The lone local primary runoff underway features two attorneys with varying experience who believe they can effectively and efficiently run the office.

Because there is no Democrat running in the general election, attorney Jason Ellis, 31, or 63-year-old attorney and mediator Mike Patterson would replace retiring County Court at Law Judge Thomas Dunn in January.

Patterson served as a prosecutor in Dallas and Smith counties before going into private practice. He has tried more than 200 criminal and civil jury trials, including 100 as lead counsel. Patterson has spent the last 17 years mediating more than 2,000 legal cases.

Ellis worked misdemeanor cases including DWIs and domestic abuse in the Smith County district attorney’s office for 18 months. He has run his own law practice since.

Both candidates said they would work to speed up the court’s case process to clear up its docket.

“The County Court at Law has been one of the slowest courts for years,” Ellis said.

Expediting cases is better for victims, the accused, taxpayers and law enforcement, he said.

But Ellis also wants to aid law enforcement by making himself available to sign warrants at all hours. He said cases are weakened without blood or breath samples in DWI stops and that warrants for a 2 a.m. stop could mean the difference in a conviction.

Patterson said he wants to sort through every case filed in the court and begin pushing for cases to be pled, settled or go to jury trial.

“You’ve got to hold (attorneys’) feet to the fire and expedite trials,” he said.

Patterson said experience should be the most important consideration for voters. He said he is proud of his 36-year career. After running a successful mediation practice for 17 years, Patterson said he is ready for a new challenge.

“People have been telling me to run (for judge) for years,” he said. “I’m the most qualified because of the trial experience but even more so from the mediation. It’s as close to being a judge without being a judge.”

Ellis said he might be short on years but that his experience has come where it counts – in criminal law, the majority of the court’s caseload. He said he’s the most qualified for the position because he’s had the most current, applicable experience.

“If you were to hire a lawyer (for a criminal proceeding) who would you hire?” he asked. “Someone who hasn’t done it in decades or someone who is doing it?”

Both candidates agree their campaigns hinge on motivating voters to visit polls. Both have been making event stops and pitching their platforms to individuals.

Ellis has made Patterson’s past support for Democratic candidates a campaign talking point. He said partisan politics likely wouldn’t play out in a criminal or civil case but that it indicates part of Patterson’s philosophy.

“I think it matters. It says something about who he is and who he’ll be as a judge,” Ellis said.

Patterson acknowledged supporting Democrats but he’s also supported Republicans and GOP causes over the past decade and a half. More importantly, Patterson said he had voted in every Republican primary since 2005.

“From the beginning, I’ve emphasized the difference is experience,” Patterson said. “I don’t see any comparison.”

Polls are open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. through Friday.

Smith County early voting locations include the Election Office, 302 E. Ferguson St.; The Heritage Building, 1900 W. Bellwood Road, in Tyler; Noonday Community Center, 16662 County Road 196, in Tyler; Lindale Masonic Lodge, 200 Margaret St., in Lindale and Whitehouse Municipal Court, 311 E. Main St., in Whitehouse.

Voters can cast ballots at any of the five locations during the five-day early voting period. May 27 is Election Day. 


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