The announced retirement of Precinct 5 Justice of the Peace Mike Bateman has created a six-person scramble in the March 4 primary election to be his replacement.
Early voting is ongoing now as candidates vie for the Republican nomination to the open seat — businessman Mike Brucia, current County Clerk Cynthia Mitchell, businessman Paul Moore, district attorney’s office investigator Mike Oglesby, municipal court Judge Danny Spindle and police Officer Mike Sweet. No Democrat filed.
Justices of the peace serve four-year terms and are paid about $74,000 annually. The office holds small claims court, hears Class C misdemeanor cases, conducts magisterial duties and performs weddings.
Mike Brucia, 54, of Denton, who is president of Double M Vending, ran unsuccessfully for state representative of District 64 in 2012. He said he would not have run for state representative but that he was the tea party leader and that no one else could be found to step up to it.
But he said being a judge is something he has dreamed of since he was a kid. Family, the Air Force, marriage and business all led Brucia away from completing college and law school those years ago, but now he feels he has his chance.
“It’s community leaders that are needed to be justices of the peace,” Brucia said.
He owns a food and beverage distribution business and is active in the Denton County political community. He said his opponents have a history of government while he has business experience.
Having been both a landlord and renter, having operated service companies and being a service consumer, Brucia said he is familiar with the types of cases that a justice of the peace handles.
Brucia noted the new rules approved by the Legislature that will help simplify cases for litigants who are not represented by attorneys.
“You can go in with confidence knowing your case will get presented even if you can’t hire a lawyer,” he said. “I think with a new judge, we have a great opportunity for the consumer court concept the Legislature is looking for.”
Cynthia Mitchell, 41, of Aubrey, said she could not ask Denton County voters for a fifth term as county clerk, so she decided to run for justice of the peace.
“I believe I have done an amazing job as the county clerk in four terms,” she said. “I would still love to serve and the JP office is something that struck me from the very beginning.”
She said she was 15 when she began working in a teen court program and 20 when she ran for justice of the peace for the first time. She wants to create a teen court program in Precinct 5.
“I will do whatever it takes to recreate and implement the program,” Mitchell said. “It is an amazing tool and an amazing resource that Denton County can provide. I’m not exactly sure why we don’t have one there, and it is one of the first things I plan to implement.”
Mitchell said she is the only candidate with the skill set to run the court system.
“I have definite strong ideas of ways to make the docket much more efficient,” she said. “At the county level, what good is it to be effective if you’re not helping out the community around you? I’m not looking at this as some kind of retirement. I’m not in my 60s or 70s. I am still viable and wanting to serve.
“My opponents have been very much gentlemen to me in this race, but nonetheless I do feel they are looking at a job they can retire to that they can serve. While that is admirable, I am still looking at actively serving my community.”
For Paul Moore, the ability to serve on the justice of the peace bench would be an opportunity to continue to serve a community that will continue to flourish with an ever-increasing caseload.
“There is not one candidate that has all my experience … military, law enforcement, business and political,” he said.
Moore, 51, a business owner, said he has been campaigning for 11 months, adding his name to the race before he even knew of the sitting judge’s intent to retire.
Moore has served as a Denton County precinct chairman and served in the U.S. Marine Corps. He also worked in sheriff’s and state trooper departments in Oregon. A Brink’s transfer to Irving years ago brought Moore and his family to Texas.
He said his top priority will be to work closely with other elected officials, law enforcement agencies and the district attorney’s office to better handle the everyday civil matters so the other offices can focus on other cases.
Mike Oglesby, 54, an investigator with the district attorney’s office, said the justice of the peace bench would be a chance to serve on the other side after his 35 years in law enforcement.
As an investigator, he has experience with victims of crimes and said he has been a renter, so he understands the eviction process as well as truancy issues, which are frequently heard in justice of the peace courts. Oglesby said he has testified in justice of the peace court as well as state, federal and other courts.
“I feel I am well-rounded and I understand what the JP does,” he said.
