Elections 2020IssuesJudicialLocal NewsDemocrats Seek Inroads with Tarrant County Slate of Contested Judicial Races

In an effort to capitalize on momentum from the 2018 election, Democrats are fielding a slate of 11 judicial candidates against incumbent Republican judges in Tarrant County.
September 1, 2020

Tarrant County has dozens of elected judicial positions and currently, all are filled by Republicans. In fact, Republicans have enjoyed uncontested general elections for county judicial positions the last few election cycles.

In 2014, only two local judicial races were contested in the general election in Tarrant County. In 2016, there was only one contest, and in 2018 there were three contested judicial races in the county.

However, in November, eleven of these judges will face general election opponents. Democrats are aiming to capitalize on the momentum they believe they gained in Tarrant County in 2018, when Democrat senate candidate Beto O’Rourke won about 4,300 more votes than incumbent Republican Senator Ted Cruz. Cruz won the election overall.

Judges are limited in what they can say during a campaign based on the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct, which prohibits public comments that “suggests to a reasonable person the judge’s probable decision on any particular case.”

Second Court of Appeals

The Texan Mug

The Second Court of Appeals is composed of seven justices and has jurisdiction over both civil and criminal appeals from district and county courts in twelve north central Texas counties, including Tarrant County.

For Place 6, Democrat Delonia Watson is challenging Mike Wallach. Watson graduated from Harvard Law School and worked for 25 years as an assistant United States attorney and four years as an assistant district attorney in Tarrant County.

Watson has been endorsed by the Tarrant County Central Labor Council of the AFL-CIO. She ran for Place 5 on the 2nd Court of Appeals in 2018, but failed in that bid. Recently, she authored an opinion piece explaining her view of the “rule of law” and how it has been applied in recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions.

Mike Wallach, the incumbent, was appointed by Governor Greg Abbott in 2019 after previously serving as judge of the 348th District Court in Tarrant County starting in 2016. Wallach earned his law degree from the University of Houston in 1979 and has 36 years of trial and appellate experience. Wallach has many endorsements listed on his website, including those of many local and state elected officials and members of the legal community.

In a judicial candidate poll sponsored by the Tarrant County Bar Association, Wallach received a rating of “highly recommended” by 39.5 percent of those casting votes, whereas 7.3 percent of those voting “highly recommended” Watson.

48th District Court

Judge David Evans of the 48th District Court faces Democrat opponent Larry Meyers.

Evans first became a judge in 2003 and also serves as the presiding judge of the Eighth Administrative Judicial Region, where he fulfills duties such as advising local judges on judicial management and recommending changes to the Supreme Court for the improvement of judicial administration. He has been licensed to practice law since 1979 after graduating with his law degree from Baylor University School of Law, and has also served as president of the Tarrant County Bar Association.

Meyers was a judge on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals from 1992 to 2016. He switched parties from Republican to Democrat in 2013, which he says was because of the growth of the Tea Party movement within the Republican party. He was unseated in 2016 by Republican Mary Lou Keel. Meyers has law degrees from the University of Kansas and the University of Virginia and was in private practice in Fort Worth from 1973 until 1988.

67th District Court

Since being appointed in 2000 by then-Governor George W. Bush, Judge Don Cosby has presided over more than 450 jury trials. He was unopposed in 2016, but will face Democrat Matthew Hegeman in November.

Cosby has overcome many challenges in his life, according to his website, including living at the Lena Pope Children’s Home in Fort Worth after his father abandoned his children and Japanese wife who barely spoke English. He graduated from Tulane University and St. Mary’s Law School. He served for many years on the board of directors for the Lena Pope Children’s Home.

Hegeman graduated from Texas Wesleyan Law School, now Texas A&M Law School, in 2013 and was licensed to practice in 2014. He is currently in private practice, and served as an assistant district attorney in Cameron County for about six months after law school.

In the Tarrant County Bar Association judicial candidate poll, Cosby was “highly recommended” by 52 percent of those who voted. Hegeman was only highly recommended by 3.5 percent, while 13 percent did not recommend him.

