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Democratic candidates work to nab county judge seat

Two Democrats are hoping to make the Denton County Commissioners Court more accessible to the public if either of them is elected to the county judge seat in November.

Local business owner and repairman Willie Hudspeth and paralegal Diana Leggett will face each other in the Democratic primary race March 6. Current Denton County Judge Mary Horn announced in November she would not seek re-election after holding her position for the last 15 years.

Horn also endorsed from the bench Precinct 4 Commissioner Andy Eads as her replacement. Eads announced in December he would run for the position as a Republican. He is running unopposed in the primary and will be on the ballot for the Nov. 6 election.

Commissioners Court is the governing body of the county and the judge serves as the chief executive. The court handles things like setting the county tax rate, building county roads and funding county agencies.

Because Commissioners Court does not actually try civil or criminal court cases, the county judge is not required to have a law degree. The  judge serves a four-year term and earns a $136,970 annual salary along with a yearly $6,210 car allowance.

Hudspeth owns and operates a consignment shop on the corner of Oak and Bonnie Brae streets, but said it was his previous political activism that motivated him to run. He has spent the last 18 years asking commissioners to do something about the Confederate soldier monument on the downtown Square. He recently served on the committee that voted to add historical context to the statue, but said he wanted to do more.

"My kids would ask me, 'What are you doing all this for?'" he said. "Everybody has bad things that happen to them, but overall, the county has been a good place for me to raise my family. I would like to have a part in helping that continue."

Leggett works as a paralegal for Durand and Associates in Denton but is also an activist in the realm of animal rights. She is the president of WildRescue, a nonprofit that rehabilitates wild animals, and said she was looking to make an impact in other ways.

"I was looking at different community efforts, serving on boards or something like that," she said. "Watching the election results that fateful night in November and seeing the country painted red, I realized everything that I have worked for, for half my life, was now in grave jeopardy. Watching what was happening already in Denton County environmentally, something inside me came alive."

Early voting for the primary races begins Tuesday. For more information about where and how to vote, go to

The Denton Record-Chronicle caught up with the candidates this month and asked them about their outlook on the county judge position. Candidates are listed in the order they appear on the ballot.

Willie Hudspeth

Denton County Judge Democratic candidate Willie HudspethWillie Hudspeth
Denton County Judge Democratic candidate Willie Hudspeth
Willie Hudspeth

Age: 72

Born in: Fort Worth

Education: Bachelor of Arts in business and master’s degree in education, University of North Texas

Experience: owner of Willie Hudpseth Fantastic Sales, repairman and served four years in the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam War

Community service: served on the Denton ISD board for six years, current president of the Denton County chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and started Kids First training program with students and local law enforcement

Website: or on Facebook at Willie Hudspeth For Denton County Judge

What do you think you could bring to the table as county judge that’s unique?

When someone has an issue and they don’t agree with my position, I’m going to go right to them. I want to know why they view things the way they do. I want the opportunity, if they let me, to tell them why I think a certain way. 

I’m going to go regularly to the city council meetings and school board meetings for all the cities and towns in the county just to see what’s going on. I’m going to find a way to meet with people at a restaurant or coffee shop every week, like a town hall.

Are there any administrative changes you would propose if elected?

One of the things that the commissioners tell me that I don’t agree with is that they can’t respond to people during public comment and that’s not true. The open meetings law says they can’t talk about things that should be an agenda item. There’s nothing that says you can’t ask, “Explain to me again what you’re concerned about,” or “I understand and I’ll have to research that more.” I want to show empathy when I’m dealing with people.

The position of county judge is very visible and can come with its fair share of scrutiny from the public. How would you handle that scrutiny?

You’ve just described what it’s like to be an opinionated, strong-willed black man. I’ve had to deal with scrutiny all my life and I’ve learned how to handle it. I remind myself that I used to be right where that person that’s complaining is now. I know I’m not supposed to take it personally so I do my best to try to figure out why a person is saying something and understand how they feel about it.

Diana Leggett

Denton County Judge Democratic candidate Diana LeggettDiana Leggett
Denton County Judge Democratic candidate Diana Leggett
Diana Leggett

Age: 64

Born in: San Francisco

Education: studied at San Francisco State University and University of North Texas

Experience: paralegal at Durand and Associates, president and operator of the nonprofit WildRescue Inc.

Community service: Indivisible Denton member, volunteered with the Denton Women’s March

Website: or on Facebook at Diana4Denton

What do you think you could bring to the table as county judge that’s unique?

I would bring a broader judicial expertise. I’m going to have to speak in objective and centrist tones now and not be on either side of the world. Lives are our responsibility and I hold those lives in my hands. I’m here to serve the county so what I bring to that table is all of my coordinated efforts throughout my life working in animal rescue and my broad understanding of the law. That’s huge.

Are there any administrative changes you would propose if elected?

I want to move the court around. We can have court once a week up north, but then the next week, we should hold court in another precinct. If I’m elected, court will never be at 9 a.m. on Tuesday. It’s going to be when people can come — either in the evening or on the weekend. The commissioners are going to be working more than one day a week. They’re going to be accessible. They’re going to have town halls and I’ll be there. We need to hear what people need.

The position of county judge is very visible and can come with its fair share of scrutiny from the public. How would you handle that scrutiny?

We have to be a King Solomon. You have to have a mediator’s tone. You have to give the issue the time it needs and the attention it needs. Then everyone needs to come together with a decision. Otherwise, it’s an abuse of power. We can’t be telling people they’re making too much noise. They need to be heard.

CAITLYN JONES can be reached at 940-566-6862.