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Gov. Abbott makes former Dallas County commissioner a felony judge

J. J. Koch
Bret Jaspers
/
KERA
Dallas County Commissioner J. J. Koch

J.J. Koch, a frequent critic of the criminal court bench in Dallas County, will now serve on it.

Koch recently lost reelection as county commissioner in a North Dallas district.

He was appointed by Gov. Greg Abbott to Criminal District Court No. 2. Abbott announced the appointment on Wednesday.

That judgeship was formerly held by Nancy Kennedy, who won election in November to an appeals court.

Koch had been the only Republican on the Dallas County Commissioners Court. Along with Commissioner John Wiley Price, he frequently accused criminal court judges of not working enough hours or disposing enough cases. It was part of a back-and-forth over who was responsible for the county’s high court case backlog and rising jail population in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

He even proposed a small cut to the portion of a judge’s salary that comes from the county.

“It’s unfortunate, right? You don’t want to be in a relationship, in a working relationship with folks where you have to make a threat,” Koch told KERA in October. “But that’s where we got to.”

KERA found a the number of cases disposed of by felony judges varied widely.

And an analysis of state data by the Dallas Morning News found felony court judges had a higher monthly disposition average through August of 2022 than in 2019. Koch told the paper he still wanted to see judges do more trials.

Felony judge Stephanie Huff, who served as presiding felony judge until December 31, had no comment on the appointment. The new presiding judge, Hector Garza, said in an email that he looks forward to working with Koch in his new role.

A meeting of county officials is scheduled for later this month to talk about the jail population, which was at about 85% capacity on Wednesday.

Koch lost his reelection race to Democrat Andrew Sommerman. In 2006 he served as a prosecutor in the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office.

Koch’s term as judge will expire at the end of 2024.

Got a tip? Email Bret Jaspers at bjaspers@kera.org. You can follow Bret on Twitter @bretjaspers.

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Bret Jaspers is a reporter for KERA. His stories have aired nationally on the BBC, NPR’s newsmagazines, and APM’s Marketplace. He collaborated on the series Cash Flows, which won a 2020 Sigma Delta Chi award for Radio Investigative Reporting. He's a member of Actors' Equity, the professional stage actors union.