Race for 326th District Court Judge: Who has the most experience?

Who are the candidates for 326th District Court Judge?

ABILENE, Texas - One race that has drawn three candidates and the most attention is the open 326th District Court Judge position. The 326th District Court deals with family law in Taylor County.

Claire Mehaffey, Mary Ann Fergus and Paul Rotenberry hope to succeed Judge Aleta Hacker who is retiring.

Why did each of them say they should be elected to the bench?

"When I got into family law I got into it with the hope that I could bring some sanity to insane situations and my hope is that if I am elected to the bench that I can do the same but on a broader perspective," said Rotenberry.

"I am the only candidate that can say, ‘Look I understand what you're going through. I understand what's happening in your family,'" Mehaffey said.

"I'm the right candidate. I'm the best candidate. I'm the most diverse candidate and I will do everything I can to get the job done. I will leave that court in better shape than I found it," said Fergus.

KTXS searched Taylor County court records by attorney to see how many civil cases each candidate has tried in the county. The records only show the first 200 cases. Mehaffey's name was linked to 200 civil cases and so was Rotenberry's. The search, however, only turned up three cases when searching Fergus' name. 

Fergus said she has tried cases in the 326th, and the records are wrong.

"There are some cases that I've tried, so that's incorrect, but I have also practiced in the Big Country area. So I go to other counties, such as Shackleford, Jones County, Mitchell, Fisher, Haskell and so I'm not always at the 326 and they're all family law courts and to me a court is a court," said Fergus.

Fergus said she does have the experience necessary to serve as a family law judge.

"I've been practicing law for over 30 years here in Abilene and I again started out with family law so that's my first love since I had so much experience with it to begin with," said Fergus.

Fergus also said she has something the other candidates don't.

"One thing that separates me from the candidates from a community standpoint is I've been extremely involved in the community other than just my church," Fergus said.

Mehaffey said while community experience is great, it's not the most important thing.

"It's important that not only have you sat on the board to help kids, but you've actually gone through it. You've actually gone through trying to raise a child in those types of situations," said Mehaffey.

Mehaffey said her time at home is an important factor to consider when you hit the polls.

"You know I'm a mom, but I'm also a step mom. So just like every other parent that walks through those doors, I struggle every day with trying to blend the family. I struggle every day with trying to raise kids in less than perfect circumstances," said Mehaffey.

"It's important that you have the experience and the knowledge necessary to handle the cases, but also the understanding of the people that come before this court," she added.

Rotenberry agreed that family experience is important, but he says his 20 years of family law experience is the reason he should be elected.

"I think the first requirement for a candidate needs to be that family law's second nature to them and it is to me," said Rotenberry.

Rotenberry said after losing a father and a son, he has the empathy needed to judge cases involving children and broken families.

"You know I didn't choose family law. It kind of chose me, but the reason I'm running is because I feel like it's a calling," Rotenberry said.

Early voting started Tuesday and lasts until next Friday, February 28. Election Day is March 4.

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