Republican incumbent Dianne Hensley is likely to keep her seat as Precinct 1, Place 1 Justice of the Peace.
Hensley, who took office in 2014, beat out her primary opponent with 54 percent of the vote. Hensley got 4,721 votes to challenger Denny Lessman’s 4,014 votes on Tuesday night, according to the McLennan County elections office. She will take on Libertarian David Reichert, 42, of Waco, in the November general election.
Neither Hensley or Lessman responded to calls for comment after results came in Tuesday night.
Hensley has said she ran again to keep her office moving forward with the progress it has made during the last three and a half years.
Since she was elected, she has presided over 1,500 civil cases. She has been appealed 11 times and has never had a ruling reversed, she said.
“My No. 1 focus would be to keep doing a good job, and I also would like to look at expanding truancy youth support in other ways,” Hensley said in February.
Her court has reduced the recidivism rate for truancy violations by 80 percent. She has also helped find a new forensic lab to perform autopsies, saving $300 to $400 per autopsy, she said.
“I have enjoyed doing the job, and I feel like we’ve really gotten in the office where we’re in a flow and we’ve got good systems implemented,” Hensley said last month. “Another term just seems like the right thing to do. … We get a lot of good feedback from people who come in here, so that’s encouraging.”
Her opponent had hoped his credentials would have been enough to unseat the incumbent. Lessman, a Waco attorney who ran for Falls County district attorney in 2012 and now serves as a Marlin municipal court judge, wanted to bring the office into the 21st century, he said in the weeks leading up to the primary.
Lessman has been handling civil cases for at least 15 years and claimed he has been part of more cases than Hensley has in her career.
Both candidates faced scrutiny during past efforts to earn elected positions. Hensley was first appointed behind closed doors by Republican Party of McLennan County as the Republican candidate. At the time, the county redrew and consolidated justice of the peace precincts from seven precincts to five, forcing parties to appoint candidates. Hensley, a political newcomer, was chosen over two incumbent justices of the peace who had been elected multiple times.
Hensley also fell under the public microscope last year when she said she had been performing marriages but had refused to perform marriages for same-sex couples. After the Supreme Court ruled same-sex couples have the right to marry, some other justices of the peace who did not wish to officiate same-sex weddings avoided the requirement by deciding to quit officiating weddings entirely.
Lessman, who criticized Hensley’s decision and said if elected he wouldn’t perform any marriages, came under fire for allegations of having a “dual residency,” with property in Falls County and in Hewitt.
Had he won the primary, he would have focused on updating operations with technology and connecting criminal offenders with local service providers and nonprofits, like Prosper Waco, that can intervene in an effort to prevent repeat offenses.