INK IN THE BLOOD
Almost 50 years ago, Roy and Ginny Kelly were raising three daughters near Stafford in rural Fort Bend County. Roy and his dad, Buck, had a used car business but Roy also felt an obligation to civic duty so he got elected justice of the peace.
He took the detached garage at his home and turned it into a Western-themed courtroom, complete with a sign proclaiming: “Judge Roy Kelly, The Law West of Stafford,” a take-off on a famous Texas frontier character, Judge Roy Bean, The Law West of the Pecos.
One summer Sunday afternoon, I was visiting the Kelly home when the judge received a call from the Highway Patrol (as Texas Department of Public Safety troopers were known then). They informed the judge they were bringing a carload of teenaged boys to his court for an incident on a Fort Bend stretch of highway between Houston and Freeport, where there’s a nice beach.
Within minutes, two DPS patrol cars arrived escorting an older model Chevy station wagon with several surfboards strapped atop it.
A DPS sergeant strolled toward us while the other three troopers rounded up six young men from the station wagon and herded them toward Kelly’s courtroom.
“Judge, we were just sittin’ on the side of the highway in our cars because the traffic coming back from Freeport was so thick, we couldn’t work it,” said the sergeant with a grin. “All of a sudden here comes this speeding station wagon with a bare butt against the window, so we stopped ‘em and brought ‘em here.”
“Bring ‘em into the courtroom,” a poker-faced Kelly said.
Once everyone was situated in the courtroom, Kelly questioned each young man about their roles and positions in the station wagon. Upon getting a confession from the youngster who’d dropped his pants, as he said, “to moon a carload of girls,” Kelly ascertained that the boys were from Bellaire, not far from his courtroom. He got “mooning” boy’s father’s name and phone number and called him. He told the man he had his son and some of his friends in his courtroom and wondered if the father could drive out. The father quickly agreed.
When the father arrived, Kelly told him the full story and announced that he’d found the man’s son guilty of indecent exposure and was fining him $115.50, including court costs.
“Now,” Kelly said as he turned his head and looked at a paddle hanging on the wall behind his bench, “is there anything about further punishment you’d like to do?”
The father nodded and said, “Yessir, Judge, there sure is. Now, if y’all don’t mind clearing the courtroom, I’ll take care of it.”
The other teen boys, the troopers, the judge and I all exited the courtroom and we quickly heard the paddle being applied vigorously.
In a few minutes, the father and son appeared outside and the man announced to Kelly, “Judge, I can’t guarantee he’ll never do that again, but if he does it’ll be with a red butt.”
In subsequent months, Kelly took more actions about parental responsibility. The school district was having a problem with children with lice in their hair and the administration could get no help from parents in rectifying this public health problem, so they sought the judge’s input.
He told them to expel children who didn’t correct the problem after warnings and letters home. Then, he said, after being out of school the prescribed time under truancy laws and not returning clean, he’d drag the parents into court and fine and/or jail them for their child’s truancy.
After several rounds of those legal procedures, the lice problem and the truancy disappeared.
Those procedures couldn’t be imposed today but it sure says something about making parents take responsibility for their children’s actions.
Willis Webb is a retired community editor publisher of more than 50 years. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.