Edie Connelly oversaw thousands of cases as Montgomery County Precinct 3 justice of the peace before her retirement in 2018 after more than 30 years. It was a draining job that required constant availability, but she said she loved the work and its importance to the people who appeared before her bench.
“I wanted to help the people who wanted to be helped,” she said. “To the outside world, that case may be unimportant. … But to those people it means everything.”
With a background in law enforcement and social work, Connelly took interest in the justice of the peace job in 1986 after nine years working on child abuse, sex crimes and domestic violence cases in the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office. Connelly prevailed in a contentious nine-person race and began her work as a county justice of the peace in January 1987.
“From the time I was in college I wanted to save the world,” she said. “When I was working with the sheriff’s department it quickly became evident to me that I couldn’t save the world. But I thought … I can really help people in one little corner.”
Over the years she heard cases related to civil disputes, license suspensions, evictions, truancy and the full slate of low-level, or Class C, misdemeanors. Connelly said she liked the expansive scope of her position, and she had a special appreciation for educating and guiding teenagers through court.
“They’re vibrant, they challenge, they’re kind of hypersensitive to the wonks of the world,” she said. “I really felt like if any judge could make a difference in anyone’s life it would come at that age.”
She also performed weddings and acted as a coroner due to Montgomery County’s lack of a dedicated medical examiner. Connelly said that aspect of work began to pile up in recent years with the development of hospitals and major trauma centers in the area, resulting in many Harris County trauma cases being brought to her jurisdiction in addition to local cases.
Connelly said she took an interest in the diversity and change she saw over her decades on the job while working in a diverse and developing area that stands out within the county.
“Precinct 3 is very metropolitan now with people from all over the world here, many different cultures, and that’s in many ways unique to Precinct 3,” she said. “I think it’s a different lifestyle here in a lot of ways. If you were to go to the different justice courts, just in the way they handle the cases, you’d probably see a big difference.”
Regardless of a case’s details or participants and the frequent critiques that come with any public position, Connelly said she still took the chance to push for fairness no matter what decisions she made.
“Even if you try as hard as you know how, you’re not going to please all the people all the time,” she said. “There are times when you will be criticized, sometimes unfairly, but you still have a job to do.”
The only side of the role she said she disliked was the election cycle and related fundraisers. Connelly said she also received multiple suggestions to run for a higher county office throughout her tenure, but she did not want to compromise the position with outside ambitions, and she was content in her role as justice. After decades of change within her office and in the community of Precinct 3, Connelly said she began to consider retirement and eventually made the decision to finish her career as a justice last year.
Several months after the end of her time in office, Connelly said she is now glad to have more free time to spend with her three children and 13 grandchildren while also traveling as a judo referee along with her husband, Andrew. She also said she hopes to stay involved in community life by possibly performing occasional weddings, returning to school and becoming a mediator.
“I was really involved in a lot of different organizations before the job became so busy, and I had to kind of leave that to the side to do the job, so now I’m going to be more available,” she said. “I’m getting older. … I have my own teenage grandkids that I could be hopefully guiding. And it was just time for me to do that.”