Oglesby has 35 years’ experience in law enforcement. Before joining the district attorney’s office, he retired from the Texas Department of Public Safety after 13 years in highway patrol and 15 years in the criminal investigation division. He also worked for the Canyon Police Department and the Randall County Sheriff’s Office.
He said he wants to continue the public education program started by the retiring justice of the peace, “so people can understand the process better.”
Oglesby said the court will run more smoothly if people have a better understanding of how the justice of the peace processes work.
As for the crowded field he is up against, he said he has received a lot of support while campaigning.
“I guess none of us will know until late on March 4,” he said.
Danny Spindle, 57, Sanger Municipal Court judge and a local manufacturing manager, said the justice of the peace position has been a plan of his for a long time.
“I have just now got to the point where financially I could afford to run for the office, and I wouldn’t run against the current JP,” he said. “I have basically been holding and waiting for him to retire so I could run.”
Spindle said he has enjoyed his time as a part-time municipal judge, looking forward to every day he goes to court.
“My favorite days are when I do go to court. I want to do it full time instead of part time,” Spindle said.
If elected, he said he would leave his job as a production manager for a local manufacturer.
Spindle said he is the only candidate who has actually sat on a bench, and had a judicial education through the Texas Municipal Courts Education Center, which he said gives him better experience.
“Others have been in court as police officers,” he said. “I am the only one who has sat on the bench and had to make the tough decisions.”
Spindle, who said he loves working with schools, said one of the main things he wants to do is rebuild the relationship with schools and the constables’ offices to improve the follow-up on truancy cases.
Mike Sweet, 54, of Sanger, a police officer, promises that if he is elected, he is going to make the most of it.
“I am there early and I leave late,” he said. “You’re going to get every nickel out of me that you pay me.”
Sweet also has designs on an education program for the office that he said could be done with the use of interns.
“There are people at the universities that are in criminal justice and government classes that can do that,” he said, noting the current judge has used interns from time to time.
“I want to go in there and let people know what the office is, how it works and how to access it,” he said.
Sweet has been a peace officer for more than 33 years, 22 of them with the Denton Police Department. He said he has worked in various areas within the city police department and touched on just about every aspect of law enforcement.
Because justices of the peace can sign arrest warrants, Sweet said a judge needs to know the laws so there are no problems later on.
He has also served on the Denton County local emergency planning committee and the county Environmental Advisory Board.
“All those years you learn to work with people and make decisions and the decisions made [that] affect people,” he said. “I have spent a lot of time in court over the past 33 years; that’s why I think I can handle the job.”
BJ LEWIS can be reached at 940-566-6875 and via Twitter at @BjlewisDRC.
REPUBLICAN CANDIDATES FOR PRECINCT 5 JUSTICE OF THE PEACE
Michael Anthony Brucia
Occupation: president, Double M Vending Inc.
Prior political history: Ran for state representative for District 64 in 2012.
Background: President of Double M Vending since April 2007; worked as partner and facilities manager for a commercial and residential real estate investment company; was owner of a commercial and residential facilities service company; served as service manager of an HVAC/electrical services company; previously owned a construction company. Current advocate for Court Appointed Special Advocates of Denton County; graduate and steering committee member of United Way of Denton County Project Blueprint; board member and 2014-15 flag program chairman, Denton South Rotary Club; member and volunteer, North Texas Fair Association; member, Knights of Columbus Council 4771. Formerly served as advisory board member, Greenbelt Alliance of Denton County; former board member, Boys and Girls Clubs of North Central Texas; former cleanup coordinator, Keep Denton Beautiful and Project Aware; and 2011 graduate, Leadership Denton.
Top priorites for this office: Implementation of the new rules for Justice Court that change the role of the court from a small claims court to a consumer court as specified by the Texas Legislature in 2011; prepare the staff to maintain high standards of customer service as the workload increases due to the projected population growth in the precinct.
