Barry Johnson ousted two-term incumbent Abel Reyna as McLennan County district attorney, in a contentious race played out under the dark specter of the 2015 Twin Peaks shootout.
Johnson, 61, who practiced personal injury law in Dallas for 30 years before moving back to McLennan County last year, got 10,347 votes for 59.9 percent of the vote to Reyna’s 6,930 for 40.1 percent.
Johnson is a Waco native and son of Judge Joe N. Johnson, who served as justice of the peace for 24 years and judge of Waco’s 170th State District Court for 24 years. Johnson promised to serve with the same integrity as his father and to immediately review the more than 120 pending cases that remain from the Twin Peaks shootout that left nine bikers dead and dozens injured.
Reyna, 45, is the son of Felipe Reyna, a former appeals court justice and a one-term McLennan County district attorney. He shut the Tribune-Herald out of his campaign night gathering at George’s Restaurant and did not return phone calls seeking comment on his loss.
Johnson said he appreciates his supporters but knows there is still work to do before he faces a general election opponent in November.
Johnson now will face independent Daniel Hare in November. Hare is director of employee relations and engagement at the Baylor University Law School.
“We ran a campaign of integrity and honesty,” Johnson said, then turned to November. “It’s going to be a hard-fought campaign. Hopefully it won’t be as contentious as this one has been. We know we are going to have to run hard right up to the finish, and we are going to do that. We are going to work hard. We are going to see as many people as we can. We are going to shake as many hands as we can all over the county and spread our message and hopefully in November we will have a chance to come out victorious.”
Voters woke up Election Day to headlines proclaiming that a visiting judge from Houston scolded Reyna the day before at a Twin Peaks hearing and told him he should be ashamed of himself for discussing pending Twin Peaks cases and using photos and videos of indicted bikers in his campaign ads.
“The way you have handled this case is absolutely shameful and misleading to the citizens of this county,” Judge Doug Shaver told Reyna on Monday. “So I know the election is tomorrow, and we can’t do anything about it up to this point. But you should be ashamed of yourself, and if I could enforce any of the gag order against you, I would and (would) put you in custody. But since I can’t, you are excused.”
Johnson and Reyna traded jabs regularly throughout the campaign, with Johnson charging that Reyna mishandled the Twin Peaks case from top to bottom, dismissed other cases for donors and dishonored the integrity of the office.
Reyna shot back that Johnson has little criminal experience, sued doctors for a living and was the hand-picked candidate of the bikers.
However, Reyna’s downfall may have come from a pack of angry out-of-town attorneys who represented Twin Peaks defendants. They challenged his every move in the case, filed motions to disqualify and sanction him, charged that he encouraged law enforcement agencies to withhold evidence and filed affidavits from his former top assistant that said Reyna ran a two-tiered system of justice in his office.
After almost three years, Reyna recently dismissed felony cases against 32 indicted Twin Peaks bikers and refused 32 others that had not been indicted after he orchestrated the mass arrests of 177 bikers following the shootout.
But he dismissed the cases only after he was subpoenaed to testify at hearings and faced the testimony of his former first assistant, Greg Davis; a former police detective who said Reyna’s close friends were tied to a gambling ring; and a Waco attorney who said her client, now deceased, told an FBI agent that he delivered cocaine to Reyna.
Reyna denied the allegations and said they came from disgruntled former employees and fake news outlets.
Before one hearing at which he and the others were supposed to testify, Reyna tried to recuse 19th State District Judge Ralph Strother, even after his office had fought against similar motions to remove the judge filed by attorneys for Twin Peaks defendants.
Johnson and Twin Peaks attorneys charged that Reyna would stop at nothing to prevent the hearings and being placed under oath. Johnson told voters that Reyna has put the county in financial jeopardy through his actions after the Twin Peaks melee.
“You would think, how can it be worse than that? To be on the hook for potentially millions and millions of dollars in tax liability for no reason other than our district attorney’s ambition?” Johnson said. “Well, it can be worse than that. I want to talk to you about justice for sale in McLennan County. When an elected official betrays his oath of office and betrays the public trust by giving special favor to friends and political contributors, there is only one word to describe that, and that is corrupt.
“That is the reason the FBI and the feds have been investigating our district attorney and are continuing to investigate our district attorney. It’s an embarrassment,” he said during the campaign.
Reyna, McLennan County, the city of Waco and others are defendants in more than 100 civil rights lawsuits filed in Austin federal court by bikers alleging their lives have been ruined by unlawful arrests.
“Arrogance precedes downfall,” said Dallas attorney Clint Broden, who represents Twin Peaks defendant Matthew Clendennen and became Reyna’s biggest detractor. “The constitution and the rule of law were the true victors in McLennan county on election night.”
Seth Sutton, a Democrat, dropped out of the race weeks after he announced, but his name remained on the ballot.