In many cases, incumbency assures re-election, but not always. In last month’s Dallas County Democratic primary, three white, male incumbent judges were forced into runoffs. Each faces a woman of color.
Some believe these long-standing judges may be endangered in the county.
In the race for the 193rd Civil District Court, attorney Bridgett Whitmore got the most votes in a crowded field of Democrats in March. She got 10,000 more votes than the incumbent Judge Carl Ginsberg and two other candidates, but not enough to win outright.
Whitmore is black. Ginsberg is white. She’s convinced that the judge encouraged two white women to join the race to dilute the female vote.
"Judge Ginsberg admitted to knowing these women and that he admitted that he talked about it with them,” Whitmore said. “And so that’s how I know for certain that it did, in fact, happen. It was offensive.”
Ginsberg says he didn’t recruit anyone. What’s more, he says two vindictive lawyers, whose case he ruled against, got angry and recruited Whitmore to run against him.
“That’s just wrong,” Ginsberg said. “It is nothing shy of an assault on the independence of the judiciary. It’s trying to bully and intimidate judges.”
Ginsberg says the two other women candidates got in the race to stop that bullying and to preserve the independent judiciary. Whitmore says she wasn’t recruited. She’s running against Ginsberg because she says he’s not that good.
“It is very difficult for white, Anglo-Saxon males in the Democratic primary, and people have found them to be vulnerable,” said Carol Donovan, who chairs the Dallas County Democratic Party.
As a result, some wonder if male incumbents in Dallas County might be an endangered species.
“In Dallas County, women cast 58 percent of votes to 42 [percent] of men,” said Cal Jillson. “If men don’t step up in numbers and vote at the same rate as women do, they deserve to be an endangered species."
Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University, says candidates like Ginsberg are nervous about losing their jobs, for good reason.
“No one should be surprised that female voters who often had to choose among male candidates historically are thrilled to have female candidates to select,” Jillson said. “And they’re going to look to see whether they’re qualified. But if they take them to be qualified, they’re going to vote for them."
Men certainly hold high-profile positions in Dallas County, in Commissioners Court for example, and many other courts. Women have made significant inroads as well, including the District Attorney’s and Sheriff’s offices. These days, more women than men are judges in the county’s criminal, family, juvenile and probate courts.
Donovan worries about some Dallas County incumbent judges.
“It’s a bad thing if it turns out that judge is great — and we have a lot of really great incumbent judges,” Donovan said. “I am worried because there are a lot of really good incumbent judges facing really inexperienced candidates, some of whom have never even practiced the type of law that court does.”
In the race for the 193rd Civil District Court, Ginsberg is not accusing Whitmore of inexperience, per se. He says she lacks civil law knowledge because she’s a family lawyer, not a civil law attorney.
“Well, of course she is qualified,” Ginsberg said, “and I’ve never said she’s not qualified. But the issue in a case like that is: Who is more qualified? And the record is, hands down, I’m more qualified.”
Whitmore disagrees, citing years of experience in both civil and family law.
“Probably going into this, I will have had more experience than Judge Ginsberg," Whitemore said. "I could very well go through his cases prior to him getting on the bench, but I haven’t brought [up] the fact that he had a lot of family law cases himself, too.”
There are two other judicial primary runoffs in Dallas County featuring white, male incumbents facing women of color. Another judicial runoff only includes women. Because the county has broadly voted Democratic for a decade, the winners in these runoffs will likely become the next sitting judges.
193rd Civil District Court
Carl Ginsberg (Incumbent)
68th Civil District Court
Martin Hoffman (Incumbent)
County Court-at-Law No. 4
Ken Tapscott (Incumbent)
Court of Criminal Appeals No. 2
The runoff elections take place on May 22.