BELTON — When Judge Edward Johnson, who will be 70 in May, announced his decision not to seek re-election last year, it quickly became the talk of the courthouse.
Every attorney at the Justice Center wondered who would run to replace Johnson as the judge of Bell County Court-at-Law No. 1, a position he’s held since 1987 and will leave in December.
Jeanne Parker and Ken Valka decided to vie for the spot on the bench.
Parker, 65, of Belton, is an assistant county attorney who prosecutes Child Protective Services cases. In her current position, which she has held since 2009, Parker works alongside investigators from CPS’s parent agency, the Department of Family Protective Services.
Throughout her campaign, Parker, a 20-year Bell County resident, has played up her courtroom experience.
“I don’t know too many attorneys who have handled as many trials as I have,” Parker said. She said her years of experience as a trial lawyer have given insight into what attorneys, clients and observers expect.
“I know how to run a courtroom,” Parker said. She said while her background isn’t necessarily in civil or probate law, “it’s pretty common for judges, especially in smaller counties like Bell County, to not be specialists when they are elected.”
Parker said her varied legal background — she headed up Dan Corbin & Associates’ family, law and criminal divisions from 2005 to 2006 and spent 18 months advising the Afghani Ministry of the Interior from 2006 to 2007, will allow her to easily “back up any judges who need help.”
Ken Valka, 66, of Belton has been a partner at the law firm of Baird, Crews, Schiller & Whitaker since 2007. At various campaign appearances, Valka, a 13-year resident of Bell County, introduced himself to voters by mentioning his volunteer work — he serves on the board of the Central Texas United Way — and his 40 years of experience as a trial lawyer.
Aside from “a few years” when he was fresh out of law school, he has spent his entire career as a civil and probate lawyer.
Valka said he feels his years of experience practicing civil law have more than prepared him for the position.
“I’ve handled, or been involved in, practically every type of civil case that’s likely to come before the court,” Valka said. He said his years of practice — he was managing partner for Baker & Hostetler and was named assistant counsel to the 1992 Republican National Convention — have given him experience working with a large portion of Texas’ civil codes and statutes.