A two-way race has opened up in the Republican primary to succeed Judge Christi Kennedy on the bench of the 114th District Court.

Austin Reeve Jackson, 39, of Tyler, announced his candidacy Tuesday in a news release. He is running in the Republican primary against Jarad Kent, who announced last month.

Jackson is the owner of the Jackson Law Firm, which specializes in criminal, regulatory and appellate law.

He previously worked as a prosecutor in Gregg County, where he also was the chief appellate attorney. He has prosecuted adults and juveniles and cases involving mental health hospitalizations.

“As someone who has handled hundreds of criminal cases in Smith County, with a large percentage of those in the 114th, I understand firsthand the serious nature of the cases that come before this bench,” Jackson said in the release.

Jackson received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Dallas, his law degree from Texas Tech University and is currently attending Fuller Evangelical Seminary.

He once served as a precinct chair for the Smith County Republican Party, and now sits on boards for Historic Tyler and the Hispanic Business Alliance. He has received honors from various professional associations of lawyers.

Jackson said in an interview that the three district courts in Smith County that handle criminal cases need judges with experience in criminal law. He said a large void would be left when 241st District Court Judge Jack Skeen retires in a few years.

“We’ve got to make sure crime victims and law enforcement are protected and have somebody in there who understands what they need out of the district court system,” Jackson said.

Additionally, he said he would like to work with the Smith County District Attorney’s Office to expedite cases in which a defendant would receive a probation sentence but the person is sitting in the Smith County Jail, driving up the jail population and county expenses.

“One of the biggest expenses our county has is the jail,” Jackson said. “Our district courts are the biggest influence on how expensive and how populated our jail is.”

Texas Rep. Matt Schaefer, R-Tyler, endorsed Jackson’s candidacy in a news release.

“I trust Reeve Jackson,” Schaefer said. “He will do the most important thing a judge can do: follow the law with fairness and integrity. He is an expert in criminal law and very smart. He has my complete support.”

The primary is March 3.

TWITTER and INSTAGRAM: @_erinmansfield

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