Meet the candidates in contested races for the March 4 primary election

By Betsy Dolan 

Early voting for the March 4 Republican and Democratic primaries began February 18. Here is a look at the candidates running in contested races.

Republican Primary

State Board of Education, District 7 

David Bradley, the incumbent since 1996, currently serves on the board’s Committee on School Finance/Permanent School Fund. The Beaumont resident is one of six social conservatives on the State Board of Education. Bradley is a prominent evolution skeptic and avid opponent of CSCOPE, a state-sanctioned ready-made curriculum popular with small school districts.

Rita Ashley, has been a first grade teacher, a small business owner and a Texas education policy advisor. Questions have been raised over whether she lives in Beaumont or in Austin where she works on legislative issues. Ashley supports local control of school districts, wants greater transparency for teachers and parents, college and career readiness for all students and rejects the Common Core curriculum.

District Attorney, 

268th Judicial District

Incumbent John Healey is now serving his fifth term as District Attorney where 10,000 serious cases are filed and prosecuted in the adult and juvenile systems each year.  In addition, Healey increased the number of assistant district attorneys from 16 to 50 during his tenure.

Dawn Zell Wright is an attorney and Sugar Land resident. She has criminal law experience as well as 10 years of experience handling Human Resources and Labor/Employment matters. If elected, Zell Wright intends to correct the slow pace at which cases proceed through the system, as well improve the efficiency of the DA’s office.

Judge, Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 9 (open seat)

Attorney David Newell of Richmond is an appellate prosecutor with the Harris County District Attorney’s office.  He is board certified in Criminal Law and Criminal Appellate law and has appeared regularly before the Court of Criminal Appeals.  Recently, he was one of three prosecutors who successfully briefed the case of Salinas v. Texas before the U.S. Supreme Court.

W.C. “Bud” Kirkendall of Sequin, is the incumbent and was first elected in 2004.  He has 40 years of experience as a jurist, DA and private practice attorney.  Kirkendall is committed to restoring the integrity of the Texas criminal justice system where 35 Texans have had their criminal convictions overturned in the past five years.

District Judge, 

268th Judicial District 

Brady G. Elliott, the incumbent, has been a judge for over 25 years.  He was recognized by the State Bar of Texas with a Presidential Commendation for leadership in improving justice in Texas and was one of the few trial court judges in the state assigned to a court of appeals to hear cases.  Elliott said he was able to use his extensive trial experience to expedite over 3,000 cases when he took over the bench.

Fort Bend County resident, Roxie Roll, is a CPA, has an MBA and has been practicing law in Fort Bend County for 15 years.  In 2005, she was given the “Atticus Finch” award in recognition of her “professional ethics in pursuing justice and protecting the rights of individuals.”  If elected, Roll says she will work to lessen the backlog of cases and to reduce the rate of overturned cases.

Judge, County Court-at-Law

No. 1 (open seat)

Attorney Maggie Jaramillio has 16 years of experience and runs her own law firm in Fort Bend County.  She has extensive court training in cases involving juveniles, family law, felonies and misdemeanors as well as probate and civil matters.  Jaramillio says that, if elected, she will emphasize education to juvenile offenders and will bring fairness and justice to the bench.

Chris Morales is a Fort Bend County resident and runs his own law firm.  He has tailored his practice around the County Court at Law bench, practicing criminal defense, juvenile law, probate and civil litigation.  While an assistant district attorney with the Fort Bend County DA’s office, Morales handled thousands of misdemeanor cases with over 30 trials.  Morales says, if elected, he will improve efficiency by embracing technology and expediting cases.

Retired U.S. Air Force Veteran, Rich Forlano is a long time Fort Bend attorney and resident.  If elected, Forlano would introduce innovative judicial programs into the justice process, such as attempting to rehabilitate juvenile offenders rather than locking them up.  He also says the courts need updated technology and would work to improve case flow.

Judge, County 

Court-at-Law No. 4

R. H. “Sandy” Bielstein, the incumbent, was elected in 2000.  A Vietnam veteran, Bielstein spent 20 years as an officer with the Houston Police Department.  After he became a judge, Bielstein was part of a team that helped establish the first therapeutic DWI/Drug Court in Texas.  It has graduated 235 probationers from an intensive treatment and supervision program with a recidivism rate of less than 10%.

Warren Diepraam was a prosecutor with the Harris County DA’s office and later the Montgomery County DA’s office. Diepraam is considered a national expert on vehicular crimes and has been instrumental in changing how DWI cases are prosecuted. In particular, he tried a habitual drunk driver for felony murder rather than intoxication manslaughter, ensuring that habitual drunk drivers face life in prison instead of 20 years.

District Clerk

Annie Rebecca Elliott, the incumbent, was elected in 2007.  Her future goals include upgrading efficiency by implementing more technology with the ultimate goal of a paperless environment.  Elliott would like to move the jury system online, making it more convenient for potential jurors and saving taxpayers time and money.

Candace Cagle, a certified Mortgage Planning Specialist, has 30 years of experience in the business community and a strong record of volunteerism.  Her specific skill set includes software training and implementation, e-filing, financial control, leadership, relationship building and industry knowledge.


U.S. Representative, District 22

Mark Gibson, a licensed attorney, owns Wells Funeral Services in Liberty County and has a background in the corporate, military and governmental realms. He’s a 20-year member of the U.S. Army Reserves. The biggest challenge facing the district in coming years, Gibson said, is providing relief to county taxpayers and continuing to attract businesses to the area.

Frank Briscoe,  is an architectural conservator who has worked to preserve historic architecture in rural Pakistan and on Texas’ border. He previously ran in District 22’s democratic primary in 2002. Briscoe feels the district’s biggest challenge is managing the county’s rapid growth with a focus on tighter-knit developments that require less travel to get around.  His father, the late Harris County District Attorney Frank Briscoe Sr. ran for congress, mayor of Houston and for Ft. Bend County DA.

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