Incumbency has traditionally been a distinct advantage in Texas judicial politics. While that held true for justices on the Texas Supreme Court, it was a much different story in Dallas County, where nine trial court judges lost their benches to challengers by wide margins in the March 4 primary election.
Of the 40 trial court benches up for grabs in Dallas County, nine incumbents lost their seats in contested races, with several of them gaining less than 40 percent of the vote. It was the biggest voter-driven turnover on Dallas County courts since the Democratic Party swept the courthouse in the 2006 general election, defeating all 40 Republicans on trial court benches.
One of the most high-profile races was that of 44th District Judge Carlos Cortez, whose recent arrest for family violence assault and subsequent no-bill by a Dallas grand jury kept him in the news. Dallas solo Bonnie Lee Goldstein defeated Cortez in the Democratic Primary. Goldstein won 66 percent of the vote, while Cortez won 34 percent. Cortez and Goldstein did not immediately return calls for comment.
101st District Court Judge Marty Lowyalso lost his seat in the Democratic Primary to Dallas solo Staci Williams. Williams beat Lowy by a 62 to 38 percent margin.
“I got beat,” Lowy said. “Not be overly simplistic, but 62 to 38 was a pretty good thrashing. I think the numbers speak for themselves. I’m not sure there is a lot of deep analysis that I can offer at this point.”
“I wish Ms. Williams well,” Lowy added. “I congratulate her, and I hope she will be successful in carrying on the work of the court.”
Williams says there were many factors that contributed to her victory. She notes that she was heavily outspent by Lowy, who ran numerous radio ads and sent out several direct mail pieces promoting his campaign.
“They sent out four mailers to my one,” Williams said.
Cortez and Lowy had clashed in connection with civil litigation. Cortez is battling to keep records related to a lawsuit he filed a secret. Lowy had intervened in Cortez’s civil case in an effort to have the records released after Cortez alleged Lowy spread rumors to draw a political opponent for Cortez. Texas Lawyer also has intervened in the case to gain access to the records.
There was one lesson to be learned from the recent turnover in Dallas’ all-Democratic courts: women make for powerful judicial candidates, said 14th District Judge Eric Moyé of Dallas, who was not up for election this year.
“The gender gap drove every race. Virtually every race is driven by more women voting for women than men voting for men. That predominated,” Moyé said. “I think that it’s really not surprising in a party where we have tried for so long to appeal to that particular portion of our base.”
In addition to Cortez and Lowy’s losses, 282nd District Court Judge Andy Chatham lost to Amber Givens; 304th District Court Judge Bill Mazur lost to Andrea Martin; Dallas County Probate Court No. 2 Judge Chris Wilmoth lost to Ingrid Michelle Warren; and Dallas County Probate Court No. 3 Judge Michael Miller lost to Margaret Jones-Johnson.
“I don’t know what that indicates for the future, but the headline is: ‘Women Rule,’” Moyé said.
Darlene Ewing, chairwoman of the Dallas County Democratic Party, noticed that there’s long been a gender gap in Dallas County races. She said, “We’ve seen women outvote men in the Democratic primary by 55 to 56 percent,” noting that 61 percent of the early voters in this year’s Democratic primary were women.
Ewing added that that was too much for some male candidates to overcome. “Both Cortez and Lowy spent a lot more money than the women that were challenging them,” she said.
She pointed to the race for 301st District Court in which one female candidate and four male candidates competed for an open family court bench. The female candidate, Mary Brown, vanquished all her male competitors with 64 percent of the vote.
Ewing says, “The woman trounced four men and didn’t even come close to going into a runoff.”
Other Dallas County trial court judges who lost their seats included 204th District Lena Levario, who was defeated by Tammy Kemp, 255th District Court Judge Lori Hockett who was defeated by Kim Cooks, and 292nd District Court Judge Larry Mitchell who lost to Brandon Birmingham.
Texas Supreme Court
Three justices on Texas’ all-Republican Supreme Court easily fended off challengers in the GOP primary election.
Chief Justice Nathan Hecht received 60 percent of the vote, defeating former state Rep. Robert Talton who received 40 percent of the vote.
Justice Jeff Brown won 73 percent of the vote, beating Joe Pool, general counsel for a Dripping Springs financial company, who received 27 percent of the vote.
And Justice Phil Johnson got 64 percent of the vote, beating 14th Court of Appeals Justice Sharon McCally who received 36 percent of the vote.
Hecht faces El Paso 34th District Court Judge Bill Moody in the general election.
Brown faces Court of Criminal Appeals Justice Larry Meyers in the November general election.
And Justice Jeff Boyd, who was unopposed in the Republican Primary, will battle Thirteenth Court of Appeals Justice Gina Benavides in the general election.
In the races for the all-Republican Court of Criminal Appeals, numerous candidates competed in the GOP primary election to fill three seats left by retiring judges Tom Price, Cathy Cochran and Paul Womack.
San Antonio Senior District Judge Bert Richardson got 60 percent of the vote in the race for Price’s seat, defeating 51st District Judge Barbara Walther who got 40 percent of the vote. Richardson will face El Paso solo John Granberg in the November general election.
Kevin Yeary, a Bexar County assistant district attorney, won 55 percent of the vote in the race for Womack’s seat, beating Burnet solo Richard Dean Davis who received 26 percent of the vote and Jani Jo Wood, a Harris County assistant public defender, who received 17 percent of the vote. Yeary faces no Democratic opponent in the general election.
David Newell, a Harris County assistant district attorney, received 52 percent of the vote in the race to replace Cochran, beating W.C. “Bud” Kirkendall, judge of the Second 25th District Court in Seguin, who received 48 percent of the vote. Newell also faces no Democratic opponent in the general election.