District Court Candidates Announce Dem Primary Candidacies

Here come the judges …

It’s a rare mirror belonging to an Austin attorney that doesn’t reflect a prospective judicial candidate. With the Democratic primary a mere eight months away (March 3, 2020) and pressure building to recruit support and gather funds, candidates for district judge seats have begun to accumulate.

Travis County Heman Sweatt Courthouse (Photo by Jana Birchum)

The current list of declared Democratic judicial candidates includes the following:

Civil Courts

Kennon Wooten has announced for the 53rd Civil District Court. Wooten has been a civil attorney for 15 years on a wide range of litigation, and also touts her experience as “a law clerk and rules attorney for the Supreme Court of Texas and as an intern for the Third Court of Appeals.” Also running for the 53rd District judgeship is Maria Cantú Hexsel, who’s had a 23-year career, including a practice with a small plaintiffs’ firm, as an assistant state attorney general, and complex civil litigation on health care. The presiding incumbent in the 53rd is Scott Jenkins, who in January announced his retirement, to follow this term.

Aurora Martinez Jones, currently an associate judge in the Family Drug Treatment Court and Child Protective Services dockets, is running to succeed Judge Darlene Byrne in the 126th Civil Court (Byrne is running to become chief justice on the 3rd Court of Appeals). Previously, Martinez Jones had her own practice in child welfare law, personal injury, probate, real estate, family law, and civil litigation.

Jessica Mangrum has announced for the 200th Civil District Court, a seat currently occupied by appointed Republican Judge Dustin Howell. Mangrum is a partner with Thompson, Coe, Cousins & Irons, with a practice focused on civil litigation: personal injury, professional liability, and construction cases. She’s currently chair of Austin’s Building and Standards Commission.

Criminal Courts

• Assistant District Attorney Dayna Blazey is challenging incumbent 167th Criminal District Court Judge David Wahlberg, first elected in 2012. Blazey, a felony prosecutor for more than 30 years, is currently the director for Diversion Programs and the Grand Jury Division in the D.A.’s Office. Wahlberg practiced criminal law (including public defender cases) for more than 30 years, and was a founding member of the Austin Criminal Defense Lawyers Association.

Beth Payan is challenging incumbent 427th District Court Judge Tamara Needles. Needles was elected in 2016; Payan is an ADA of more than 20 years, who says she “prosecuted serious crimes but also advocated for a variety of alternatives to incarceration where appropriate.” Needles says she employs a “humanity first” approach in her courtroom, is working to develop a mental health diversion program, and she manages Travis County’s alcohol-related treatment reentry docket.

Selena Alvarenga is running to become judge in the new 460th District Court. Alvarenga has been a criminal defense attorney for more than 20 years, and has served as the director of the Austin Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, is a board member of the Austin Bar LGBTQ Association, and an Austin Public Safety Commissioner. Originally from El Salvador, Alvarenga says that if elected she will “make history” as Travis County’s “first openly-gay Latina, immigrant judge.” (She's likely also the first Travis County judicial candidate to be profiled in Popsugar.) Also declared for the new 460th is Amy Meredith, assistant district attorney (chief of the Public Integrity Unit), and a career prosecutor for more than 20 years. She says her Southwest Texas State University internship as a victim witness counselor inspired her to become a prosecutor, and that she is “ready to run a court that treats all who enter it with dignity and fairness.”

Also noted: Running for reelection (currently unopposed) in the 450th Criminal District Court is Judge Brad Urrutia (elected in 2016). The filing deadline is in December.

Note: As filings continue, the list above is likely to be incomplete by the time you read it. If you’re an unlisted candidate (or know of one) in these (or other) Central Texas 2020 races, drop an email to mking@austinchronicle.com.

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Travis County Courts, Primary Election 2020, March 2020 Primary

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