Voters in Tuesday’s GOP primary for the Austin-based 3rd Court of Appeals will choose from among two members of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s agency, a former federal prosecutor or a former legal adviser to top Texas Republicans.
The four GOP candidates, and a Democrat running unopposed — state District Judge Gisela Triana of Austin — are seeking to replace Justice Bob Pemberton, who is retiring after 15 years on the court that handles criminal and civil appeals from 24 Central Texas counties.
The Republican candidates are:
• Donna Davidson is a campaign finance and elections lawyer who had served as a legal and ethics adviser to former Gov. George W. Bush and to Rick Perry when he was lieutenant governor and agriculture commissioner. After helping Perry transition into the governor’s office, Davidson joined a private law firm in 2001 before starting her own practice in 2009.
Davidson said her experience — particularly with administrative law, a challenging area that includes state agency rulings and actions — will help the 3rd Court of Appeals, which reviews many such cases because it is based in the seat of state government.
“I have maturity, wisdom and experience to be a fair and impartial judge,” she said.
• Jennifer Freel is a former TV news reporter and anchor who spent nine years as a federal prosecutor in the U.S. attorney’s office in Austin — focusing on criminal appeals over the last five years — before returning to a private law practice in November so she could run for office.
Board certified in criminal appellate law, Freel said she hopes to bring her diverse legal background to a court that reviews a wide variety of cases.
“I have criminal law experience, appellate law experience and civil law experience. I am ready for this job,” she said.
• Kristofer Monson has worked as an assistant solicitor general in the state attorney general’s office since 2003. He focuses on cases before the 3rd Court of Appeals and Texas Supreme Court, has been lead counsel on more than 80 state appeals and is board certified as an expert in civil appellate law.
Having worked on cases ranging from the death penalty at the U.S. Supreme Court to appeals of rate-making decisions from the Public Utility Commission, Monson said he would bring a wide array of experience to “the most important intermediate court in Texas.”
• Mike Toth has been a senior adviser to Paxton for two years, saying they have worked side by side while “taking on Obamacare this past week, taking on sanctuary cities, rolling back federal regulations.”
“That’s really what we’re fighting for in the Texas office of attorney general — the Constitution and the rule of law,” he said.
Toth also served as a staff judge advocate, or military attorney, for the Marine Corps from 2007 to 2011, a role he has continued as a major in the Marine Reserve.
“I’m a constitutional conservative, I’m a Marine and I’m ready to serve,” he said.
GOP Candidates for Place 6, 3rd Court of Appeals
• Donna Davidson, 58, opened her own legal practice in 2009 and focuses on campaign finance and elections law. She also served as ethics adviser and assistant general counsel to former Gov. George W. Bush and general counsel to former Lt. Gov. Rick Perry before joining an Austin law firm in 2001. Law degree: University of Texas, 1992.
• Jennifer Freel, 41, was an assistant U.S. attorney in Austin for nine years, focusing on criminal appeals for the last five years. She also has worked in the business and litigation section of the Vinson & Elkins law firm and has taught legal writing as an adjunct professor at the University of Texas Law School. Law degree: George Washington University, 2005.
• Kristofer Monson, 42, has been an assistant solicitor general in the Texas attorney general’s office, focusing on appeals to the 3rd Court of Appeals and Texas Supreme Court, for 15 years. Served as clerk of the 3rd Court of Appeals after law school. Law degree: University of Texas, 2002.
• Mike Toth, 39, has been special counsel and a member of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s executive team for two years. He was a Marine Corps staff judge advocate from 2007 to 2011 and currently is a major in the Marine Reserve. Toth was law clerk to Judge Edith Jones on the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2013-14. Law degree: University of Virginia, 2006.
About the job
The 3rd Court of Appeals, based in Austin, handles appeals in criminal and civil cases from 24 surrounding counties.
Annual pay is $154,000.