Orange County judge resigns following primary loss

Orange County Judge Stephen Brint Carlton

Following a loss in the Republican primary March 7, Orange County Judge Stephen Brint Carlton announced April 13 that he would be resigning from his judgeship on Sunday, April 22, to take a position as executive director for the Texas Medical Board in Austin.

In a statement announcing his departure, Carlton called his tenure as Orange County Judge “one of the greatest honors” of his life and enumerated changes to policies made while acting as “chief executive” of his home county.

“I will always have great memories of working with some outstanding public servants and getting to meet many fellow citizens of Orange County,” Carlton described. “I am extremely proud of the unprecedented financial improvements we made during my time as county judge. We turned around a broken county, bought millions of dollars in new equipment to improve services, gave employees their largest raise in over 12 years, put the county on the path to greater economic prosperity, and led Orange County through the worst natural disaster to ever strike the United States. We did all that while lowering the property tax rate and keeping the interests of the taxpayers as the top priority.”

Carlton won the Orange County judgeship in 2014 and stepped into the role Jan. 1, 2015, following the retirement of Judge Carl Thibodeaux who had been judge for 20 years, since 1994.

Earlier this year during the March primary, retired Beaumont police officer Dean Crooks defeated Carlton by a wide margin with 57 percent of the vote to Carlton’s 37 percent. Carlton has not been back to Commissioners Court since. When announcing his resignation, Carlton pointed to “misinformation” he says was “spread during the most recent campaign” that he suggests could have contributed to his defeat.

“The truth is I did not run for the position of county judge as an attempt to be a career politician and certainly not for the pay,” Carlton asserted. “I offered myself up to serve as county judge as a way to help my home county which desperately needed it. ... Being a county judge in Orange County is very difficult on a family. However, for the situations I could control, I do know, without any doubt, that Orange County is in a far better place today than when I took office.”

Carlton said he and his family are “very much OK” with the voters’ decision. He indicated he and his family plan to relocate to Austin for his new position, which begins April 23.

Since Democrat Don Brown announced his withdrawal from the race for Orange County judge following a felony indictment, Crooks is running uncontested in the November election. However, at the time of this report Brown had not yet contacted the Secretary of State to officially withdraw from the contest. So, Brown’s name could still appear on the ballot in November.

After Carlton’s announcement, Crooks said he was not sure if would be called upon to take charge of the county early in light of Carlton’s premature exit. According to him, he would be happy to begin early to get “a head start.” Commissioners have made no official move to replace Carlton at the time of this report.

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