Your Choices on the Travis County Judicial Ballot
Breaking down the local races for district courts
By Brant Bingamon,
3:30PM, Fri. Feb. 14, 2020
53rd District Court (Civil)Kennon Wooten and Maria Cantú Hexsel are running to succeed Scott Jenkins, who is retiring after 20 years on the bench.
Wooten is a civil attorney with 15 years of experience; she has clerked for the Texas Supreme Court and the 3rd Court of Appeals. If elected, Wooten vows to make mental health resources available to those who come before her and to enforce laws banning gun ownership for those subject to family-violence protective orders. Cantú Hexsel has practiced civil law for 24 years, specializing in health care litigation. She has worked as an assistant state attorney general and belongs to the Hispanic Bar Association.
167th District Court (Criminal)
David Wahlberg is seeking to continue on the bench he's held since 2012. In 2015, Wahlberg signed the order that resulted in the first gay marriage in Texas. Before his election, he practiced criminal law for 35 years and was a founding member of the Austin Criminal Defense Lawyers Association. He's being challenged by Dayna Blazey, a felony prosecutor with the D.A.'s Office for the past 30 years known for winning the "Condom Rape" case, in which a jury found that a victim's request that her attacker wear a condom didn't mean she had given consent. If elected, Blazey said her top three priorities would be expanding the use of diversion programs; improving indigent defense and supporting a public defender's office; and reviewing the personal recognizance bonds of those who can't afford bail. She notes that the 167th currently has no diversion program.
200th District Court (Civil)
Jessica Mangrum and Maggie Ellis are competing to succeed Abbott appointee Dustin Howell, who is not seeking reelection. Mangrum is a partner at Thompson, Coe, Cousins & Irons, with a focus on construction-related cases. The first woman in Travis County certified in construction law, she's currently the chair of the city's Building and Standards Commission. Ellis has handled over 2,000 cases as a lawyer, but says her best asset is her life experience. Abandoned by her mother as a child, she helped raise her sister and took 16 years to work her way through UT. If elected, she will be the first openly lesbian judge in Travis County and the first to have experienced homelessness.
353rd District Court (Civil)
Tim Sulak has held the post since 2011; in 2017, he blocked Texas officials from releasing voter data to President Trump's voter fraud commission, citing privacy concerns. In 2018, he upheld the legality of the city's new paid sick leave law when business groups challenged it. Sulak is opposed by Madeleine Connor, who ran as a Democrat for this same position in 2008, losing in the primary. She subsequently ran in the 2012 Republican primary for the 3rd Court of Appeals, campaigning before far-right groups and calling attention to her longtime commitment to conservative principles. In recent years she's filed a string of lawsuits against her neighbors in far West Austin, accusing them of defamation, among other things. After losing the cases she was declared a "vexatious litigant" and forbidden to file similar lawsuits.
390th District Court (Criminal)
Julie Kocurek has led the court for 20 years. She was the first woman to serve as a criminal district judge in Travis County and survived an assassination attempt in 2015 by a defendant trying to avoid jail. She endured over 30 surgeries related to the attack, then returned to work. Kocurek supports efforts to strengthen courthouse security and indigent defense. This is the first time she's faced a primary challenge; she recently took in $60,000 in contributions in a single fundraiser. Challenger Albert Amado is concerned about how social inequality affects the service of justice; he lives in Austin but works in Latin America for the U.S. State Department and the National Center for State Courts, among others.
460th Criminal District Court
Amy Meredith and Selena Alvarenga are running for the chance to face Judge Geoffrey Puryear, another Abbott appointee, in the general election. Meredith is currently the chief of the Public Integrity Unit of the D.A.'s Office, a group that investigates public corruption and white-collar fraud, focusing on recovering misappropriated funds. She waited tables and tended bar to pay her way through law school and rose quickly upon joining the D.A.'s office. Alvarenga has worked as a criminal defense attorney for more than 20 years. She is the former presiding director of the Austin Criminal Defense Lawyers Association and a board member of the Austin Bar LGBTQ Association. She's from El Salvador and says she will be the first openly gay Latina judge in Travis County if elected.