Updated: Judge Wallace victorious in bid to retain 96th District Court seat

Deborah Peoples
Deborah Peoples

Local races were filled with drama Tuesday as one incumbent family court judge lost his seat and two other candidates in a race for the bench in a civil court will be forced to mount a runoff campaign.

Judge R. H. Wallace Jr. retained his judgeship over challenger Traci D. Hutton, 54 to 46 percent in unofficial totals in the GOP primary for 96th District Court.

Wallace’s win means his re-election is secured because no Democrat is running. All vote counts are unofficial totals.

The race pitting Wallace, 72, against Hutton, 44, was one of the most contentious in Tarrant County.

One of the main issues in the race was Wallace’s decision to have life support removed in the case of Marlise Muñoz, a 33-year-old brain-dead, pregnant woman — as the family had petitioned.

My opponent was unqualified for the job and tried to deceive voters by distorting the law and the facts of the Muñoz case,

Judge R.H. Wallace

“This is a victory for the people of Tarrant County,” Wallace said Wednesday. “My opponent was unqualified for the job and tried to deceive voters by distorting the law and the facts of the Muñoz case. And I look forward to serving another four years on the bench of the 96th court.”

John Peter Smith Hospital officials said a 1999 state law prevented them from complying with the family’s wishes because Muñoz was pregnant and state law required a pregnant woman to be kept on life support until the fetus is viable, usually at 24 to 26 weeks. The family sued.

“I’m very proud of the race we ran, and I’m proud we earned the trust of so many Republican voters,” Hutton said Tuesday.

Wallace ordered officials at JPS to remove Muñoz from life support, which also terminated the life of the fetus, because the state statute underpinning the case does not apply to women who are brain-dead.

Wallace said his opposition tried to paint him as a candidate who does not oppose abortion because of his ruling in the Muñoz case.

Hutton insisted that she was not portraying Wallace as a pro-choice candidate but said that Wallace is out of touch with the Republican grassroots and said that she can offer a fresh approach to the office.

360th District Court

Challenger Patricia Baca Bennett won her bid for the bench over incumbent Judge Mike Sinha with 57 percent of the vote in Tuesday’s Republican primary.

Sinha had 43 percent.

“I didn’t know which way the race would go but I thought it would be close,” Bennett said Wednesday. “I was really surprised. You don’t see incumbents losing. I don’t think it happens unless it really needs to happen.”

No Democrat is running for the family court position.

I generally think Mike Sinha is a good man and I admire him,

Patricia Baca Bennett, district judge elect

Bennett, of Mansfield, said Tarrant County needs a judge who respects the law while protecting the rights of children.

“I generally think Mike Sinha is a good man and I admire him,” Bennett said. “I wish him well and hopefully we can bring all things together and work toward this transition.”

Sinha, of Hurst, said he has seen an increase in parents with substance-abuse problems and that the courts have a duty to offer rehabilitation resources to addicted parents.

348th District Court

In the GOP primary to replace outgoing Judge Dana Womack, Mike Wallach acquired 46 percent of the votes and was headed into a runoff with Fort Worth attorney Brooke Allen, who tallied 29 percent.

A majority of votes is needed to win in the district judge’s race. Allen, 39, came in ahead of Lisa Lumley, 51, also a Fort Worth attorney, who garnered 25 percent of the vote.

The runoff is scheduled for May 25, with early voting in both the Republican and Democratic races scheduled between May 16 and May 20. Womack decided not to run for re-election after occupying the post since 1997.

Wallach, 61, is an attorney in Colleyville.

The GOP winner will face Democrat Joe Drago, 48, in the general election, who was unopposed in Tuesday’s primary.

Precinct 5 constable

Constable Ruben Garcia had a landslide win in the heated contest for Precinct 5.

Garcia, 38, who garnered 63 percent of the votes, was seeking a second term.

Michael Valdez was second with 29 percent, and Richard Alfaro was in third with 8 percent of the vote.

The three ran in the Democratic primary. No Republican entered the race.

Before he was elected constable in 2012, Garcia spent nine years as a deputy with the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Department.

Valdez, 26, is the youngest candidate running for a local office.

But Valdez isn’t unfamiliar with Tarrant County politics. His grandfather, Judge Manuel Valdez, was justice of the peace in Precinct 5 for more than 30 years before retiring in 2012.

Alfaro, 56, retired in December from the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Department, where he was a deputy for 30 years.

