Denton County Judge Mary Horn fought off two challengers in Tuesday’s primary election to hold on to the Republican nomination for the county’s top job, but District Attorney Paul Johnson is headed to a runoff in his bid for another term, according to complete but unofficial returns.
And in other countywide races, county criminal clerk Juli A. Luke easily outdistanced her boss, D’Lynne Shelton, to replace outgoing County Clerk Cynthia Mitchell, who ran instead for justice of the peace and is headed to a runoff.
The race for County Criminal Court No. 3 was the narrowest margin of the night, with incumbent Judge David Garcia fighting back a challenge from attorney George Mitcham with just a 39-vote margin.
In the race for the open County Criminal Court No. 5 seat, however, Aubrey attorney Coby Waddill won easily with 63.5 percent of the vote over Flower Mound attorney Vic Rivera, who had 36.6 percent.
No Democrats filed for any of the top county positions, meaning Horn and the others are likely to be elected in November.
“I’m delighted that it worked out the way it did and without a runoff,” Horn said. “I’m very appreciative of all the people that helped me and I look forward to another four great years.”
Horn faced two GOP opponents this year, Corinth Mayor Paul Ruggiere and Highland Village attorney Sherman Swartz, marking the first time since 2006 that Horn had faced opponents in the Republican primary.
The county judge serves a four-year term with a current annual pay of $112,524. The position carries administrative powers including presiding over the five-member Commissioners Court, which has budgetary and administrative authority over county government operations.
Ruggiere, 48, and Swartz, 55, both were hoping to bring new blood and new ideas to the seat that Horn, 68, has held since 2002.
Ruggiere said he was grateful for all the help he got from donors, and from county and city leaders who endorsed him and helped with the campaign.
“It’s been an enriching experience,” Ruggiere said.
He called “courageous” the many mayors who endorsed his campaign challenging the longtime incumbent, but wasn’t worried about the future, given his loss.
“When we step out, we believe we are working for the county’s best interests,” Ruggiere said. “Everything will work out in the end.”
Swartz could not be reached for comment.
Here is a rundown of other countywide races.
Incumbent Paul Johnson will face Lantana-area attorney Karen Alexander in the May 27 runoff election.
Johnson, 55, led the three-person race with 43.3 percent of the vote, followed by Alexander, 37, with 39 percent. Denton attorney Hank Paine, 61, trailed with 17.7 percent of the vote.
Alexander said she welcomes the challenge presented by the runoff.
“I think the numbers reflect that Denton County recognizes Denton County is ready for a change,” she said. “I think they will come back out and they will give it [change].”
Paine could not be reached for comment.
Alexander was an intern under former District Attorney Bruce Isaacks before taking a job as a prosecutor. She worked for the district attorney’s office for 18 months before accepting a job with a private law firm. She now has her own law practice.
She has challenged Johnson’s effectiveness as a leader and promised, if elected, to bring her management experience from her law firm to eliminate what she calls cronyism in the current administration.
Johnson, who has served seven years in office and has 30 years of experience as an attorney, said the runoff does not surprise him.
“You had three campaigns that were working it really hard,” he said. “We’re going to load it back up and get ready for the runoff.”
The district attorney serves a four-year term and earns $190,839 a year.
Juli A. Luke went from running against her boss to outranking her, defeating the current chief deputy in the county clerk’s office, D’Lynne Shelton, for the top spot in the office.
Both Luke, 44, and Shelton, 39, were vying for the open seat left by Cynthia Mitchell, who pitched her hat into the six-person race for Precinct 5 justice of the peace.
“I started this journey with much prayer and discussion with my family as well as communication with fellow county clerk employees, countywide officials and department heads,” Luke said. “ I am humbled by the [voting] results and I look forward to serving the taxpayers of Denton County.”
When contacted early Tuesday evening after early returns showed a widening gap between her and Luke, Shelton said the outcome was not what she had hoped for. She could not be reached later in the evening.
County Criminal Court No. 3
In the closest race in Denton County, incumbent Judge David Garcia eked out a narrow victory over George Mitcham.
Garcia had 50.1 percent of the vote to Mitcham’s 49.9 percent, with a margin of victory of just 39 votes.
Garcia, 55, was an attorney working in private practice when he was appointed to the County Criminal Court No. 3 in 1997. Garcia defeated Paul Johnson, the current district attorney, in the 1998 Republican primary for his first four-year term and has won re-election three times since.
Mitcham, 46, a prosecutor in the Denton County district attorney’s office, was hoping voters would agree with him that it was time for change in the court.
County Criminal Court No. 5
In County Criminal Court No. 5, Coby Waddill easily won the Republican nomination for the seat being vacated by Richard Podgorski, who is not running for re-election.
Waddill, 43, had 63.5 percent of the vote to Vic Rivera’s 36.6 percent.
“I’m excited about the future,” Waddill said. “I think I ran a good race and focused on my credentials and experience and I look forward to serving the people of Denton County.”
Rivera, 42, currently a partner at his own law firm with his wife, said being a judge was a lifelong passion.
Rivera could not be reached late Tuesday for comment.
Both judicial positions bring four-year terms and an annual salary of $154,437.
Staff writer Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe contributed to this report.
BJ LEWIS can be reached at 940-566-6875 and via Twitter at @BjLewisDRC.