December of 1970 to start a practice.”
Eleven years into his career, Jones had made a favorable impression and was appointed to the bench of District 266, which launched the genesis of his political career. But it had not been Jones’s first taste of the political sphere.
“In high school, I ran for student body president and was beaten by a much better candidate - a girl in my class. But I served as student body president at Tarleton. So that was my first minor involvement in politics. Then I ran for mayor in 1971,” he said.
Just 29 years old at the time, Jones would serve four terms in that capacity before his appointment to the judgeship. After his appointment, he ran for the office the following year.
“I ran eight times. I’ve not had an opponent, so I haven’t had too much politics to deal with,” Jones said.
Jones admitted to some cases that will linger in his mind after so many years.
“I’ve had some custody cases that would grind on me more than anything. A custody case or sexual abuse of a child — those cases really bothered me. I’d hear the cases and worry about them for three or four days. I couldn’t shake them off. Then I learned you have to do the best you can with what you have,” he explained. "One of the most memorable cases would be the capital murder case of a lady and her husband in Dublin. And then there is the one in Morgan Mill where a nephew had come through with two other kids and killed his aunt and uncle. They were just horrible cases. Unfortunately, having to hear the details is difficult. But those are what make the case for the jury.”
Jones doesn’t harbor any regrets for decisions he made during his time on the bench.
“I never decided a case for the wrong reason. But I have had a few cases where I didn’t think the law was right. But it’s not my job to make the law. I’ve had occasions to write a letter to a legislator, telling him, ‘You need to change this because it isn’t fair,’” he said.
For now, Judge Jones is focusing on a future that will afford him a bit more freedom. But he also revealed that he isn’t ready to give up the courts of justice completely.
“My official last day is June 30. I’ve already contacted the Supreme Court, my regional judge in Fort Worth, and I’ve sent a letter to the governor. But I’m not totally retiring. I’m taking senior status. In Texas a judge can retire and notify the Supreme Court, who will put you on a list to be appointed as a visiting judge,” he said. “Nicki and I may travel a bit. I’ll probably play some golf. But I just have to play it by ear to see how much I sit as a visiting judge.”
For now, Lady Justice can breathe a sigh relief, knowing she isn’t losing Judge Jones’s sensible and caring counsel altogether.