Courtside: From Meurer to Earle

With Judge Jeanne Meurer leaving the bench of the 98th District Court after nearly 20 years and the addition of two new Travis Co. courts – County Court-at-Law No. 8 and the 427th Criminal Dis­trict Court – a number of strong Dem contenders are already jockeying for primary position in all three races. Vying for Meurer's seat are two associate judges, Rhonda Hurley and Andy Hathcock, both with impressive family- and juvenile-law credentials. Running for County Court No. 8, which will handle misdemeanor criminal cases, are two well-respected Dem lawyers, county prosecutor John Lipscombe and defense attorney Carlos Bar­rera. Only county criminal magistrate Judge Jim Coronado (who lost his 2006 bid for a seat on the 3rd Court of Appeals) has officially thrown his hat in the race for the 427th court, but Assistant District Attorney Buddy Meyer is also said to be considering a run. (Meyer challenged Judge Charlie Baird in the last primary to assume retiring Judge Jon Wisser's seat on the 299th District Court). At press time, Meyer had not returned phone calls requesting comment, but a Meyer candidacy for that seat would be formidable.

While it is safe to bet that the Travis Co. bench seats will go to Democrats (only one local court seat is held by a Republican), Dems looking to win seats statewide – on the 3rd Court of Appeals, the Texas Supreme Court, and Court of Criminal Appeals – will face higher climbs. Two local jurists have signed on to challenge 3rd Court Chief Justice Kenneth Law: In the Dem primary, former Austin Bar president and 12-year 3rd Court veteran Judge Woodie Jones, who lost his seat in 2000, will face 200th Civil Court Judge Gisela Triana.* Susan Criss, a Galveston County district court judge, and Linda Yañez, a jurist on the Corpus Christi-based 13th Court of Appeals – the first Hispanic woman to sit on a state appeals court – have announced for Supreme Court Place 8, currently held by Gov. Rick Perry appointee Phil Johnson.** (Two other seats on the state's high court will be on the 2008 ballot but have yet to draw Dem hopefuls.)

Interestingly, although four seats will be contested on the infamous Court of Criminal Appeals, the state's highest criminal court – currently populated exclusively by Republicans – no Dems have yet declared a challenge. Given the current anger focused on CCA Chief Justice Sharon Keller – who closed the courthouse door on a condemned inmate before his attorneys could file a final appeal that, quite likely, would have spared his life – it seems likely that if her seat were up for election there would be a host of willing, bipartisan challengers. Barring an unforeseen ouster or license revocation, Keller's seat won't turn until 2012. The seats contested in 2008 are held by the court's more reasonable jurists – so substantive challenges are unlikely until 2010.

Finally, it seems that the perennial mantra "Will Ronnie run?" is once again in the air, as court watchers are laying bets on whether veteran Travis Co. District Attorney Ronnie Earle will once again seek re-election to the post he's held since 1977: Earle isn't yet saying, one way or another. Should he decline to seek another term, there's at least one ready candidate: Assistant DA Rick Reed (a former Dallas prosecutor who's working on Earle's case against former Rep. Tom DeLay), who told the Houston Chronicle he would run. Other names circulating the courthouse: Earle's right-hand woman, Rosemary Lehmberg, whose recent visibility at local Dem functions has sparked much would-she-or-wouldn't-she speculation, though Lehmberg has long said she has no interest in running a political campaign; well-known prosecutor Gary Cobb (preened and primed); and former district prosecutor turned county man Randy Leavitt, respected for his even-handedness. Asked about the possibility of running, Leavitt said he is "honored to be considered" as a possible candidate but that he hasn't made any decision about whether he would seek the post should Earle vacate it.


*This was reported in error, Triana is not running for election to the Third Court, but is running for re-election to the 200th court. At present, no one has signed on to run against Jones in the primary for Chief Justice Kenneth Law's seat.

**A previous version of this sentence contained incorrect information on Susan Criss.

Oops! The following correction was printed in the November 16, 2007 issue:

Mea culpa: I incorrectly reported last week that Travis Co. 200th Civil District Court Judge Gisela Triana intends to run against former 3rd Court of Appeals Judge Woodie Jones for the appeals court's chief justice seat. In fact, she intends instead to run for re-election to the 200th court; at present Jones is the only Dem contender who has thrown his hat into the race for the 3rd Court's Place 1. I deeply regret the error.

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