BELTON — Judge Charles Van Orden knows the highs and lows of serving on the Centex Child Protection Court.
He’s been doing it for the past 18 years. And, on Tuesday, he will retire. He had some advice for his two replacements — Judge Dallas Sims, who was sworn in last month, and new Judge Chris Cornish, who was sworn in Friday.
“It’s a difficult job but nothing would have brought me more satisfaction than being a judge for so long,” Van Orden said.
Cornish takes over for Van Orden on the specialty court — one of 15 in the state that handles cases involving the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. Judge Jack Jones of the 146th District Court swore in Cornish.
Cornish told dozens of people in the 146th District Court at the Bell County Justice Center he can attribute one person to helping him get to his new position: Former Judge Rick Morris.
Morris, who led the 146th District Court, encouraged him to take on child protection cases.
“He convinced me to get on that list to help parents. I did that with a little bit of hesitation,” Cornish said. “But once I started doing those cases, I quickly realized that I found something that I enjoyed doing — helping people and children — and fill the gap that I had in my life since I got out of the military.”
Cornish ran his own law practice, the Cornish Law Firm, and has been a lawyer since 2008. He served as the city of Belton’s prosecutor for two years.
Cornish earned his law degree from Creighton University in Nebraska in 2008 and has a bachelor’s degree in criminology from the University of Northern Iowa. Prior to attending law school, Cornish served nine years in the Army — including being stationed at Fort Hood in 2001.
Billy Ray Stubblefield, the presiding judge of the Third Administrative Judicial Region, said appointing Cornish was a no-brainer. He said he was proud to have appointed Cornish and Sims to the Centex Child Protection Court.
“I am absolutely convinced you’re going to have the best team in these two courts there are in the state of Texas,” Stubblefield said. “The children of Bell County are going to be well served by these two judges.”
The Texas Legislature expanded the child protection court in Bell County earlier this year. There are an estimated 450 cases and 850 children under Child Protection Service’s temporary or permanent conservatorship here, according to county data.
All CPS cases in Bell County are filed in Jones’ court. He described being a CPS judge as challenging. But, Jones added, that it a role in which a person can touch many lives. He estimated that Van Orden impacted 10,000 to 15,000 children during time on the bench.
“The two of you are embarking on the same journey with the same opportunity and challenge,” Jones said. “Someday you’ll be able to look back on your career ... and realize that you had a positive impact and that you changed the lives of thousands of children who, without your involvement, would not have had the opportunity.”
“On the darkest and most challenging days you’ll have, I want you to think about that.”