Ector County residents learned about the seven justice of the peace candidates and their platforms, and about the office itself, during a forum Wednesday night hosted by the Ector County Republican Women.
The seven candidates running for the office are Matthew Stringer, Jet Brown, Sheryl Jones, Missi Walden, Steven Westfall, Marvin Jennings and Gary Dunda. They are running to fill the empty seat of precinct 2, vacated by Judge Christopher Clark when he was appointed as County Court at Law No. 2 Judge.
Early voting began Tuesday for the March primary, but as there will likely be a run-off in May, voters will likely have more time to learn about the remaining candidates contesting for the vacant seat.
The candidates were cordial with each other throughout their statements and the Q&A session afterwards, as each stated their reasoning for wanting the office and what they would do in the position.
Stringer focused on accountability and transparency in his speech, stumping for a proposed yearly report showing exactly what his office did, how many cases were processed, and what their budget was.
“I will constantly strive to promote the people’s confidence in our local judiciary, and I will bring my small business background and proven conservative record to be a visible force working to address the needs of our criminal justice infrastructure,” Stringer told those in attendance. “The rights of the people and public safety depends upon it.”
When asked by an audience member what other work he’s held outside of his family’s jewelry store, Stringer didn’t directly answer the question posed, but expanded on his part in starting his family’s business, Diamonds in Midland.
“I’ve been involved in every area of growing a small business from a 750 square foot location located on the wrong way of a one-way in a small town, Alpine, Texas, grew it into a 4,200 square foot store in Midland, Texas that did hundreds of thousands of dollars in sales,” Stringer said. “Whenever you have a small business, you realize that it consumes so much of your time in your life and it’s a major sacrifice.”
On the opposite end of that spectrum is Brown, who told the crowd on his experience as a CEO of Permian Truck and an owner of a consulting firm. Brown said that, with his other jobs, he would be setting his own schedule in the seat, but not to expect him to be taking any time off. He told the crowd in the last sixteen years, he’s taken two weeks of vacation,
When asked by an audience member if he looked at the seat as a part-time job, Brown said he didn’t see it that way, as the justice of the peace would also need to be available during nights and weekends, giving an anecdote on doing business over the phone from 2 a.m. to 4:30 a.m. the previous night.
“Anything I do is not a part-time job,” Brown said. “Whatever needs to be done, I do.”
Brown said that, should he be elected, there would be people set in place to take some of his duties. He also pointed out that his work is done remotely over the computer or the phone and wouldn’t take up much time.
Jones talked to the crowd about her experience in law enforcement as a patrol officer for the Odessa Police Department and her time interacting with justices as a juvenile investigator, and previously educated various law enforcement agencies on utilizing a criminal information database.
“I feel that I will be your full-time, committed judge,” Jones said. “I’ll be in the office five days a week, it is a full-time job.”
Walden told the crowd of her background working in the courtroom, a qualification she alone has among the candidates. She said she’s been in the legal field for 27 years, working as a legal assistant at the Shafer Law Firm before moving to the Ector County Courthouse to become the court coordinator for the 244th District Court before transitioning to the 161st District Court.
“I have been involved in thousands of hearings and trials throughout the last 13 years,” Walden said. “I have the experience to do what needs to be done in the justice of the peace court.”
Walden said her main goal in the position would be to make the court as paperless as possible, a transition she said she has already gone through in the 161st District Court.
Westfall, the youngest candidate at 26, told the audience how he would like to improve the office by making himself available to the public. He said his main way of doing this would be by making his office open to the public during lunch hours, which he would be able to do due to each justice running their office independently.
“I want to make myself available to the public 24/7, five days a week,” Westfall said.
“I’m just an old cowboy up here, I’m not a politician,” Jennings said. “Justice is supposed to be blind, and I look at everybody the same. I want to be fair to each and every one.”
Jennings brought up his past, when he faced criminal charges including assault, injury to a child and theft. But he said that those charges were dropped, and were involved in a custody issue related to his ex-wife.
The last candidate to speak was Dunda, 79, who told the senior citizens they still had much to give. He stressed to the crowd that the justice of the peace had a simple court, overseeing misdemeanors and eviction cases, and talked about his time serving as a game warden out of Ector County and as an Ector County constable.
“I don’t care if you’re a republican or a democrat, rich or poor, I will treat you with integrity, honesty and fairness,” Dunda said.
Few questions were asked after the candidates’ statements. The final question asked to each candidate was simply what the job actually entailed. Four of the candidates summarized the position: It entails hearing class C misdemeanor cases, like traffic tickets, small claim civil cases with a jurisdictional limit of $10,000, like land lord and tenant disputes, and they may also wed couples wishing to marry.
Early voting for the March primary will continue until March 2, and Election Day is March 6, with polls open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
2018 Election Facts
- First day of early voting: Feb. 20.
- Last day of early voting: March 2.
- Election Day: March 6.