It has been Ryan Luna’s dream to become a judge since he first entered law school at Baylor University.
On Tuesday, McLennan County commissioners granted the 32-year-old civil trial attorney his wish by appointing him the first judge of the newly created McLennan County Court-at-Law No. 3.
“I am honored and blessed to have the opportunity to work with our community to administer justice fairly, to give people a fair day in court and to interpret and apply the law faithfully,” Luna said. “That is where my heart is. My heart is to serve.”
The new court was created this year by the state Legislature, along with a new state district court for McLennan County. The county court will come online Sept. 1, while the new district court will not open until next year.
Luna, a Republican who has worked for the Carlson Law Firm for the past five years, will run for election to a full, four-year term in the March 2022 primary, and if successful, the November 2022 general election.
Luna joins Brad Cates and Vik Deivanayagam as the county’s third county court-at-law judge. The courts handle misdemeanor cases and civil cases with claims up to $250,000. They also handle contested probate matters, with which County Judge Scott Felton said Luna has experience.
Luna was among eight candidates for the appointment, and Felton said the quality of applicants made the choice difficult. Commissioners met twice with each candidate before finalizing their unanimous decision Tuesday morning in a closed meeting.
“He will help with the criminal docket, but in the long run, we needed another place for civil cases to be filed,” Felton said. “Not only in district court, but if there is someone qualified, there would be confidence in the community that this court could be utilized for more civil cases. So we chose Ryan Luna, who has civil experience in both county court-at-law, district court as well as in federal court.”
Felton said Luna distinguished himself from the other applicants because of his civil background and because he “made a good case” for how the court should be structured. He also committed himself to working closely with Cates, Deivanayagam and the county’s five state district judges, Felton said.
“He has had a lifelong dream to be a judge, and this is a place where he feels like he could spend a career,” Felton said.
Dominic Braus, supervising partner with the Carlson Law Firm, said Luna is an excellent choice.
“I am so proud to know Ryan Luna,” Braus said. “I have had the honor of working with Ryan for the last five years. During that time I have found him to be a thoughtful, reasonable and fair-minded attorney. His devotion to God, family, country and the law is an inspiration to anyone who knows him. He is a hard worker and is not afraid to roll up his sleeves and tackle tough challenges. Ryan will make an excellent judge and we are fortunate to have a man of his caliber helping to administer justice in McLennan County.”
A Dallas native, Luna grew up in Longview before coming to Baylor to earn bachelor of business administration and law degrees. He and his wife, Genesis, have four children ages 10 months to 7 years and they are members of First Baptist Church of Woodway.
Luna serves as pro bono legal clinic director at Mission Waco, is on the Waco Transit Advisory Board and is on the board of Care Net Pregnancy Center of Central Texas.
His father-in-law, John Devine, has served on the Supreme Court of Texas for 12 years and has been a big inspiration for Luna’s career, he said. He said he looks forward to helping others resolve their disputes.
“One of the things I would like to do is to start having jury trials every week on the civil side, and I want to start pushing cases to trial that need to be tried,” Luna said. “I will have a policy that I rule on motions in a timely manner. You are going to get motions ruled on timely from me and you are going to have your case tried. There is no reason why we can’t have a civil court trial every week. That is right in my wheelhouse. That is what I am trained to do.”
One issue commissioners must determine before Luna can start work is the location for his courtroom. The courthouse and courthouse annex are filled to capacity. The county recently hired a company to gut the inside of the old downtown jail on Columbus Avenue, but potential plans to turn that facility into space for additional courtrooms are on a list of long-range goals and will not be of immediate help.
“He doesn’t start until Sept. 1, and we have some short-term and long-term plans,” Felton said. “We will have a place for him to work. There will be a lot of early work with Judge Cates and Judge Deivanayagam to clean up the criminal docket, and we can swap out courtroom space and find him another space to work.”
“I told the commissioners I would hold court outside like the Romans used to if that is what they want me to do,” Luna said. “I am ready to go to work, but I have not been clued into where that might be yet.”
Other applicants for the job, which pays about $157,000 a year, were retired state district judge Ralph Strother, Will Hutson, Pat Atkins, Dick Kettler, Chris Bullajian, Jason Milam and Denny Lessman.