Sunday Conversation: Precinct 3 Justice of the Peace Edie Connelly
Edie Connelly became the Montgomery County Precinct 3 Justice of the Peace on the frigid first day of 1987.
In the more than three decades since, she has seen everything from theft to truancy and death — on a regular basis — in her de facto role as the township’s coroner.
As both a law enforcement official and a long-time resident of The Woodlands — her family moved here only three years after George Mitchell made the 40-something mile drive up from Houston and established his vision for the future — she’s seen the growing community from a unique point of view.
Earlier this year, Connelly announced her intention to retire from the bench in December. The job is a constant one she said, and she looks forward to spending more time with her family.
She sat down with the Villager to recap her time in office and look toward the future.
QUESTION: Tell me about your background — how did you end up in this role?
CONNELLY: When I was in college (at the University of Mississippi), I was majoring in social work and was doing some student jobs and one of them was as a dispatcher for the campus police department. so when I left that area — I moved to different places — eventually I was in North Carolina for a while, and when I was there, I was with the Jacksonville Police Department for just about a year and a half. I did undercover work, mostly vice and narcotics.
It was fun at the time, but I would never do it again. I look back now and I think, “That could have been scary,” but I wasn’t scared at the time.
When I moved to Texas, again I was looking for work, The Woodlands Fire Department dispatched for both the police and fire departments here, so I worked as a dispatcher and while I was doing that I went to the basic law enforcement course and became a certified peace officer.
I worked for the (Montgomery County) sheriff’s office for about nine years. I mostly worked sex crimes, domestic violence and child abuse.
QUESTION: How hard were those experiences to deal with? It must have been difficult.
CONNELLY: It was very difficult. I was, for a period of time, the only female working there — I had a lot of cases.
When this position became open, there were nine people in the primary, there was a runoff and I won (it), and the person who had been against me in the runoff filed as a write-in candidate.
QUESTION: What does the justice of the peace do?
CONNELLY: I hear all kinds of minor criminal cases, where the maximum punishment would be a fine, not jail — everything from traffic to a lot of juvenile curfew violations, truancy, minor in possession of alcohol and tobacco. The big one today is theft, I hear a lot of theft cases.
We have civil jurisdiction up to $10,000, so if two people are suing each other or suing a business up to $10,000, they can do it here. We have exclusive jurisdiction over eviction cases and we sign arrest warrants and so on.
We also don’t have a medical examiner, so the justice of the peace acts like a coroner, so I go to the scene of deaths and determine cause and manner.
It’s a 24-hour, 7-day-a-week job.
QUESTION: What challenges did you face as a woman in law enforcement?
CONNELLY: It was not easy — it was really not easy.
I really wanted to do the job and I needed the job and I really thought I could help people. When I first started, there weren’t any counseling services or helping agencies — I was on the founding board of the (Montgomery County) Women’s Center, the Rape Crisis Coalition, the Crisis Action Line — there just weren’t any social services.
So, you know, you would go to a sexual assault scene and the woman would need counseling to even talk with anyone, so you would do what you could to help. And, on top of that, they were rarely believed; it was really difficult to prosecute those cases.
I still have notes from back then — I had a case refused once because the woman was dressed in shorts.
QUESTION: What was the biggest problem in the department when you came into your job?
CONNELLY: Fiscal responsibility. When I walked into the office on Jan. 1, 1987, they had a checking account back then that was set up in a way they shouldn’t have had it set up. I asked to see the checkbook and it hadn’t been balanced since September 1986, and I found that there was money missing.
Eventually, there was a (staffer) that was indicted and tried for theft from the office. The previous Justice of the Peace, Gary Collier, was removed from office, along with the county auditor, for some theft from the county scheme that was going on. That’s what opened up the office.
QUESTION: Why did you want to become Justice of the Peace?
CONNELLY: Quite frankly, my job at the sheriff’s department was extremely difficult, and I looked at this as a way to help people, and at the same time, correct some things that I thought were wrong.
QUESTION: You’ve been in The Woodlands since almost the beginning, what has it been like seeing the community grow?
CONNELLY: There were only 5,000 people when we moved here. (To see it grow) has been kind of bittersweet because when The Woodlands was so small, it really was like a little hometown.
There was no Panther Creek and there was no Lake Woodlands — we were here when they dug out Lake Woodlands and the (Township) had a bottom of the lake party before they filled it in.
It was a cool little town, and a really nice place to have your family grow up.
QUESTION: So now you’re retiring, what’s next?
CONNELLY: My husband and I both referee judo matches, so we’ll continue to do that. I have 13 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren and I want to have time to spend with my family. this isn’t just a full-time job, I’m always on-call, so you can imagine how difficult family gatherings are.