CONNIE SWINNEY • PICAYUNE STAFF
MARBLE FALLS — Due to alleged “ethics” and “integrity” questions surrounding the incumbent 424th Judicial District judge, a retired member of the bench terminated his visiting judge status Feb. 20 to publicly support a challenger in the race.
Former 33rd Judicial District Judge Guilford Jones hosted a news conference at his office to endorse defense attorney Evan Stubbs in his bid for the Republican nomination for the 424th district court.
Early voting is under way through Feb. 28. The election is March 4.
Jones served as 33rd Judicial District judge from 1996 to 2012, presiding over civil and criminal cases in Burnet, Blanco, Llano and San Saba counties.
In 2006, the Governor’s Office created the 424th judicial district to divide the cases among the four counties.
Mills, a former state and federal prosecutor, was appointed to preside over the new judicial district.
Mills has since been re-elected to the office but now faces Stubbs in a contentious race.
Recent accusations of questionable campaign finance dealings regarding Mills as well as residency requirement allegations against Stubbs by Mills prompted Jones to join the campaign battle.
“Judge Mills forced my hand,” he said.
Mills did not immediately return phone calls about Jones’ announcement.
Jones criticized two Blanco County cases over which Mills presided, which Stubbs has used to lambast the incumbent while on the campaign trail.
A Dripping Springs attorney in one case who was named as a potential witness donated $1,000 to Mills’ campaign Dec. 4, 2013, after proceedings that occurred Dec. 3 and 4, according to campaign finance reports from the Texas Ethics Commission and 424th judicial court records.
Also, documents showed that, during a series of hearings in the so-called Lighthouse case, a defendant’s attorney donated $1,000 to the Friends of Dan Mills fund Oct, 19, 2010.
“I can’t tell you how important it is to have integrity in a district court,” Jones said.
In a past interview with DailyTrib.com, Mills said his opponent was “distorting what happened,” and “there is no ruling or favoritism.”
During the news conference, Jones berated the Mills campaign for the use of mailed fliers that painted Stubbs as an attorney “who advertises his ability to help criminals.”
The flier from the Mills campaign stated Stubbs “makes his living defending child molesters, drug dealers, murders(sic) and other violent criminals.”
Stubbs has a general practice in Lampasas and defends cases in the 33rd and 424th judicial district.
Jones described defense attorneys such as Stubbs as “representing people that no one wants to represent.”
“He gives people their constitution-guaranteed defense,” he added.
During the news conference, Jones acknowledged that, earlier in the race and prior to relinquishing his judge status, he donated to the Stubbs campaign.
According to campaign finance documents from the Texas Ethics Commission, Stubbs reported receiving $1,000 from the Judge Gil Jones Campaign in November 2013.
“At the time I made the contribution, I was still in senior judge status, capable of being appointed to sit on cases, yes. It is perfectly ethical for a judge or a senior judge to make political contributions,” Jones said. ” What is not ethical is for a judge or a senior judge to openly endorse a candidate. I did not openly endorse a candidate until I terminated my senior judge status.”
Jones described his past working relationship with Mills.
“We had some differences, particularly on the criminal docket with how to schedule it, keep it moving and how to make things work there,” Jones said.
Their differences included the role of the so-called “drug court,” handling drug offenders. He accused Mills of demonstrating a “lack of support” for the program.
“With a lack of support from him, it will eventually die,” Jones said. “The grant will go away, and those offenders will either be loose on the streets in normal probation, not the intensive probation that drug court has, or they’ll be shipped off to prison to learn how to be better criminals.”