96th District Court

Judge Pat Gallagher was recently appointed to fill the vacant seat on the 96th District Court. He won the contested Republican primary and will still stand for election against Democrat Timothy Brandenburg in November.

Gallagher, who has been practicing law for 36 years, started his career as an assistant district attorney in Dallas County, but then moved on to civil litigation practice. He graduated from law school at Indiana University and is a member of the Federalist Society.

Brandenburg was licensed to practice law in Texas in 2006 after graduating from Texas Wesleyan Law School. He works for the personal injury law firm of Roger “Rocky” Walton and lives in Arlington, where he and his wife are members of the St. Joseph Catholic Parish.

In the judicial candidate poll, Brandenburg was “highly recommended” by 4.8 percent of those voting, while Gallagher was “highly recommended” by 32.2 percent.

153rd District Court

Republican incumbent Judge Susan McCoy was first elected to the 153rd District Court in 2012 and ran unopposed in her bid for re-election in 2016. McCoy has been licensed to practice law since 1992 after graduating from the University of Houston’s law school. Before taking the bench, McCoy practiced civil litigation for 20 years. She is endorsed by several elected and party officials, including former Chief Justice of the Texas Supreme Court, Wallace Jefferson.

Alisha Darden is challenging McCoy as a Democrat. She is currently a solo practitioner, but worked from 2006 to 2011 as an administrative law judge with the Texas Department of Insurance. She also clerked for the Mississippi Court of Appeals after graduating from the Texas Wesleyan Law School in 1998.

Of the Tarrant County bar members voting in the judicial candidate poll, only 4.1 percent highly recommend Darden, while 28.5 percent highly recommended McCoy.

213th District Court

Democrat Lakesha Smith will face Republican Judge Chris Wolfe to preside over criminal trials in the 213th District Court.

Smith has been both an assistant district attorney and a public defender, and has been licensed to practice in Texas since 2012. After graduating from Tulane University School of Law, Smith clerked for Judge Bates-Anderson of the Orleans Parish. On her campaign Facebook page, Smith says, “She’s supportive of smart-on-crime ideas such as diversion programs, promoting rehabilitation over prison for appropriate non-violent crimes, and re-entry programs that reduce recidivism.”

Wolfe served as a federal prosecutor for 15 years before being appointed to the bench by Governor Abbott in 2018. He prosecuted many high-profile cases, including a murder-for-hire case involving a former mayor of Arlington. Wolfe graduated from Baylor University School of Law in 1998 and is an advisory member of the Fort Worth chapter of the Federalist Society.

Respondents to the judicial candidates poll recommended Wolfe over Smith by more than 20 percentage points.

342nd District Court

In the race to see who will preside over civil trials in the 342nd District Court, Republican Judge Kimberly Fitzpatrick faces Democrat Valerie Baston.

Fitzpatrick, a former president of the Arlington Bar Association, was elected in November 2018 without opposition. On her website, she touts the efficiency she has brought to the court, by reducing the pending cases on her court’s docket and tripling the number of cases tried versus the previous years. Fitzpatrick has been practicing law since 2009 after graduating from Texas Wesleyan School of Law the same year. Before becoming a judge, she worked in the general practice office of Harris Cook, LLP.

Baston has been licensed since 1997 after graduating from the Texas Southern University Thurgood Marshall School of Law. She is a former prosecutor with the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office. She received a legal excellence award in 2011 from the Black Women Lawyers of Tarrant County. She currently has her own practice, Baston Law P.C.

Baston drew recommended votes from 15 percent of participants, while Fitzpatrick was recommended by 32 percent of those participating in the judicial candidate poll.

348th District Court

Appointed in 2019 by Governor Abbott, Republican Judge Megan Fahey will face Democrat opponent Maryellen Hicks.

