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Naked City

One county court judicial race promises to be interesting, with Community Court Judge Elisabeth Earle taking on Municipal Court Judge Evelyn McKee.

By Amy Smith, Fri., Jan. 11, 2002


For McKee, the Plot Thickens

Once the dust has settled after the Democratic primary, Municipal Court Judge Evelyn McKee -- aka romance writer Evelyn Palfrey -- may end up with some juicy political fodder to weave into her next novel. McKee, a veteran municipal judge, and Community Court Judge Elisabeth Earle (one of a handful of community court judges nationwide) will square off March 12 in the race for County Court at Law No. 7. Incumbent Judge Brenda Kennedy has opted out of a re-election bid, and no Republican candidates have filed for the seat.

To be sure, the race will make for an interesting match -- and a difficult choice for those who know both candidates. McKee quietly spread word of her intentions a couple of months ago and filed her paperwork with the Democratic Party on Dec. 11. That Earle filed for the same post more than two weeks later came as a surprise to some. One fairly tight-lipped characteristic of this contest centers on race: Kennedy, the incumbent, is the only black county court-at-law judge, and many courthouse regulars hold to the belief that an African-American such as McKee should retain the seat. For now, it's too early to tell how strongly this issue will figure into the matchup.

On the bench, McKee has more than a dozen years under her belt and has built a loyal following of lawyers, city employees, and -- in more recent years -- romance novel readers. Her husband is Darwin McKee, a lawyer and one-time interim county commissioner.

Earle, the daughter of longtime Travis Co. District Attorney Ronnie Earle, was appointed by the City Council in 1999 to serve as judge over the just-created Austin Community Court. Since then, she has won high marks with the downtown crowd for her innovative approach to pairing "nuisance" offenders -- panhandlers, substance abusers, and the like -- with appropriate rehabilitation programs. Like her father, who also got his start in municipal court, Earle is quick with a handshake and seems to hold similar political ambitions. Though she lagged behind McKee in mounting a campaign, Earle has quickly proven that she isn't shy about asking people for money and will likely do well on the fundraising front. To direct her campaign, she has hired the veteran political duo of David Butts and Pat Crow.

Most judicial races are fairly forgettable. This one, regardless of its outcome, might offer some pulp worth writing about.

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