Precinct 1 constable

The incumbent will return to his post in the Precinct 1 constable spot.

Dale Clark got the most votes in his bid to hold on to his Precinct 1 job, besting Tom Hathorn 59 to 41 percent in the Republican primary.

Hathorn, 59, and Clark, 68, met in a 2012 runoff for the position.

Precinct 1 covers downtown Fort Worth and neighborhoods north to Haslet.

Clark is a longtime resident of Haltom City and has more than 25 years in law enforcement experience with Arlington police and the Dallas/Fort Worth Airport Department of Public Safety.

Hathorn, 59, also has a long law enforcement history, 36 years with the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Department.

Precinct 4 constable

Joe D. “Jody” Johnson, 53, took early lead in the race for Precinct 4 constable’s post and never relinquished it.

Johnson, who retired from the Fort Worth Police Department this month after a 30-year career, won with 65 percent of the vote.

Michael Hardy was in second with 19 percent, and J.D. Sparks was in third with 16 percent.

The candidates are running for the seat vacated by Dub Bransom, who is retiring.

During his campaign, Johnson said he’ll make sure the constable’s office doesn’t lose its focus on its primary responsibilities of conducting civil process paperwork service, providing building security for the Northwest Subcourthouse, and running an efficient and fiscally conservative office.

Sparks, 51, has a 32-year career in law enforcement at departments in Arkansas and Texas. He currently works as a deputy sheriff and sergeant in the patrol division in his eighth year with the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Department.

Hardy, 69, a cattle raiser and deputy constable in Jack County, served 35 years in law enforcement, including as a lieutenant over the criminal, civil and mental warrant division for the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Department and as a contingent commander with the U.S. police forces on a U.N. mission in East Timor.

Precinct 6 constable

Constable Jon H. Siegel, 58, held on to win his re-election bid with 54 percent of the vote int he Republican primary.

He faced a challenge from Army veteran Glen Bucy, who had 46 percent. Siegel will face a Democratic challenge in the general election from Kelicia L. Lyons, who was unopposed in her primary bid.

Siegel has 16 years’ experience working in two Tarrant County constable offices, the last four years serving as Precinct 6 Constable. He has 22 years’ experience in law enforcement, including working for the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Department. He said he is most proud of saving taxpayers money by cutting overtime and implementing a reserve officer program that has grown to four members.

An Army veteran who served in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom and an Arlington police officer for the last six years, Bucy, 34, wants to equip deputies with body cameras to provide increased accountability for officers and help ease citizen concerns.

A survivor of the Wedgwood Baptist Church shooting, in which a gunman killed seven and injured seven others before taking his own life, Bucy is a father to two children,

Precinct 8 constable

Incumbent Michael Campbell handily won the Precinct 8 race in the Democratic primary.

No Republican entered the race.

Campbell had 77 percent of the vote while Raymond Williby, a former sergeant in the Precinct 8 constable’s office, had 23 percent.

Campbell filed a lawsuit in January, claiming Williby was not eligible to run because he didn’t live in the precinct. That lawsuit was dismissed.

Campbell, 53, said he brought the office back in compliance on such areas such as the property and evidence rooms. His office also was diligent in enforcement of truancy.

Williby, 56, said if elected he wanted to focus on the youth of Precinct 8, establishing programs to keep them from having a criminal history.

Williby was a U.S. Marine and has 35 years of service with the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Department and two constable offices.

GOP chairman

Southlake Attorney Tim O’Hare notched a big win in his bid to take over as the Tarrant County chairman of the local Republican party, with 67 percent of the vote.

O’Hare, a former Farmers Branch mayor, and David Wylie, a longtime GOP activist, ran to replace outgoing Chairwoman Jennifer Hall, who isn't seeking re-election.

O'Hare, a 46-year-old real estate investor and attorney who moved to Southlake with his family in 2014, was the first to jump into the race.

Wylie, a 52-year-old application developer and consultant, said he joined the race after activists asked him to consider running, but was only able to amass 33 percent of the vote.

Democratic chairman

Incumbent Deborah Peoples won her challenge against Gary Livingston for the Tarrant County Democratic Party chairman post, 79 to 21 percent.

Peoples, chosen to lead the party in 2013 through a special election of precinct chairmen, said she wants to keep helping local Democrats.

Livingston, a 66-year-old retired Bell Helicopter union president and dispatcher, said he would be an effective party leader.

Mitch Mitchell: 817-390-7752, @mitchmitchel3