The Austin Chronicle

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Third Court Seats Go GOP

By Jordan Smith, November 7, 2012, 9:02am, Newsdesk

In a surprising sweep at the polls, Republican candidates won all four seats up for election this year on Texas' influential 3rd Court of Appeals, turning the entire court red save for the chief justice spot, which remains in Democratic hands.

The Third Court is one of 14 intermediate appellate courts statewide, but the Austin-based court, which serves 24 counties, has statewide impact. In addition to the routine civil and criminal cases it hears, Third Court judges also consider appeals involving state agencies and officials – from utility and environmental regulations to licensing disputes to public corruption cases – that have statewide ramifications. As such, control of the court is often hotly contested, over the last decade a delicate balance between GOP and Democratic judges has been maintained.

With the GOP sweep on election day that no longer remains so; for now, just one Democratic jurist, Chief Judge Woodie Jones, remains on the Third Court bench.

In these races, election night routinely spills into the wee hours of the morning as returns from counties from West and Central Texas counties trickle in; although the majority of the district's population lives in Travis County, winning the Austin vote isn't enough to put a candidate over the top. Successful Democratic candidates for the Third Court have to carry Travis County while also pulling in a significant minority of votes in other populous counties like Williamson. This time around none of the Democratic candidates pulled in more than 40% of the WilCo vote.

In the final tally, incumbent Democratic Judge Diane Henson was ousted by Austin civil attorney Scott Field, who earned 52% of the vote; attorney Karen Watkins was bested by GOP incumbent Judge David Puryear who also pulled in 52%. Democratic Travis County associate Judge Andy Hathcock earned 47% of the vote in his race to unseat Gov. Rick Perry-appointed Judge Jeff Rose; and, Travis County Assistant District Attorney Bryan Case earned just 46% of the vote in his race to unseat GOP incumbent Judge Bob Pemberton.

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