Denton County (TX) probate judge to not seek new term

Judicial seat attracts interest
4 Republicans put their candidacy in motion
BJ Lewis
October 9, 2009
Denton Record-Chronicle

The race for probate judge in Denton County is already shaping up to be a big one, as four people have declared their candidacy for the March primary election.

Judge Don Windle says he won’t seek a sixth term.

Windle said every organization, whether it is a court or a company, needs new leadership at some point.

“There comes a time when it’s healthy and proper and correct for the organization to have a leadership change,” Windle said.

He said voters will have good choices on the ballot.

Republicans Gilland Chenault, Robert Ramirez, Steve Burgess and Bonnie Robison have filed paperwork appointing a campaign treasurer and have verbally stated their intent to run for the vacant seat on the probate bench.

No Democrats have named campaign treasurers in the race.

Candidates must declare a treasurer before they are allowed to raise or spend money on a campaign.

Candidates may begin filing for a place on the ballot in December. The primary will be March 2.

Burgess dovetailed Windle’s comments about a need for leadership change and said he wants to shore up some issues in the court.

“As an attorney, I don’t think it’s good for people to have a poor perception of the way things are. I wanted to step in and fix that. I feel strongly about coming in and trying to make things better,” Burgess said.

Burgess, primarily a criminal defense lawyer, ran for a seat two years ago in the 393rd District Court.

“If we don’t step forward and try to make things better, no one else is going to,” he said. “If you care, you have to step forward and try.”

Chenault said experience in the probate court is necessary for the next judge, and that is among the reasons he is running. Chenault has been practicing probate law since 2004 and under his employment with Texas Woman’s University handles probate and endowment gifts.

“We need someone who can handle the different issues in this court, and I have [handled similar issues],” Chenault said.

Robison said she wants to serve the residents of Denton County and can best do that as probate judge. Robison has practiced in Denton County probate court for 20 years and has been board-certified in estate planning and probate since 1997.

“Probate court is unique in that it is a specialized court — it is a technical, intricate area,” Robison said. “A lot of people who find themselves in probate court aren’t in there by choice. There are a lot of delicate issues and family members who are affected by the issues. Because of my background as a CPA, that’s where I feel I can serve best.”

Ramirez, a probate lawyer since 2002, said the people the probate court serves need to be “protected and looked after by someone familiar with that area of law and who has a heart for those folks.”

In 2006, the State Commission on Judicial Conduct issued Windle a public reprimand. The commission determined that he compromised his impartiality by using his office to advance the interests of his ex-wife and a business associate.

At the time, Windle said the ruling was harsh, but he had corrected the issues the commission raised.