For a second time this month, grassroots Republican Party activists in North Texas will pick a new GOP nominee for a position on the November ballot.

On Saturday, Republican precinct chairs from Collin, Dallas, Hunt, Grayson, Kaufman, and Rockwall counties will meet in Dallas and choose a candidate to replace Justice David Bridges in the race for Texas’ 5th Court of Appeals, Place 6.

Justice Bridges was killed last month in a car crash caused by a suspected drunk driver. The widely respected judge was seeking his fifth six-year term on the bench and ran unopposed in the March primary to become the Republican nominee.

The precinct chairs who must select his replacement represent the six counties served by the 5th Court of Appeals, which is based in Dallas and has jurisdiction over civil and criminal appeals from district and county courts in the region.

Candidates must be a citizen of the U.S. and Texas; age 35 to 74; and a practicing lawyer, or lawyer and judge of court of record together, for at least 10 years.

Any qualified person can be put forward as a candidate by being nominated and seconded at Saturday’s caucus.

A few names have already been mentioned.

The most well-known contender is John Browning, a Rockwall attorney with 30 years of trial and appellate experience, as well as a legal scholar who teaches trial and appellate judges. In 2018, Browning ran for the 5th Court of Appeals, Place 11. He’s also a longtime Republican activist.

“I’ve known and worked with John for 25 years,” said attorney Jim Pikl, who ran alongside Browning in 2018. “He is far and away the most qualified person asking for your support, and if there is one court in Texas where ‘qualifications matter,’ it is the Dallas Court of Appeals.”

“John Browning is the right person for this job,” added State Sen. Bob Hall (R-Edgewood).

Hall added words of caution about another rumored candidate, Judge Michael Chitty, who is retiring this year from the 422nd District Court in Kaufman County after 16 years on the bench.

“We do not need the retired judge from Kaufman,” wrote Hall. “Mike Chitty should not be allowed to sit in judgment on any bench after what he did to the Pardo family.”

Chitty is notorious for his 2019 ruling in the Drake Pardo case that authorized CPS to remove the 4-year-old child from his family home for up to a year and placed a gag order on Drake’s parents. The Texas Supreme Court overturned Chitty’s order.

Judge Ashley Wysocki is also vying for the nomination. Wysocki is a family law specialist appointed to the 254th District Court in Dallas in 2019, becoming the lone Republican district court judge in the county. She ran unopposed in the March primary and is set to face Democrat Kim Brown in November.

Browning and Wysocki appear to have garnered support, but Chitty may be rethinking after pushback from local activists and grassroots favorite Hall.

About 375 precinct chairs are eligible to participate in Saturday’s selection process, which starts at 1:00 p.m. at Pilgrim’s Chapel at Dallas Baptist University. Participants will cast one or more rounds of secret ballots until one candidate receives a majority of the votes.

The Republican nominee chosen on Saturday will face Democrat Craig Smith in November.

Earlier this month, another group of Republican Party precinct chairs convened to select a new nominee for the 4th Congressional District in Northeast Texas. The district’s former representative, John Ratcliffe, ran unopposed in the March GOP primary but was confirmed in May to serve as Director of National Intelligence, leaving an open spot on the ballot.

Republicans chose State Sen. Pat Fallon as their new congressional candidate, and he is expected to win the safely red district.

The process for filling the Republican nomination to the Dallas Court of Appeals will follow the same basic procedures as in CD4.

Early voting, which was expanded by the governor due to coronavirus concerns, starts on October 13. Election Day is November 3.

Erin Anderson

Erin Anderson is a Senior Journalist for Texas Scorecard, reporting on state and local issues, events, and government actions that impact people in communities throughout Texas and the DFW Metroplex. A native Texan, Erin grew up in the Houston area and now lives in Collin County.