It was his 13th State of the County speech and Robert Eckels was on the verge of tears as he thanked the group for their support through the years.
"As you leave today, my friends, take with you the appreciation I feel for the honor that you have given me to serve as your county judge for these last 12 years. God bless each of you and God bless Harris County."
The judge exited the stage to a standing ovation from hundreds of his supporters. Speculation and rumors about the judge's future employment have been questioned in the media and political circles for months. Eckels would not confirm his future plans, but did say he's looked into working at several major lawfirms in Houston, New York and Washington D.C. But he says before he accepts any job offers, the first step is to find a successor for the remainder of his term.
"There have been a number of people mentioned and I'm sure there are other folks out there. There's some great folks who are in the mix today. I think that it is beyond the three commissioners' votes that are required or three court members' quotes that will be required, that we'll be spending some time visiting with folks in the community and try to build a consensus and I would hope that when we go forward that we could have a unanimous vote of accord and the community rally behind someone who can continue to serve as county judge."
Several names are under consideration to fill out Eckels term to 2008. Harris County Tax Asessor-Collector Paul Bettencourt and County District Clerk Charles Bacarisse are both possible candidates. But it's a man who is little known in the public eye who may be most likely to get the job. Strategist and Consultant Ed Emmett is widely thought to be the front-runner, although he says it's premature to make that judgement.
"I'm not on the court and I don't get a vote so that is totally up to them and I would be honored if they considered me and selected me but again this is still in their ball park right now."
The members of the Commissioners' Court are charged with the responsibility of naming a successor. Eckels previously served as a member of the state legislature and says he won't rule out running for public office again in the future. Laurie Johnson, Houston Public Radio News.