4 Republicans vying for open 3rd Court of Appeals seat


Four Republicans are vying for an open seat on the Austin-based 3rd Court of Appeals.

Justice Bob Pemberton is retiring after 15 years.

Winner of the GOP primary to face Judge Gisela Triana in the fall election.

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.

READ: Experience, ethics key to GOP races for Court of Criminal Appeals

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.

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