EDINBURG — Former state District Judge Joseph Benjamin Evins, a respected figure in the Rio Grande Valley legal community who mentored individuals such as former Hidalgo County Judge Ramon Garcia, died Tuesday morning at the age of 93.
A longtime Edinburg resident, Evins was a lifelong public servant who retired from the 206th state district court more than 20 years ago. He began his career as an attorney and held several positions within the county before his appointment to the court in 1973.
Raised in Edinburg, Evins, one of eight children born to Mary Jane Beck and John Evins, began helping his family make ends meet as a farm worker, working the South Texas fields as a fruit and vegetable grader and packer.
He excelled athletically at Edinburg High School, where he was active in football, baseball and Golden Gloves boxing. After high school, he enlisted in the United States Army and served as the head of a tank crew in Gen. George Patton’s Third Army during World War II. He was involved in the Battle of the Bulge and the liberation of France.
After graduating from the University of Texas School of Law in 1954, Evins returned to the Valley and served as a justice of the peace and Hidalgo County commissioner from 1959 to 1962, an assistant district attorney, and was subsequently appointed to the 206th by then-Governor Dolph Briscoe.
It was during the time that he came back to the Valley that he met Garcia, and in 1972 hired Garcia as an associate.
Garcia, who spoke highly of Evins, said the former judge was a good friend to him.
“He was my mentor and I was very proud to call him my friend,” Garcia said in a statement, referring to Evins as a man who was “born poor of means but rich of heart and guts.”
Garcia added, “He was an honorable jurist with a reputation for honesty and integrity. Being involved in a trial in his court was an enjoyable learning experience for all participants. Judge Evins was well liked and respected by all members of our community.”
Twenty-five years later, in late 1998, Evins spoke publicly about his then-pending retirement from the bench and his life growing up in the Valley.
Evins made no secret of his zest and excitement for what life after retirement might look like, but was also not fully ready to let go of his public life.
He talked about staying in the Valley, and making it a better place, with hopes to help fulfill everything the Valley “should be,” Evins said at the time.
Evins also lamented what he saw as a lack of public involvement in the political process, especially as evidenced by low voter turnout then.
“Our former County Clerk Santos Saldana used to say that Judge Evins was the last person with an Anglo name that could win a county-wide race in our county because he was held in high regard all over the county,” Garcia said in his statement.
State Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, who along with others worked with Evins, and the Texas Youth Commission, on getting funding for a regional juvenile facility for South Texas, which was later named after one of Evins’ sons, recounted how he would get questions during that time from colleagues about frequent visits to Hinojosa’s office, jokingly asking who his new staff member was.
He also recalled how active Evins was in getting funding for the detention center.
Hinojosa said he will never forget when the then-governor agreed to provide the funding for the detention center, Evins looked at Hinojosa, and then the governor and said, “When you’re drilling, and strike oil, stop drilling,” before walking out of the office.
Like Garcia, the senator also said he remembers Evins as a great judge who he described as a naturally positive person that was always smiling, and very approachable, in addition to being heavily involved with the judiciary.
“He was very much active in the judiciary, very approachable, as far as being connected to the community,” Hinojosa said. “He was so active in terms of the legislative process, in helping the judiciary, and taking care of the issues that impacted his jurisdiction.”
Garcia said of Evins, “His was a life well lived. He will be missed. The legal community has lost a respected Judge. Our county has lost a true champion and I have lost a true friend.”
A burial service is scheduled for noon Friday, Jan. 17 at Hillcrest Memorial Park in Edinburg.