Texas

Looking back on a career in public service

After 28 years as a Williamson County 2nd Precinct Justice of the Peace, Judge Edna Staudt retired at the end of 2022.

Staudt has always had a passion for government and its underpinnings, which is partly why she felt called to run for JP in 1994. She took office in 1995 and has won every election since then until 2022, when she decided not to run again.

“The main reason I got involved in the government process was because I wanted to make sure there were good people in power,” she said. “I think we have the best government in the world, but only if the people who run it are good. I stepped in when this seat was up for re-election and someone was running that I wouldn’t want to be a judge if I was in the courtroom, so I ran and won.”

Prior to joining the civil service, Staudt worked as a real estate mortgage broker and owned her own secretarial business.

When she took office, she had four employees and conducted about five death investigations a month. It now has 12 employees and conducts up to 30 death investigations per month.

A lot has changed in the past 28 years, Staudt says, but no more than the people she sees in court.

“The attitude towards people has changed,” she said. “When I started out, I was heavily into alcohol with the kids, and now I see drugs all the time as well. I can’t explain it – I just know what I see. In general, the attitude towards power, responsibility and accountability has changed compared to what it was 28 years ago. Not in general, of course, but this is what I see from the point of view of the courtroom.

Staudt said many people don’t understand what a justice of the peace does, but the role includes a lot.

“Over the past 28 years, I have conducted thousands of death investigations and also preside over juvenile court, small claims court, criminal court and others,” she said. “They all follow different rules. Our courts were essentially created to be the people’s court. It’s never boring.”

Staudt has had many moments of pride in her career, such as having the Williamson County Leadership Award named after her, but she is most proud of two programs she created for local youth.

“I launched the Court Mentor Program and the Williamson County Teen Court Program,” she said. “I started both of them in 1996 and they’re still going strong today.”

The mentoring program was created because Staudt saw some unhappy, angry, and sometimes depressed young people walking through her yard, and she wanted to create a program that would give these teenagers someone to listen to and encourage them.

“The mentoring program has helped so many kids graduate from high school, get their degrees and be ready for life,” Staudt said. “Over the years, I have had hundreds of volunteer mentors helping the youth of our district.”

The Teen Court Program, co-produced with the YMCA, is a mock court-style program that introduces high school students to the court system.

“Thousands of children have gone through this program,” Staudt said. “They learn to think on the go and understand justice and mercy. This program is really like a civil law course that teaches teenagers how to be lawyers, clerks, judges and bailiffs.”

Staudt added that students on probation can go through this “court” to be judged by their peers, which in turn creates an important experience for all involved.

“My favorite moments over the years have been when I see a student go from being depressed and thinking it doesn’t matter to being clairvoyant and realizing he has a future you can only dream of,” Staudt said.

Staudt uses prayer as a tool every four years when deciding whether to run for re-election or not. In 2022, she did not feel the peace that she used to experience when running, so she did not run anymore.

“Part of that has to do with how extensive this work is,” she added. “It can create a huge amount of stress. Part of my role is investigating deaths in the area, including homicides and suicides, as well as meeting with people experiencing the tragedy of losing someone. It takes a long time to recover from those events. Now I think God has another season planned for me. It was a period of my life, and now I believe that something else is coming.”

Staudt doesn’t know what next season will bring, but for now she plans to enjoy her retirement by spending time with her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

“I can’t seem to find an opportunity or an adequate way to thank as many people as I would like to thank,” Staudt said. “I am deeply grateful to the community for keeping me in office all these years.”

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