Online: www.mikebrucia.com, www.facebook.com/BruciaForTexas, @MikeBrucia on Twitter
Occupation: Denton County clerk
Prior political history: Denton County clerk, first taking office in 1999; ran unsuccessfully in 1994 at the age of 20 for Precinct 2 justice of the peace.
Background: Four terms as the county clerk of Denton County; volunteers with clerks association promoting better education and serving with legislative efforts; implemented a mentor program for new clerks coming into office and served as a speaker for nearly every education conference; serves on Born 2 Be Therapeutic Equestrian Center board of directors; recently elected to serve on the board of the Aubrey Area Chamber of Commerce; volunteers in the Dallas Hunter Jumper Scholarship Association.
Top priorities for this office: Ensure that all customers of the court are served with the most efficient service possible; increase the use of innovations available to improve services; create a teen court program that can be an example to other courts; provide training and staff development training; use the county’s collections department as a proven method of collecting current court fines and fees.
Online: www.cynthiamitchell.net, www.facebook.com/cynthiamitchellcampaign, @CynthiaMitchell on Twitter
Occupation: business owner, municipal judge
Prior political history: chairman, Republican Party Precinct 1000
Background: president of Firewall Security; owner of RiderCourse Center, a motorcycle training business; served as U.S. Marine; worked as a deputy sheriff and state trooper in Oregon; former general manager for an international security firm.
Top priorities for this office: Uphold the U.S. Constitution; ensure easy, prompt and efficient access to the court; foster proactive cooperation with law enforcement, education and business organizations to meet the growing needs of the residents of North Denton County.
Michael R. Oglesby
Hometown: Oak Point
Occupation: investigator, Denton County District Attorney’s Office
Prior political history: none
Background: investigator with the district attorney’s office; retired from Texas Department of Public Safety after 13 years in highway patrol and 15 years in the criminal investigations division; also worked for the Canyon Police Department and Randall County sheriff’s office. Member, Denton Breakfast Kiwanis Club; member, Redemption Anglican Church in Frisco; member of Texas Association of Auto Theft Investigators, International Association of Auto Theft Investigators and Texas DPS Officers Association.
Top priorities for this office: Provide a cost-effective system for the average citizen to resolve grievances; provide efficient customer service and treat others as I would like to be treated; balance justice and mercy without sacrificing dignity, respect and the rule of law.
Daniel “Danny” Spindle
Occupation: Sanger Municipal Court judge, production manager for local manufacturer
Prior political history: Served on Sanger City Council, 1979-85; Sanger municipal court judge, 1986-present.
Background: Texas Municipal Judges Association, Sanger Evening Lions Club, Sanger Chamber of Commerce, Sanger Police Reserve, Sanger Volunteer Fire Department, volunteer EMT, Sanger Ex-Students Association, Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, Denton County Umpires Association for both Pony and Little Leagues, participation in Sanger Project Graduation, Sanger ISD Booster Club, Sanger Youth Sports coaching for basketball and softball.
Top priorities for this office: Work in the best interest of the citizens served; to view each case on an individual basis and give it full attention; to judge each case solely on Texas law and the U.S. Constitution; collaborate with school districts in Precinct 5 in handling of truancy cases; ensure that court staff receives proper training; continue personal judicial training as required by law
Michael Joseph Sweet
Occupation: police detective
Prior political history: none
Background: Police detective, general investigations/property crimes, Denton Police Department; helped start environmental crimes unit at Denton PD. Associate member of the LCpl Jacob R. Lugo Detachment of the Marine Corps League in Denton County; currently serves on the Denton County Environmental Advisory Board; member, Denton County Local Emergency Planning Committee; current volunteer with Stable Strides Farm Therapeutic Riding Center in Flower Mound. Former member, Keep Denton Beautiful board of directors; former instructor, Community Emergency Response Team; served as Cubmaster for Pack 199 in Sanger for three years; served as a deacon at the Denton Church of Christ.
Top priorities for this office: Institute an education/information program; implement an intern program to assist personnel in the JP court; institute an environmental court.
Online: www.mikesweetforjp5.com, www.facebook.com/mikesweetforjp5