There is never a shortage of news and information about Presidential and federal elections. Still, our local elected officials have a greater impact on our daily lives and the well-being of our communities than the President, so it is important to know what the office you’re voting for actually does.
We did some research into some of other the races you will see on your Primary ballot in March, to give you a look at how systems run and how the work gets done.
Even in mid-term election years, there are roughly 70,000 elected positions up for grabs. About 96 percent of them are at the local level, but most people don’t even know the names of their candidates until they see them on a ballot, much less what what they’re electing them to do. We want to help our readers understand a little more about the races that are down-ballot from the White House.
These races are important because local elected officials play a critical role in determining how equitable life in Central Texas will be with respect to safety, records management, and voter engagement. These aren’t things you’ll see on CNN or going viral on Twitter, but they are part of what keeps life moving forward in our homes and neighborhoods.
BallotReady.com says when you know more, you care more. Their advice on how to feel informed includes talking to friends, attending forums and candidate events, or even hosting your own event to talk about elections. You’re pretty likely to get an RSVP from the candidates themselves because personal relationships is how local folks earn your vote.
County Attorney vs. District Attorney
Elected prosecutors determine which cases, charges, and sentences to pursue, or drop. This matters because, for example, last month, in another county, a man convicted of aggravated assault was released from incarceration before his victims finished their rehab from the attack.
Williamson County reached a large enough population to warrant electing both a District and County Attorney since the 1970s. The C.A. and D.A. must have a law degree, and each hires attorneys to manage the day-to-day prosecution of cases.
The Williamson County Attorney prosecutes misdemeanor offenses, representing the State in Justice of the Peace and County Courts. The C.A. must have a robust legal resume and a working knowledge of the theory and practice of law. The office has jurisdiction over all juvenile misdemeanor and felony offenders, and represents Child Protective Services if a child is abused and must be removed from a home. He or she is also a legal advisor to all other county elected officials.
The Williamson County Attorney manages civil mental health commitments, which in the past seven years have jumped from ten to nearly 400 annually. While that sounds dramatic, it is a positive change because prior to 2013, those individuals may have been put into the criminal system rather than into counseling. This office issues protective orders, coordinates with specialty courts—DWI, drug addiction, veterans, mental health, and diversion programs—to collaborate with defense counsel and identify cases for special handling.
The County Attorney handles prosecutions in Justice of the Peace courts
County Attorney Doyle “Dee” Hobbs is the incumbent. His challenger in the general election is Stanley Springerly.
The 26th District Attorney analyzes and gathers evidence to determine if there are grounds for criminal prosecution of cases within their districts and presents cases at trial. He or she represents the state in prosecuting felony criminal cases; i.e., the worst of the worst. The D.A. works with law enforcement officers in the investigation of criminal cases, and presents cases to the grand jury, including homicide, property theft over $1,500, aggravated assault, injury to a child, drive-by shootings, and credit card abuse. Thanks to a recent change in the statute, the District Attorney also brings charges in cases of animal cruelty, now considered a felony. These have been on the increase in recent years thanks to diligent residents and greater frequency of reporting.
District Attorney Shawn Dick (R) has no opponents.
Our elected judges influence and sometimes determine the outcome of court proceedings. Like the County and District Attorneys, Williamson County’s judges have specific areas of the law on their respective dockets. In 2020, there are three District Judges on the ballot.
District Judges preside over the highest trial courts. Each is responsible for a distributed portion of the total cases filed each year; family law cases, civil suits, juvenile crime, and adult felony crimes. Judges spend the bulk of their time on the bench in hearings or in trials, making decisions and ruling on legal issues, from the routine to the extremely complex. As such, they spend many hours researching and preparing for each decision. Outside the courtroom, they review and respond to warrant requests from law enforcement; and oversee the adult probation department, juvenile services department, county magistrate office, pre-trial department, and the county auditors’ office.
Aside from legal acumen, judges must have good people skills. Like doctors with bad bedside manner, judges who can not relate to people will have difficulty relating to and appreciating the circumstances of litigants who appear before them.
The 26th District Court has felony, civil, and mental health specialty dockets. The 395th and 425th District Courts hear cases in family law and adoptions, as well as felony and civil matters.
Hon. Donna King (R) is the 26th District Judge. Her opponent in the general election is Brian McConnell.
Hon. Ryan Larson (R) is the 395th District Judge. His opponent in the general election is Lucio DelToro.
Hon. Betsy Lambeth (R) is the 425th and Presiding District Judge.
Court of Criminal Appeals
The Court of Criminal Appeals is the highest criminal court in Texas. It has a Presiding Judge and eight Justices. They are elected by the entire state for terms of six years. Justices hear death penalty cases and criminal cases that have been appealed from a lower court. The acumen and fairness of these Justices are relevant to voters because they also hear and adjudicate rules and procedures for every attorney and judge across the state.
Place 3: Justice Bert Richardson (R), Gina Parker (R); William Demond (D), Elizabeth Davis Frizell (D), Dan Wood (D) Place 4: Justice Kevin Yeary (R); Tina Yoo Clinton (D), Steven Miears (D) Place 6: Mike Snipes (D) Place 9: Justice David Newell, Brandon Birmingham (D)
3rd Court of Appeals
The Third District Court of Appeals has a Chief Justice and five justices. It has jurisdiction over civil and criminal cases appealed from the District and County courts in 24 counties of Texas, including Williamson County. These include civil cases and proceedings; and criminal cases when no death penalty has been imposed.
Chief Justice Jeff Rose (R) is the incumbent for the 3rd Court of Appeals. Democratic candidates are Darlene Byrne and Keith Hampton.
Sheriff vs. Constable
The Sheriff is elected for four-year terms. He or she must be a licensed peace officer and is the executive officer of the county and district courts. This officer serves writs and processes of the courts, seizes property after judgment, enforces state laws and supervises the county jail and prisoners. The Sheriff also provides security for the courts, as such, he manages all of the corrections officers as well.
Sheriff Robert Chody (R) is the incumbent. His challenger for the general election is Mark Gleason.
Each County precinct has a Constable. Constables are licensed peace officers who perform myriad law enforcement functions for four-year terms. They execute court orders from County Judges, County Attorneys, and state courts, including arrest warrants, protective orders, property seizures, evictions, and mental health commitments. They may also issue traffic citations, and serve as bailiffs for Justice of the Peace Courts. He or she hires and manages Deputy Constables for each precinct.
The Precinct 3 Constable is Kevin Stofle (R).
While not specifically “judicial”, Precinct Chairs serve two-year terms as the “boots on the ground” for all of our elected offices. Simply put, they are the central managers for the smallest units in the party; i.e., multiple neighborhoods or areas with 100-5,000 voters. Williamson County has 94 precincts, Georgetown makes up 18 of those. The Chair’s job is to meet people in the precinct, establish day-to-day interactions with voters, provide opportunities to support the party, and most importantly, get out the vote. The office requires no specific qualifications or experience, but a successful Chair needs the desire to support his or her party, and the time and energy to support candidates at the grass roots level. To find your Chair visit WilcoDemocrats.org or WilliamsonCountyGOP.org.