The scene at Nederland Municipal Court is repeated on a regular basis. Thanks to a quirk in the law, misdemeanor cases filed against youth ages 12 to 17 are heard here, not in juvenile court. Many of these arise from offenses committed in area schools – minor in possession of alcohol, fighting and other disruptions, truancy … the list goes on. For parents required to accompany their children to court, it is often their first brush with the legal system. For Judge Kent Walston, he hopes it is an opportunity to make it their last.
Walston makes it clear from the outset that he takes these offenses seriously. The young offenders pressed to explain their conduct soon realize there is no excuse, as their presence here attests. Their parents are none too happy at this turn of events, and the judge gently but firmly – and sometimes not so gently – makes the point that this is unacceptable behavior. Quite often tears are shed and genuine emotion, including resolve to take responsibility for their actions and sin no more, is the order of the day.
Dispensing justice with mercy is business as usual for the presiding judge for the Nederland Municipal Court. For Kent Walston, changing the trajectory of these young lives is part of what he has made his life’s work – making a difference.
When Judge Bob Wortham of the 58th District Court announced he would run for District Attorney, it set off a courthouse shuffle that is still unfolding. The day after Wortham stood on the courthouse steps surrounded by friends and supporters to make his declaration, Walston stood in the very same spot to announce his intention to seek the 58th District Court bench surrounded by an even larger group of supporters. This was no slight to Wortham, whose distinguished career as a prosecutor and judge has won him a legion of admirers. Walston has amassed a legacy of service in his 53 years that has garnered him countless friends in all areas of Jefferson County from all walks of life, people who have been touched by the man from Mid-County.
Walston’s journey began in Port Neches-Groves schools. In high school, he was judged “not college material,” so he was steered to vocational classes where he earned a certificate in air-conditioning and refrigeration. After high school, he joined the United States Navy and was stationed in Beeville, Texas. While there, he earned a certificate in law enforcement and worked part-time as a deputy sheriff for Bee County. After four years in the Navy, he returned to Jefferson County, working for BF Goodrich Refinery, and was a member of OCAW. He returned to law enforcement in 1983, becoming a police officer for the city of Port Arthur.
Port Arthur Chief of Police Mark Blanton stood by his side last week as Walston announced his candidacy. During his time on the force, Blanton had been his sergeant and called him “one of the finest police officers I have ever known.” The chief added, “Kent will make a fine judge.”
While he served on the PAPD, Walston attended Lamar University at night and graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration and Personnel Management. He then became assistant city manager and personnel director for the city of Nederland. At the age of 35, he enrolled in Baylor University School of Law, where he earned a Juris Doctor degree and was president of the Student Bar Association. After law school, he was an Assistant District Attorney for Jefferson County and subsequently has been in private practice.
As one examines the life of Kent Walston, certain patterns start to emerge. His experiences over the 35 years since he graduated from high school each represented a chance to serve the community. He has not been an attorney all his life, has been a blue collar worker and can relate to all the citizens of Jefferson County.
“My family has never been involved in politics,” said Walston. “My dad worked and retired from Dupont in Beaumont, and my mom was a stay-at-home mom. I believe that hard work and sacrifice has allowed me to achieve the American dream.”
In addition to his part-time duties as a judge in Nederland, Walston is an attorney in private practice with the law firm of Branick, Walston and Devenzio. He handles civil, criminal and family law and is a daily presence in the courthouse. The depth and breadth of his legal experience is a major credential in his bid for judge, with extensive trial work and the handling of complex litigation.
He serves on the Jefferson County Bar Association with a focus on pro bono services and fund raising for those who do not have access to legal help, and serves as an associate judge for mental competency hearings in Jefferson County,
Walston’s work with CASA of Southeast Texas is close to his heart. He serves on the board of CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates), the nonprofit organization that recruits, trains and supervises a diverse group of community volunteers who are appointed by the court to advocate for abused and neglected children. “I work in the courts every day, and I see the numbers of abused kids that go through the system,” he said. “CASA advocates for that child.”
He also works with the Casas for CASA initiative that enlists volunteers who happen to be skilled carpenters to build playhouses for children that are raffled off. Proceeds from the raffle directly help the organization recruit and train CASA volunteers to give a voice to abused and neglected children in court and the foster care system. He has used his woodworking skills to build a bed and dresser for a child who receives a home from Habitat for Humanity.
The true beneficiaries of his life experiences and desire to help others are the people of Southeast Texas. With his wife Davilyn and their five daughters, Walston stays busy with a variety of public service endeavors.
Walston takes justifiable pride in his work as the current president for the Hughen Center for disabled children and has served on the board of directors for the past six years. He is the past president of the board for the Bob Hope Charter School, a nonprofit charter school that benefits the Hughen Center. With his family, he spends time with the kids at Hughen Center to ensure they are well cared for. This commitment of time and effort is substantial, but Walston describes it as a “labor of love” he finds very rewarding.
The Aurora Sertoma Club honored Kent Walston with its Service to Mankind award for 2012 at a dinner at the Pompano Club. The award is the highest honor given to a non-Sertoma member for exemplary service to the community.
On the occasion of that award, this newspaper wrote, “Kent Walston spends more time walking the walk than talking the talk, and even his many friends have little idea as to the extent of his ongoing acts of service. The folks at the Aurora Sertoma Club – itself an active service organization – found out and bestowed the Service to Mankind award upon him. He richly deserved the recognition but in reality, they could give him that prize every year.”