Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Last Chapter Will Be My Eulogy - Felipe Reyna

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Book signing party a celebratory occasion at which Justice Reyna reveals he will never again seek office

Moody, Texas – The book reviewer focused on Justice Felipe Reyna's autobiography, convinced it was a prop in the political theater, something to launch a new phase of his career.

The first question Waco “Tribune-Herald” arts editor Carl Hoover asked was if the book, which was penned by Cleburne banker Bart Cannon, was not actually just a campaign poster between two covers and under a dust jacket.

“I told him the last chapter of this book will be my eulogy,” said Mr. Reyna, former Associate Justice of the 10 District Court of Appeals at Waco.

“I have no intention whatsoever of running for office.”

Asked why the newsman asked such a blunt and uncouth question, the judge, whose career started as a janitor working nights in the same appeals courtroom and law library at the McLennan County Courthouse, then led to a law degree from Baylor University, a tour of duty as the District Attorney, a governor's appointment to the appeals bench, then election to the District Court of Appeals told old friends gathered in the library in his hometown, “He had a preconceived notion, but then he became real friendly.”

He's been making friends all along, from his earliest professional days as an adult probation officer serving the 19th and 54th District Courts, a job he quit to work nights as a courthouse janitor so he could attend Baylor Law School days, to his years writing opinions and holdings in appeals from district court cases originating throughout the 10th District's jurisdiction, which stretches from the Dallas bedroom suburb of Waxahachie to Temple and Belton.

Why write an autobiography?

“Hopefully, the kids will read the book.” He and his associates are hoping, too, that kids wavering on the brink of settling for second best will stick it out, take the risk, and attempt to do the things they really dream of doing.

It's all part of a new thrust from the top down, something emanating from Governor Rick Perry's office. His staff has identified the fact that within a few short years, the majority of voters will be Hispanic Americans.

“They're going to be running these companies, holding down these jobs, getting elected to these offices,” said Justice Reyna.

“Hey, I can't help it. I'm a Republican. That's just what I am.” He shrugged, broke into an infectious grin, shrugged again, and laughed.

He and Mr. Cannon are banking on that notion to the extent that they have solicited the help of attorneys and accountants to set up a tax free foundation to raise the money needed to put a copy of “From Janitor To Justice” on library shelves throughout the state and the nation.

Census figures for 2010 show that in states such as Texas and California, Hispanic voting age population has grown by about 25% per year and is projected to continue to grow at that pace.(click image to enlarge)
His career didn't really start by pushing mops and brooms, dust rags and scrubbing pads at the courthouse. He really started by chopping cotton and pulling a sack up and down the rows of a Moody area farm where his family lived on the place, working the land year round. Then there was a hitch in the Navy as an enlisted man after doctors discovered his color blindness and ruled out a career as a Naval aviator and an appointee to the Naval Academy at Annapolis.

His parents came from Mexico and liked what they saw in Texas so much, they decided their kids were going to make it as citizens of the U.S.

In other words, Mr. Justice Felipe Reyna is from an immigrant family that took the trouble to naturalize, become citizens and celebrate the fact that they might not have been native born, but they got here as quick as they could – the way all the rest of the Texans got here.

They voted with their feet and moved on in, where they belonged, never looking back and getting with the program. Today, he and a very large family of kids and grandchildren live at Bullhide Acres near Lorena.

His son Abel Reyna is holding his old office as District Attorney after defeating 20-year veteran John Segrest.

What did he pass on to Abel?

The work ethic is key to everything, he answered.

“He's in that office at 7 a.m. in the morning, every morning. When the rest of the staff sees the DA at his desk and working by 7 a.m., then working straight through to 7 p.m., they get the message.”

It's part of a three-pronged approach to effective prosecution of crime, he explained, as his son has throughout his hard fought campaign.

First, there is the hard shell work ethic in the office.

Second, the DA should prosecute cases in the courtroom. This way, the people and the criminal element know there is a District Attorney and that official stands ready to go toe to toe with them before the bench and in front of the jurors.

Third, the DA will maintain a presence in the community.

“When I left the DA's office, sometimes a couple of years later people would see me in the grocery store or out on the street and come up to me and say, 'I got to come see you downtown, Mr. Reyna. I got some bad checks out there and I got to get the thing straightened out.'

“I had to tell them, 'Hey, you have to go see Vic Feazell. I'm not the DA any more.'

“See, they thought I was still DA. They had gotten used to seeing me out in the community, making my presence known.”

He shook his head, ruefully. Then he grinned. “It works better that way.” He nodded, grinned again, beamed at all his friends, shrugged, and went back to work - signing books.

Sales were brisk.

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