BELTON — What was supposed to be a friendly opportunity for down-ballot, courthouse candidates to introduce themselves to Bell County’s legal community quickly turned into a metaphorical fistfight between the candidates for judge in the 264th District Court.
Jeff Parker, who is challenging incumbent Martha Trudo, began the meeting by reminding everyone in attendance that he is “a single-issue candidate” running to help spur the creation of a veterans court in Bell County. He jumped on comments Trudo had previously made about the fact that veterans courts were an unnecessary cost for the county and said “there is no cost. There are grants available.”
Trudo shot back that even though she is a veteran, she doesn’t feel that the county needs to create another specialty court.
“We’re heading that way with a prostitution court and a drug court,” Trudo said. “Veterans courts are a matter for the Legislature and the commissioners.”
She added that while there are grants available to pay for specialty courts, they are only a temporary funding measure. Once a grant expires, funding for a specialty court falls to the county at “substantial cost.”
“And then it becomes just another unfunded mandate,” Trudo said.
The fireworks died down as the candidates for County Court at Law 1, district clerk and county clerk responded to questions about their hours as county employees. All said at a minimum they work from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. And, what separates them from their opponents is their experience, they all said.
When the question of what does a judge learn when reversed on appeal was offered, Trudo provided a wry answer.
“One of the rules we’ve had is that he or she who does it once does it twice if it comes back down,” Trudo said.
Some of the gathered attorneys shared a knowing chuckle at the humbling effect of trying the same case over because a higher court determined the judgment to be flawed. Parker used the question as an opportunity to open up a new line of attack against Trudo. “Judge Trudo has been reversed or modified 22 times for incorrectly ordering attorneys’ fees,” Parker said. “Ten of those times, the district attorney’s office has conceded that she made a mistake.”
He promised the crowd that he’d “get it right and it won’t take 22 times.”
As the forum continued, Parker began to use as many questions as possible to launch attacks against Trudo.
When asked about qualifications for the office, Parker not only listed his membership in the Federalist Society, a group of lawyers who take an extremely conservative view toward the law, but used it as a launching pad to attack Trudo and paint her as an “activist judge” trying to rewrite the laws regarding attorneys’ fees from the bench.
After an hour of needling her, Parker goaded Trudo into responding.
She hand-waved away a question about why she was running and responded to Parker by saying that she “hadn’t been reversed or modified about attorneys’ fees in a few years.”
“I’m not the only one it’s happened to,” Trudo said. “I’m just the only one who is running this year.”