Craig Johnson, husband of the late Judge Terri Johnson, will step in and serve the remainder of his wife’s second term in office.
The retired police officer was appointed interim Precinct 2 justice of the peace Thursday by Wise County commissioners. Terri, who was running unopposed this year for a third term, died in a car accident April 26 on U.S. 81/287 south of Decatur.
Commissioners were charged with naming an interim to serve until the November general election, and the county Republican Executive Committee is tasked with naming a candidate to replace her on the ballot.
On Monday, commissioners discussed the appointment of an interim JP but weren’t prepared to make a decision, so they reconvened in a special meeting Thursday afternoon.
Much of Monday’s discussion centered around whether they should appoint someone who might be seeking that ballot spot. In recent years, commissioners’ unofficial rule in such situations has been to appoint someone who has no intention of running for the office.
Precinct 1 Commissioner Danny White said Monday that this scenario was slightly different because Johnson doesn’t have a Democratic opponent.
“There’s no election involved here,” he said earlier in the week.
J.D. Clark, who is leading the Republican executive search committee, confirmed to the Messenger Friday that Craig Johnson applied early this week to be placed on the ballot.
The committee has received five other applications and will continue to accept them through Wednesday, May 21, but they can’t make a selection until after the primary election results are finalized by the state June 16.
“As I stated Monday in court, I feel like it might be in our best interest to go ahead and appoint someone regardless of who (the Republican Party) might appoint,” White said. “Craig is familiar with what goes on down there, and he has some law experience.
“I’ve had phone calls from concerned citizens and concerned employees, and all of them are in agreement with that selection right there,” he said. “It’s better than just passing the baton to two people, one for six months and one that the Republican Party might want to appoint.”
Craig retired in 2013 from Grapevine Police Department and is currently working as a private investigator. He had been with Grapevine PD since 1994 and prior to that was an investigator with the Wise County Sheriff’s Office.
Precinct 2 Commissioner Kevin Burns said Monday that he was against the idea of the same person being named interim JP and put on the November ballot. By Tuesday, he’d changed his tune.
“I’ve had several people approach me that were interested in the position and prior to knowing election code, I told them I wouldn’t support someone who might be interested in an appointment to the ballot,” he said. “… At that time I thought there might be another primary election, which I’m now told will not be the case.
“… There’s no incumbency status here. It’s really not relevant … So I think that Craig would be a very good choice.”
Precinct 3 Commissioner Harry Lamance and Precinct 4 Commissioner Gary Potts both said they also supported naming Craig to the interim post.
County Judge Glenn Hughes said although he felt like Craig would do a good job, he couldn’t go back on his word about appointing someone who might later seek that office.
“I’m kind of in the same shoes Kevin was in and in fact, more so. I’m the one that really stuck with this idea of going with [someone who didn't plan to run],” he said. “I’ve talked to Craig two or three times, and I can’t tell you how much respect I have for him to do this job. I know he’s extremely qualified.
“I still am going to stand by my position that I started with – mainly because I’ve told these other people that this is the way it’s going to be …,” he said. “So I have a nominee, and her name is Raye Nell Moss from Chico.”
Hughes said Moss and her husband had both recently retired, and she would be willing to fill in as a community service, with no intention of later running for that position.
“She doesn’t have the qualifications as far as a legal background, but I wouldn’t recommend her if I didn’t think she’d be good at it,” he said. “But I’m one vote, one opinion.”
Burns said Jim Parker might also be an option for interim JP. He said Parker had applied to the Republican Party to be on the ballot but withdrew when Craig applied. He had said he could serve if needed.
Burns said Kyle Stephens, who ran for county judge, had also offered to serve in the interim. Everyone else he had spoken to wished to be on the ballot.
White told Hughes he respected his opinion but reiterated that to him, this situation was different because Terri had been unopposed.
“If I had known how this was going to play out, I wouldn’t be where I am now,” Hughes said. “I started out this way, and I’m not going back on my word. I wish I had done it differently, but I didn’t – so I’m going to stay with my original decision.”
Craig was at the meeting, and White asked him if he was “OK with this.”
“Yes, sir,” he replied.
Several others also spoke in support of Craig.
Sgt. Chad Lanier with the Wise County Sheriff’s Office said he thought Craig would “do a fine job.” “He’s been in law enforcement, he’s retired from law enforcement and I’ve known him a long time,” he said. “He works good with the law enforcement community and you guys. I have a lot of honor and respect for Craig.”
Precinct 4 Justice of the Peace Clay Poynor said he backed the appointment of Craig “100 percent,” and Sgt. Mike Neagle with the Sheriff’s Office also spoke.
“He’ll still be new to it, but he has the law enforcement experience,” he said. “He’s going to do a good job.”
Precinct 1 Constable Dennis Hudson said Craig is very qualified.
“He’s the type of person that if he doesn’t have it, he’ll go get it, like education,” he said. “He’ll do whatever it takes.”
County Attorney James Stainton said that from a prosecutor’s standpoint, it was important to have someone like Craig who understands the relationship between law enforcement and the prosecutor’s office, as well as other legal details.
After hearing from everyone in the room, White made the motion to appoint Craig to the interim JP position. Lamance gave it a second, and it passed 4-1. Hughes cast the lone opposing vote.