February 18, 2014
By Enrique Rangel
AUSTIN — “Who do I vote for?”
That’s a question some voters in the Republican primary for three Criminal Court of Appeals seats may have been asking themselves when early voting for the March 4 election began Tuesday.
Seven Republicans are vying for three open seats in Texas’ highest court for criminal cases — two candidates in Place 3, three in Place 4 and two in Place 9, all apparently unknown outside the legal community.
In Place 3, Bert Richardson of San Antonio and Barbara Walther of San Angelo are running against each other.
The winner of this race will face John Granberg of El Paso in the Nov. 4 general election. Granberg is the lone Democrat seeking a seat in the Court of Criminal Appeals.
In Place 4, it is Richard Dean Davis of Burnet, Kevin Patrick Yeary of San Antonio and Jani Jo Wood of Houston competing for the judgeship.
And in Place 9, it is W.C. “Bud” Kirkendall of Seguin running against David Newell of Richmond.
Here is how the candidates in the three races are wooing the voters.
In Place 3, Richardson said he is uniquely qualified for the post because he has more than 25 years of trial experience as a lawyer and judge.
“My commitment is to uphold the laws of Texas and the ideals of fairness and justice with the unwavering standards that guide me every day as a senior judge across this great state and in my personal life,” Richardson wrote on his campaign’s website.
Ten years ago, President George W. Bush appointed him judge for the 379th District Court.
Walther describes herself as “the most experienced candidate for Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 3.”
“Judge Walther was the first woman and the first Republican to win election to the office,” her campaign’s website says in reference to her 22 years as the presiding judge of the 51st Judicial District Court of Texas based in San Angelo. “Voters have elected her six times, she has never lost an election.”
In Place 4, Davis is not actively campaigning, but Wood and Yeary are.
Wood says on her campaign’s website she has devoted her career “to justice and fairness, and now want to bring my experience to serve all Texans as a judge on our state’s highest criminal court.
Yeary cites his 22-year law career in prosecution and defense as his main qualification.
“Kevin has litigated appeals in most of the appellate courts in this state, and he has argued cases before both the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and the Texas Supreme Court,” his campaign’s website says.
In Place 9, Kirkendall, judge of the 2nd and 25th Judicial District, cites 40 years of experience as jurist, district attorney and private practicing attorney as his main qualifications.
“As a judge and former prosecutor, I understand the necessarily high burden placed on the state when it comes to taking a person’s freedom, and will insist on the highest ethical and legal standards in that process,” Kirkendall said when he announced his candidacy.
Newell said, however, he is just as qualified.
“Look, I am not a politician so I don’t feel particularly comfortable brandishing my resume in order to get you to vote for me,” Newell says on his campaign’s website. “But I got into this race because I am well qualified for the position and I know I can do a good job for you.”
Other jurists said they hope the voters do their homework before casting their ballots because these and other judicial races are critical for the well-being of the state’s judicial system.
“Judges often have a bigger impact on the lives of average Texans than even the president or the governor,” former Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson and Lisa Kaufman, general counsel for the Texas Civil Justice League, wrote in a column the San Antonio Express-News published Monday.
“So, even though it is not easy, we must take the time to elect qualified judges,” Jefferson and Kaufman wrote.
Texas Supreme Court Justice Phil Johnson said though he agrees with Jefferson and Kaufman, the reality is that most voters aren’t interested in judicial races
“It is just hard for people to get enthusiastic about the judicial ballot,” Johnson said. “It is like referees in sports, people don’t go to see the referees. They go see the players.”
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