Judge Matt Johnson, one of McLennan County’s two primary felony court judges, formally announced Monday that he will run for justice of Waco’s 10th Court of Appeals.
Johnson, 55, who has traveled the district for months drumming up support for his candidacy, aims to succeed Justice Rex Davis, who is retiring in December 2020 at the end of his term.
Johnson, a Republican serving his fourth term as 54th State District judge, will file for the appeals court seat next month as a candidate in the March 2020 primary.
The 10th Court of Appeals is a three-judge, state intermediate appellate court that hears civil and criminal appeals from 18 Central Texas counties. The district includes Johnson and Ellis counties to the north, Hamilton and Coryell counties to the west, Burleson and Brazos counties to the south and Leon, Freestone and Walker counties to the east.
“I started my legal career as a briefing attorney with the 10th Court of Appeals and I found the work on the appellate level very rewarding and very interesting,” Johnson said. “I think I can bring my trial court experience — I have tried over 225 felony jury trials — my experience as a justice of the peace and my experience as a felony prosecutor to the bench of the 10th Court of Appeals.”
Johnson was born and raised in Waco and is a fourth-generation Texan who says he has “deep roots” in McLennan and Bosque counties.
After serving as 10th Court briefing attorney, Johnson entered private practice before working four years as a felony prosecutor in the McLennan County District Attorney’s Office. He served as a McLennan County justice of the peace for a year before returning to private practice.
He was sworn in as judge of 54th State District Court in January 2007.
Johnson has not hidden his desire to move up to the 10th Court, traveling the sprawling district for months while raising $110,000 along the way. He combined that with $45,000 he had in his district court account, giving Johnson a sizable war chest to mount his campaign.
As judge of 54th State District Court, Johnson has heard more than 5,000 guilty pleas and presided over high-profile felony cases, including the capital murder trials of triple murderer Billie Wayne Coble; Ed Graf, who killed his two stepsons; Yalanda Lind, who stabbed her mother to death; and Jerry Mack Newland and James Terry Ramirez, who were convicted in separate trials in the shooting death of Bellmead animal control officer Bobby Evans.
Also, Johnson presided over the trials of Joyce Sturdivant, who shot and killed her husband after two failed attempts to hire someone to do it; and Jacob Carrizal, the president of the Dallas Bandidos chapter and the only one of almost 200 bikers arrested after the 2015 Twin Peaks shootout to stand trial.
Johnson is the recipient of the State Bar of Texas Presidential Commendation and is a graduate of the Texas College for Judicial Studies. He is a member of the Abner V. McCall American Inn of Court, has served on the McLennan County Historical Commission and is a former board member of Waco Habitat for Humanity and Heart of Texas Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse.
If Johnson wins the 10th Court seat, he will resign from the 54th Court bench on Dec. 31, 2020, and Gov. Greg Abbott will appoint his successor.
Johnson and his wife, Melissa, have been married 26 years and have two sons, Matthew and Benn.