Five Tarrant County justice of the peace races contested

Posted Tuesday, Mar. 04, 2014  comments  Print Reprints
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Five of the eight Tarrant County justice of the peace precincts have contested races in Tuesday’s party primaries. Four of the contests are Republican, one is Democratic.

All eight incumbents are seeking re-election.

Justices of the peace preside over hearings involving Class C misdemeanors and in civil and small-claims cases where the matter in dispute does not exceed $10,000.

They are paid $108,150 annually and may have either a county mobile phone or a cellphone allowance not to exceed $600. They are authorized to perform weddings and may set their own fees for those.

They serve four-year terms.

Precinct 2

The incumbent, a former state representative and an attorney are running in the Republican primary for this precinct in southeast Tarrant County.

The incumbent is Mary Tom Cravens Curnutt, who was appointed in May when Linda B. Davis retired. Tarrant County commissioners picked her out of 30 applicants.

She said she has “proven conservative life values, work ethics, management and leadership skills, and community involvement.”

“A judge in this environment must have the proven ability to be able to manage organization and lead large volumes of people and processes,” Curnutt has said. “More importantly, I am the only candidate that has judicial experience. Since May, I have already presided over close to 8,000 cases and have received over 120 hours of justice court training.”

Barbara Nash is a former state representative from Arlington whose résumé includes 40 years as an elected official and community volunteer.

“As a paralegal and former legislator, my legal training is better suited to represent the people’s point of view in the justice of the peace court,” Nash said. “My long tenure as a conservative elected official is unmatched in this race.”

William Shane Nolen, 37, of Pantego is an attorney who has been involved in community affairs.

“I am fighting for my neighbors to ensure that we have a qualified leader who knows the law and is passionate about our community sitting on the bench,” Nolen said. “I believe that my unique background as a 30-plus-year resident in JP2, my active civic background and my academic and legal training makes me the ideal candidate.”

The winner will face Democrat Melinda Hamilton in November. She has no primary opponent.

Precinct 3

The Republican candidates for this Northeast Tarrant County precinct are incumbent Russ Casey and challengers Lenny Lopez and Christina Fox.

Last year, Casey was appointed by the Texas Supreme Court as chairman of a task force to redesign the JP and small-claims courts.

“My court is running under budget and without a backlog,” Casey said. “Tarrant County is well known for being a great place to raise a family and run a business. It did not happen by accident. I am proud of the role I played in keeping Texas great, and I would greatly appreciate the opportunity to continue to serve.”

Lopez owns a heating and air conditioning business in Hurst, has 20 years experience in real estate, has worked for five years as a legal assistant and has been a Tarrant County election judge.

“As a justice of the peace, I will ensure proper warrant expedition, cut wasteful spending and improve pending case docket,” Lopez wrote on his website.

Fox has a law office in Colleyville and has a bachelor of science in management from the U.S. Air Force Academy.

“This court needs a person who is a qualified servant and leader,” Fox said. “I am the only practicing attorney in this race, and I have served this country as a military officer and Christian. It would be my pleasure to serve the community I grew up in.”

The winner will take office in January because no Democrat filed for the office.

Precinct 4

Incumbent Jacquelyn Wright has one opponent, Vickie Phillips of Azle, for the precinct that covers most of Northwest Tarrant County.

Phillips, a real estate agent in Fort Worth, is seeking her first public office.

“I believe in long hours of hard work. I have the proper temperament, demeanor and ethics needed for the office,” Phillips has said. “If elected, I will address the docket and help teens stay in school.”

Wright has held the office since 1991.

“I have what my opponent does not — ethics, experience, honesty, integrity, knowledge and professionalism,” Wright said. “I manage the court with no backlog and utilize our tax dollars efficiently. I live my life and operate the court according to the code of judicial conduct.”

No Democrat filed for the office.

Precinct 5

The only contested Democratic race is in this precinct, which includes the north side of Fort Worth. Incumbent Sergio L. De Leon is opposed by Macario “Mac” Belmontes.

DeLeon, 42, was elected to the post in November 2012, the first Hispanic elected in the precinct. He previously was a constable for 11 years.

“As judge, I have developed an impressive record,” DeLeon said. He listed the honorary jurors program, a partnership with Fort Worth schools in which students observe court proceedings to learn about the judicial system.

“We have had over 100 students come through the court and learn about evictions, small-claims cases, and due process of law,” he said. “I am the only justice of the peace in Tarrant County with this kind of mentoring program.”

Belmontes, 39, described himself as a small-business owner who has devoted years to service organizations.

“My history and experience has been in helping raise up our community and citizens. I have worked with at-risk youth, community policing, dispute resolution and making safer, more livable neighborhoods,” Belmontes said. “All of these skills and experiences would apply directly to the role of JP in our community.”

The winner will face Republican Cheryl Surber in November. She has no primary opponent.

Precinct 7

Incumbent Matt Hayes has a familiar foe in the Republican primary: the former justice of the peace, Tom Corbin, who lost to Hayes in 2010.

After Hayes took office, Corbin was issued a public admonition by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct for exceeding his judicial authority while he was in office.

Corbin was mayor of Mansfield for three terms and was on the Mansfield City Council.

“Those who know the circumstances understand why I not only disputed the agency’s conclusion but also that I was following the law,” Corbin said this week, referring to the public admonition. “I have always considered myself a public servant and come from a family tradition of public service.”

Hayes said the Precinct 7 office has been transformed into the busiest and most efficient in Tarrant County, handling 10,000 cases each year with the lowest operating cost per case and the highest collections per case of all the courts.

“Our hallmark is service,” Hayes said in an email. “We strive to work with the citizens each day and receive praise from plaintiffs, defendants, landlords, tenants and prosecutors for the courtesy and respect shown to everyone both in the office and in the courtroom.”

The winner will face Democrat Sandra Lee in the November election. She has no primary opponent.

Precinct 7 includes most of south Arlington, Dalworthington Gardens, Grand Prairie (the areas in Tarrant County), Kennedale, Mansfield and the Rendon area west of Interstate 35W.

Domingo Ramirez Jr., 817-390-7763 Twitter: @mingoramirezjr

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