No matter what happens in the March 6 Democratic primary, Aurora Martinez Jones will come out of it as a judge.
She presently holds the title of Travis County associate court judge, charged with taking on cases whenever the county’s state District Court judges need a hand. She was hired to the nonelected position when the Commissioners Court created it in 2014.
But Martinez Jones wants a bigger role with more influence as she runs against Austin lawyers Greg Hitt and Maya Guerra Gamble to be judge in the new 459th District Court.
The county’s 11th civil District Court was established in last year’s Legislative session. Austin attorney Dustin Howell, who was sent by Gov. Greg Abbott in January to run the court through the election season, says he will return to private practice and not oppose the Democratic primary winner in the November general election.
“I’ll have the capacity to do more,” Martinez Jones said. “I’ll have the authority to connect with the other elected officials who are kind of a higher status. It really goes with the weight of the bench of having a louder voice and a larger leadership role in the community.”
Martinez Jones, 34, who mainly helps with child welfare cases as an associate court judge, makes $127,406 annually; district judges make $158,000. She is a University of Texas law graduate and mother of two who operated a private practice in Austin before she was selected for the associate judge position.
The only candidate with judicial experience, Martinez Jones has drawn the lowest support financially, reporting $28,012 in political contributions on last month’s campaign finance report. Guerra Gamble had the most with $80,333. Hitt garnered $67,366.
The outcome could have a bearing on diversity in the local judiciary. Currently, there are three nonwhite judges among the 11 civil district judges. Orlinda Naranjo is stepping down, and Gisela Triana is vying for a spot on the 3rd Court of Appeals. That leaves only Lora Livingston, an African-American, who is certain to be back in 2019.
Guerra Gamble, whose father emigrated from Piedras Negras, Coahuila, grew up so poor in Austin’s Montopolis community that she needed a financial waiver just to apply to Yale University, where she earned undergraduate and law degrees. Her law practice focuses on child protection cases.
The 48-year-old married mother of two said that if elected she’ll value fairness. That would include eliminating what she called a recurring problem in Travis County, where civil courtrooms are set up so victims often sit two or three feet away from their abusers. Guerra Gamble said she would put them in separate rooms so the victim can participate meaningfully in the trial.
“The courtroom is only fair if the judge has deep legal experience to make clear and significant decisions, but also life experience to run the courtroom with compassion,” Guerra Gamble said.
Hitt, 51, who graduated from Anderson High and holds undergraduate and law degrees from University of Texas, said his campaign is fueled by a “passion to find creative solutions to problems.” His interest in the position was sparked a few years back when a judge in Fayette County in an adoption case showed great compassion for Hitt’s clients, who had successfully blocked the father of their adopted child from gaining custody.
“He made sure everyone’s voice was heard, including people on the other side,” said Hitt, who is married with three kids.
Hitt has been practicing law in Austin for 25 years and is the only candidate who is board certified in family law. According to his website, he is a member of several local Democrat groups and is the past president of North by Northwest Democrats.
• Maya Guerra Gamble, 48, is a civil lawyer who specializes in child protective cases. She grew up in Austin’s Montopolis and Manchaca neighborhoods, and graduated from Austin High. She earned undergraduate and law degrees from Yale University.
Civic participation: Vice chair of Travis County Child Welfare Board and Cubmaster of Cub Scout Pack 9. Member of Texas Children’s Commission and Child Protective Services Committee.
• Greg Hitt, 51, has had a private civil practice for most of his 25-year legal career. He is board certified in family law mediation. Living in Austin for most of his life, Hitt graduated from Anderson High and has undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Texas.
Civic participation: Former president of North by Northwest Democrats and former Democratic Party precinct chair. Past director of Austin Young Lawyers Association.
• Aurora Martinez Jones, 34, has been a Travis County civil associate judge since her 2014 appointment by the Commissioners Court. She primarily assists state District Judge Darlene Byrne with child welfare cases. Before becoming judge, Martinez Jones operated her own law firm. She earned undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Texas.
Civic participation: Board member of Travis County Women Lawyers Association and Girls Empowerment Network. Past president of Austin Black Lawyers Association. Past board member of Texas Young Lawyers Association.
About the job
State district civil court judges preside over civil cases, handling matters related to personal injury, employment and family law. They serve four-year terms and make $158,000 a year.