Cleveland retires as Precinct 4’s JP after more than two decades

Frank Cleveland outside the office of the justice of the peace in Lawn. Cleveland has retired from service to south Taylor County. A reception was held for him Wednesday. June 30 2021

When he first became the justice of the peace for Precinct 4 in Taylor County, Frank Cleveland, 72, found an aspect of his new job a bit more challenging than he had anticipated.

It wasn’t the duties.

It was the termites.

And no, that’s no metaphor about parasitic pests eating away at him. It’s about actual, factual, wood-devouring bugs.

Cleveland, who is retiring, did all his own court clerk duties during his first 13 years in his JP position. His office was a used portable building without a courtroom.

He used a nearby community center for any court proceedings.

Precinct 4 Commissioner Chuck Statler remembered that Cleveland, who had been in office only a couple of weeks, called in 1999 to ask him to come to Lawn, where Cleveland had his office.

Statler wanted to know why.

“He said, ‘Well, I don’t have a termite problem anymore,’” Statler remembered.

Statler told Cleveland that was good, assuming it was.

“Yeah, the fire ants got ‘em,” the judge reportedly said in response.

A card to Frank Cleveland was placed on a table full of plaques and certificates at a retirement reception for the justice of the peace for Precinct 4 on Wednesday in Lawn. June 30 2021

“I went down and looked at it and found out that the building the JP was working out of had just been pretty much infested and had to be destroyed,” Statler said.

The judge’s subsequent digs still had few bugs in the system.

Those were located in a small part of the unheated, un-air-conditioned community library.

Cleveland stayed there for 13 months while a new building was constructed.

Now, the court’s location on Main Street is a “major asset for our community and for Taylor County,” he said.

And, Statler noted, it’s all metal.

Eat that, termites.

Man for the job

Frank Cleveland, pictured outside the Abilene Civic Center, served as an Abilene police officer before becoming a Taylor County justice of the peace.

There are five JPs in the county, all with about the same duties, Cleveland said.

“We do criminal work with anything that’s a fine-able offense,” he said. “Drunk in public or disorderly conducts, small thefts. We do juvenile cases. We do civil lawsuits — anything under $20,000 is filed in JP court. We do all the death investigations that are unattended.”

Most people don’t realize there’s quite as much “variety” in the work, Cleveland said.

“But it’s pretty involved,” he said. “And I’ve enjoyed it.”

Cleveland brought to the judge’s office an extensive background in law enforcement.

Officer Frank Cleveland in 1978 wed Jennifer Andrews, one of two women in the Abilene Police Department. She voluntarily left the department. Cleveland had been with the department for four years. She died in May 2013.

He served for 25 years as an officer of the Abilene Police Department, assigned to vice, narcotics and the organized crime division.

For 10 years, he was commander of the West Central Texas Interlocal Crime Task Force, serving under the governor’s office.

That entity covered 15 counties with a focus on illegal drugs and violent crimes.

In September 1997, he was presented with the Extraordinary Service Medal by the office of the Governor’s Criminal Justice Division for his service with the Texas Narcotics Control Program.

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