Waco judge launches bid for 10th Court of Appeals

Posted 10/8/19

Matt Johnson, judge for the 54th District Court in Waco, formerly launched his run for the 10th Court of Appeals last week, a campaign that realistically almost a year ago. And one that will likely have Johnson running unopposed into the seat being vacated by retiring Justice Rex Davis.

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Waco judge launches bid for 10th Court of Appeals

Posted

Matt Johnson, judge for the 54th District Court in Waco, formerly launched his run for the 10th Court of Appeals last week, a campaign that realistically almost a year ago. And one that will likely have Johnson running unopposed into the seat being vacated by retiring Justice Rex Davis.

“I’ve been at this for 10 or 11 months,” Johnson said Friday in a phone interview. “It’s a big territory, so I can’t make all the small events, but I’ve been trying to get to the big ones.”

Johnson has met with Republican party leaders across the district and has not heard of any potential primary opponents.

“Now what the Democratic Party has planned, I can’t say,” he said. “I don’t talk with them.”

Davis, also a Republican, ran opposed in both the primary and general election for the seat in 2014. Davis had returned to the court in 2008 after having served as Chief Justice of the 10th Court of Appeals from 1996-2003.

The 10th Court of Appeals is a three-judge, state intermediate appellate court that hears civil and criminal appeals. Justices are elected to six-year terms and pull down $154,000. Appeals court justices have the potential to earn up to an additional $9,000 per year that can be paid by the counties in which they preside for extra judicial services performed. The base salary is set at 110% of a district court judge, but Johnson points to other things that inspired his run.

“I really like the academic side (of an appeals court),” he said. “It’s not like a trial court, with new evidence and testimony coming in. Everything is boiled down to legal points.”

But his four terms as a district judge, service as a justice of the peace and a total of 29 years of trial experience is what Johnson said will help him as an appeals judge. It will help him look at evidence and previous testimony with a more discerning eye, he said.

“Having trial court experience will give me insight,” Johnson said. “When you get the record from trial, it’s the court reporter’s report and the court clerk’s report.” Those reports provide a cold reading of proceedings but having feet on the ground in a number of trials will allow Johnson to view the transcripts more in the spirit of what happened at a lower court, he said.

Among the trials Johnson oversaw in his current role were the 2011 trial of Joyce Sturdivant, found guilty of shooting her husband of 40 years after twice trying to hire others to kill him, and presiding over the only trial stemming from the 2015 shootings at a Twin Peaks restaurant.

Jacob Carrizal, president of the Dallas chapter of the Bandidos, faced a slew of murder, assault and criminal conspiracy charges stemming from the shooting that killed nine and led to hundreds of arrests. The jury, though, could not reach a verdict on the three charges against Carrizal, leading to a mistrial.

“Texas has such a strong self-defense standard,” Johnson said. “Unless you know who shot first, it’s an impossible case.”

If Johnson wins the seat at the 10th Court of Appeals, he will resign from the district bench at the end of the year, opening an appointment by Gov. Greg Abbott.

The district covered by the appellate court stretches as far north as Johnson and Ellis counties and as far south as Walker County. Johnson said he’s trying hard to listen to people across the territory.

“I’m running district-wide,” he said. “I’m not just going to focus on the population centers.”

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