Prior to being appointed to the bench, Fahey worked for 14 years in both the civil and criminal divisions of the U.S. Attorney’s office, specializing in prosecuting cybercrimes against children and financial fraud crimes. She was named as one of the top civil assistant U.S. attorneys in 2011. Fahey graduated with honors from the University of Texas Law School and has been licensed to practice law since 2004.

Hicks served as judge of the 231st District Court, a family court, from 1983 to 1993 after being appointed by then-Governor Mark White. In 1994, Governor Ann Richards appointed Hicks to serve as a justice on the 2nd Court of Appeals in Fort Worth. She also served as the chief municipal judge in Fort Worth in the past. In recent years, Hicks has served as a visiting judge in Harris County. In 2018, Hicks ran to fill the 322nd family court bench, but lost to Republican James Munford. Hicks has been licensed to practice in Texas since 1974, after being the first African American graduate of Texas Tech University Law School.

Hicks and Fahey were virtually tied among respondents to the judicial candidate poll, at about 18 percent highly recommending each. However, only 7.1 percent would not recommend Fahey, while 13.2 percent would not recommend Hicks.

352nd District Court

Judge Josh Burgess was appointed in 2017 to fill the vacancy in this civil district court, but in order to keep the seat, he must face Democrat opponent Olyn Poole in November.

Burgess, a veteran who began his legal career in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps, served as a U.S. attorney in Tarrant County since 2007. Among his high profile cases was the murder-for-hire public slaying in Southlake Town Square of the attorney for the head of a drug cartel. Burgess has been practicing law in Texas since 1997, after receiving his law degree from Washington and Lee University in Virginia. He and his wife are active members of Christ Chapel Bible Church in Fort Worth.

Poole, a civil attorney at the Decker Poole Law Firm in Fort Worth, has 17 years of courtroom experience in Tarrant County. He has been licensed since 2002 after graduating from South Texas College of Law. Poole has been endorsed by the Tarrant County Central Labor Council of the AFL-CIO and Living Blue in Texas, a group dedicated to “help keep Texas democrats motivated to get out and vote.”

While nearly 38 percent of Tarrant County Bar Association judicial candidate poll respondents recommended or highly recommended Burgess, about 15 percent said the same of Poole.

360th District Court

The family court bench in the 360th District Court will be decided by a contest between Democrat Michael Munoz and Republican Judge Patricia Baca Bennett.

Munoz, who lives in Arlington and works for the Family Law Firm of Donna J. Smiedt, touts his experience as the managing assistant attorney general for child support in this region between 2012 and 2016. He was awarded assistant attorney general of the year in 2013. Munoz graduated from Texas Wesleyan Law School in 2002.

Bennett has presided over the court since being elected in 2016, and is board certified in family law. On her website, she submits that she has increased the efficiency in her court by cutting the time for setting a jury trial in half, from one year to about six months. Bennett has been practicing law since 1994 after graduating from Texas Tech University Law School.

While about 14 percent of judicial poll respondents would recommend Bennett, 23.9 percent would not recommend her as a candidate. On the other hand, Munoz was recommended by 18.6 percent of respondents, but not recommended by about 8 percent.

Criminal District Court 2

Long-time judge Wayne Salvant will face Democrat opponent Karen Williams in November.

Salvant, who was appointed to the bench in 1995 by Governor George W. Bush, is a Vietnam Veteran and a 1974 graduate of Southern University Law Center. Salvant has also worked for years with the DIRECT program, a post plea drug rehabilitation program offering intensive treatment and judicial supervision.

Williams, who has been licensed to practice law in Texas since 2015, graduated from DePaul University College of Law. She is endorsed by Living Blue in Texas.

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Kim Roberts

Kim Roberts

Kim Roberts is a reporter for the Texan in the DFW metroplex area where she has lived for over twenty years. She has a Juris Doctor from Baylor University Law School and a Bachelor's in government from Angelo State University. In her free time, Kim home schools her daughter and coaches high school extemporaneous speaking and apologetics. She has been happily married to her husband for 23 years, has three wonderful children, and two dogs.